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Is Your Cat Missing?

  Cat Wandering
  Does your cat like to wander?

Most veterinary practitioners will agree that the safest environment for any cat is indoors. However, cats can be escape artists, and some felines will not tolerate an indoor-only lifestyle. Advance planning can be very helpful for dealing with the stress and heartbreak that can occur if a cat goes missing.

Training Your Feline

Training your cat to respond to a distinct sound, such as a clicker toy, is relatively easy as long as your cat is treat or food motivated. A noise that is non-frightening but distinct, and loud enough to carry over outdoor noises and short distances, is ideal.

Simply use the noise-maker every time you are about to give your cat a meal or a treat. Once they recognize the sound, use it on random occasions and always reward with a treat or playtime — never use for punishment or a negative experience like going into a carrier.

If your indoor cat ever escapes, this familiar sound could be an invaluable tool for luring a panicked kitty out of a hiding place.

Microchipping Cats

Microchips are inexpensive, tiny (rice grain-sized) transmitters that are permanently implanted under the skin, just superficial to the muscle layer, in dogs and cats. The signal they transmit is too weak to be picked up at any distance, but a special scanner waved over the pet will detect a code that is unique for each chip. This code number is dedicated to the pet in question and allows a veterinary office, animal shelter, or animal control facility to contact the pet's family if the pet is brought to one of those facilities.

A convenient time to implant the microchip is when a kitten is being spayed or neutered, but many cats can be microchipped without sedation with minimal discomfort.

Once registered, the microchip numbers remain in a database for life. However, if a family moves or changes phone numbers the new information needs to be conveyed to the microchip company. A small annual fee may apply to keep the database active.

Some microchip companies will send alerts to local shelters and veterinary offices if one of their registered pets goes missing. A photo can be included in the alert if the family has provided one.

Creating "Lost Kitty" or "New Neighbor" Posters

Having an up-to-date photo of your pet on hand is also a good idea for making "Lost Kitty" posters to hang prominently in the area your cat was last seen.

When making these posters, keep them clean and simple but be sure to include any distinctive markings or features and your contact info. Offering a reward (an amount needn't be specified) is recommended to increase interest.

The posters can be distributed in neighborhood mailboxes or pinned up in stores, post offices or prominent outdoor locations. If being used outdoors, cover the poster with a clear, waterproof barrier if possible and try to secure the top and bottom so the poster doesn't fold or flap in the wind.

If your cat is new to the neighborhood and you know he is likely to explore the outdoors, making "New Neighbor" posters which have your cat's photo and your info can alert surrounding households that the new cat they're seeing wandering around is not a stray that needs rescuing, but a beloved family pet.

Identification Tags — Low Tech and High Tech Options

For cats that tolerate wearing a collar, low tech identification options such as metal tags are a convenient and non-intrusive option. In addition to your pet's name, include a phone number or address where you can be contacted if your cat is lost or in distress. A "break-away" or safety-style collar that will come apart if tangled or snagged is always preferred, but some cats will learn to snap these off themselves.

High tech tags can be scanned by a smartphone if a lost pet is found and provide not just contact info, but health history as well. These tags are inexpensive (less than $10) but larger than a standard tag and some cats might find them annoying.

Technology options such as tracking devices are also starting to become available. These are lightweight tags that emit a signal carrying up to 400 feet. Depending on the model, they attach to a collar of the owner's choice or come as a pre-made collar. The trackers consist of hand-held devices or an app that allows use of a smartphone to find your pet. These trackers are pricier ($50-$120), but may find your cat up a neighbor's tree or in a garage.

What To Do If Your Cat Is Lost

  • If the worst happens and your cat goes missing, contact shelters, local animal control and local veterinary hospitals. If possible, email or drop off a photo or a copy of your Lost Pet poster. Call them back or visit frequently to check out any new animals brought into the facility.

  • Walk around the neighborhood frequently and call your cat or use the "treat" signal you've previously trained them to respond to. Some kitties need time to calm themselves before they respond.

  • Speak to anyone you see about your missing pet. Call neighbors about sheds, garages, barns or other confined spaces on their property where a curious kitty may have become entrapped. Ask for permission to look under decks and open foundations.

  • Ask about any workmen or tradesmen they may have had visit their home, who's trucks may have been left open for your cat to explore and get locked in. You may be surprised at how