why do cats go missing?
Behavioral Problems

What To Do When Your Missing Cat Returns Home

It’s a stressful experience when cats go missing. But very few people consider what happens when they return home. Depending on why your cat went missing, it may need a period of adjustment to help it get over the trauma.

When your missing cat returns home, you must reintroduce it slowly to prevent it from becoming stressed and agitated. Take it to the vet for a check-up and feed it small meals to avoid health issues. Bathing it will remove fleas and debris from its fur, freshening it up. Avoid letting visitors into your home until your cat’s settled. Secure your home by shutting windows and doors to stop it from escaping.

If you’ve not microchipped your cat, it’s a good idea to do so in case someone finds it in the future. Neutering and spaying are also recommended, as they’ll prevent cats from roaming neighborhoods to find mates.

Why Do Cats Go Missing?

It’s common for cats to go missing. Most cats roam at night and come back every morning. They sometimes go out for days, but it’s rare for them to go out for weeks at a time. If they do, something more complicated is going on.

According to the journal Animals, at least 15% of owners lose their cats in 5 years. Some of them are never found, although approximately 1/3 studied were recovered within a week. 75% of cats were found within a 500-meter radius.

Unfortunately, there are several reasons for this to happen, making it tricky to locate your pet. When a cat with access to the outdoors suddenly disappears, something’s prevented it from coming home. If you’re wondering, “why do cats go missing for weeks at a time?” these are the most likely reasons:

Theft

Cat theft is common, especially of expensive pedigree breeds. The most commonly stolen cat breeds include:

  • Bengals
  • Domestic Shorthairs
  • Main Coons
  • Ragdolls
  • Russian Blues
  • Siameses
  • Sphinxes
  • Scottish Folds

Frustratingly, there are few laws in the U.S. regarding cat theft, making it difficult to get stolen cats back. Thieves steal pets predominantly for financial reasons, as cats can be:

  • Resold
  • Bred
  • Returned for a monetary reward

Sometimes, however, cats are stolen by neighbors who’ve enticed your cat with food, treats, and affection. Using a collar, keeping your cat indoors, or using a location tracker can help you locate your pet.

Reproduction

Cats that aren’t spayed or neutered are most likely to wander off for several days at a time looking for a cat to mate with. Male cats, in particular, tend to travel further afield to find a female in heat.

During this time, they experience significant hormone surges, fuelling their desire to mate. Their instincts are so strong, they can’t think about anything else and won’t return home until they’ve planted their seed or the hormones die down.

Spaying or neutering your cat can prevent it from wandering for days or weeks at a time and avoids unwanted pregnancies, infections, and makes cats better behaved.

Injury

Cats are agile creatures that often land on their feet. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t become injured on their travels. Autumn is the worst time for cats to be hit by cars, and young male crossbreeds are most at risk.

Similarly, if your cat’s experienced a broken bone or joint issue while roaming, it won’t be able to make its way home. This can happen from a bad landing or accident.

Cats also become injured in fights with other animals. This is a very likely reason for cats to disappear without warning – they’re too injured to move.

Trapped

It’s common for cats to get trapped while they roam outside. They’re naturally curious creatures that like to explore garden sheds and garages, not realizing there’s no way for them to get out.

Similarly, cold or rainy weather drives cats to look for shelter. Cats can go a couple of weeks without food. They can only go 3 days without water, but this is easier for them to find, particularly if cats have access to condensation.

Many owners are surprised about how close their cats have been when they finally find them, as they usually tuck themselves in neighbors’ yards and can’t get out until they’re discovered.

cat behavior after returning home

Lost

Not all cats are outdoor cats. Most expensive pedigree cats are kept indoors because of the theft risk. However, if they escape the house and go for a wander, it’s highly unlikely they’ll know how to get home.

If your cat’s never been out before, it’s only natural to worry. You may have to go and look for your cat to help it find its way home. You can help your lost cat home by:

  • Leaving some of your cat’s unwashed bedding or toys outside in the yard
  • Leaving an unwashed item of your clothing outside
  • Sprinkling some used litter outside your home
  • Calling out to your cat when it’s most likely to be quiet where you live
  • Shaking a box of your cat’s favorite treats, such as Temptations

Hiding

Your cat could be hiding out somewhere quiet or safe because it’s been spooked by something, such as a group of people or animals. Cats often get attacked by larger animals like hawks and coyotes.

The Journal of Wildlife Management learned that coyotes prey on cats, particularly during the pup-rearing season. If your cat feels its life’s in danger, it’ll lay low until it’s safe to come out.

Accidental Transport

Most cats go missing because they’ve been accidentally transported somewhere unfamiliar. This happens when they get into cars or other vehicles that unexpectedly move. Unfortunately, the cat could end up thousands of miles away from home if it gets into the wrong one.

In this instance, your cat hasn’t willingly run away – it’s disappeared because of reasons beyond its control. Getting cats back when they’ve been transported elsewhere is tricky but not impossible.

Similarly, if someone suspects your cat to be a stray, there’s a small risk it could get taken away by animal control. Luckily, if your cat’s microchipped, it’ll make its way back to you.

Returning To An Old Home

Your cat may be attempting to go back to its old home if you’ve recently moved. Cats are territorial, and if you were in your previous home for a long time, your pet likely has a strong urge to go back and reclaim its territory.

Sometimes, cats prefer to remain in their old home and don’t return. Other times, they get lost attempting to get back, particularly if it’s a significant distance from where you currently live.

To prevent this, make your cat feel as at home as possible. Also, keep your cat inside for at least 2-3 weeks so that it can get used to the scent.

Death

Sadly, cats sometimes go missing because they’ve died while roaming outdoors. This could be due to several reasons, including:

  • Accidents and injuries
  • Mauling from other animals
  • Abusive humans
  • Extreme weather conditions

Similarly, some cats go away from home to die. This is part of their instincts, but it can make owners feel as if they haven’t done enough to care for their pets. Cats isolate themselves to die because they are:

  • Avoiding danger
  • Following their instincts
  • Hiding from predators

If your cat’s gone missing, call the local animal shelters and vets in case it’s died and been taken in.

How Do Cats Come Back Home?

Most cats come back by themselves when they disappear. While owners sometimes need to step in to find their cat, especially if it’s sick or injured, it’s common for cats to come back home because of the following reasons:

Homing Instinct

Cats have a unique homing instinct that guides them home. They can perceive direction beyond the five senses of taste, smell, touch, hearing, and sight. Not only that, but they bond strongly with their homes, claiming it as their territory through scent marking through urine and glands.

A journal published by the Scientific Monthly details how Professor Frances Herrick studied the homing ability of cats by observing a mother cat with her kittens. She got separated from her kittens seven times yet still found her way back to them, even when four miles away.

Psi Trailing

Psi trailing is a term used to describe how cats can locate their owners when they’ve moved away. It’s believed that cats and humans have material connections that run on a deep level. This is based on the idea that when one electron’s separated from another, the paired electron changes direction.

Both humans and cats are made of atoms, so we sync together at an atomic level, allowing cats to find their way home. Of course, this theory only works with cats that are bonded with humans.

How To Reintroduce a Lost Cat

It’s a feeling of pure joy and relief when a missing cat returns home. However, proceed with caution for the first 24-48 hours, as your pet will feel stressed and fragile. When your cat comes home, reintroduce it with these steps:

Visit a Vet

It’s impossible to know what happened to your cat when it was missing. It could have gotten into a fight, been attacked, or hurt itself in a fall. Your cat will hide any pain or injury when it returns, so take it to a vet even if it doesn’t display any symptoms. You can never be too careful in this situation.

Help It Settle In

Give your cat time and space to adjust when it comes home. Cats don’t like change, so set up a solitary room with a bed, food, water, its favorite toys, and hiding spots. Allow your cat to sniff the room and get settled back into the home for a few days before letting it have full access to the rest of the house.

Feed Your Cat Moderately

When your missing cat returns, you’ll be tempted to spoil it with treats and food. This isn’t a good idea, as your cat probably didn’t eat much while it was missing, staying alive on scraps. If you offer too much food too quickly, health conditions can occur, such as liver damage.

Start by offering a small amount of your cat’s regular food within the first 24 hours and monitor its behavior. Be careful with how much water you give your cat, too.

Give It a Bath

Even though cats don’t like being bathed, it’s a good idea to remove fleas, bugs, and debris from their fur. Chances are your cat’s fur’s greasy and unkempt, so washing it will make it feel much better.

Secure Your Home

To prevent cats from sneaking out and getting lost, secure your home by keeping the windows and doors closed and installing a cat flap that you can lock when you want your pet to stay in.

It’s not feasible to keep all cats indoors, so consider installing a catio or cat sanctuary in your yard, allowing your cat access to the outdoors without the risk of it running off.

Limit Visitors

Give your cat a chance to settle in before you invite visitors into your home. The noise will stress your cat out, making it feel overwhelmed and agitated. Reintroduce your cat to people slowly once it’s ready to emerge from hiding.

Microchip

If your cat’s not already microchipped, you must rectify this. A microchip is a computer that sits under your cat’s skin, containing your phone number and address. If your cat gets lost or stolen, a microchip can help you get your pet back and prove ownership.

Update ID Tag

If your cat wears a collar, make sure the ID tag’s up to date with your address and phone number. Even if your cat doesn’t wear one, it might be a wise idea to consider. You can also place a small tracking device on your cat’s collar so you can locate it the next time it goes missing for a few days. Just make sure you choose a quick-release collar to prevent accidents.

De-sex

We’ve already mentioned how unspayed and unneutered cats are more likely to go for a wander than those that are de-sexed. Doing so is one of the most effective ways to prevent cats from roaming neighborhoods looking for a mate and offers numerous health benefits.

Cat Behavior After Returning Home

Depending on the experience and reason for going missing, your cat will exhibit behavioral changes that may concern you when it comes home. Your cat’s behavior should return to normal after a few days once your cat’s had a chance to process what it went through.

In the meantime, give your cat as much space as it needs and be patient. Never scold or shout at your cat, as you’ll enhance its trauma. These are the behaviors you’re likely to experience once your cat returns home:

More Affectionate

Cats that are happy to be home after days, weeks, or months away become more affectionate, wanting to spend as much time with their owners as possible. Owners provide safety and security, which your cat may need after getting lost, trapping, or facing a predator.

Scared

Your cat likely experienced some kind of trauma while missing. If it’s unusual for your cat to disappear for too long, something might have happened to scare or spook your cat, putting it on edge. Until your cat gets over the experience and feels calmer, it’ll display symptoms of nervousness, such as:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Toilet accidents
  • Fidgeting
  • Flattened ears
  • Round eyes and dilated pupils

Give your cat some space and leave it to come around in its own time.

reintroducing a lost cat

Stressed

Trauma or scary situations cause feline anxiety, which manifests as stress. This will become heightened if your cat’s been without food and water for a while. Not all cats experience the same symptoms, but the most common include:

  • Hiding
  • Fleeing
  • Showing aggression (hissing, growling, arching back)
  • Excessive grooming
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Eliminating outside the litter box
  • Clinginess
  • Excessive vocalization
  • Aimless pacing
  • A constant state of skittish vigilance

Fussing over your cat will make its stress worse.

Hiding More Frequently

Don’t be alarmed if your cat hides under the bed or other furniture as soon as it arrives home. This is a normal reaction to being frightened or wary of something.

Similarly, injured or sick cats tuck themselves away to hide issues, protecting themselves against predators looking for an easy kill. This is an instinct that’s hard-wired into them. You should take your cat to the vet for a check over to make sure nothing’s wrong.

According to VCA Hospitals, whether it hides or not depends on your cat’s personality.

Frequent Sleeping

Your cat’s had quite an adventure, so it’ll sleep more frequently to regain and conserve its energy. Your cat likely didn’t sleep much while it was missing because it would have needed to remain alert to protect itself from predators.

Similar to hiding, frequent sleeping can be a sign of a health issue. Monitor whether your cat has an appetite. If it stops eating, it needs veterinary attention.

My Cat Ran Away and Came Back Skinny

It’s normal for cats to experience physical changes to their appearance after going missing, especially if they’ve been gone for weeks or months. In most cases, this is due to starvation from not being able to find food.

However, cats have strong enough instincts to hunt and should be able to sustain themselves with mice while they’re missing. Cats also lose weight while missing due to:

  • Health conditions
  • Injuries that cause a loss of appetite
  • Parasites and tapeworms
  • Excessive exercise

While taking your cat to the vet should be your first port of call, getting your cat used to food slowly and safely is the next step. Reintroducing your cat to food with small portions will help build your cat’s strength without overfeeding it and causing further issues.

When a cat returns home after being missing, there’s still a significant amount of work to be done. Don’t be alarmed if your notice changes to your cat’s appearance and behavior. After a while, it’ll begin to get back to normal.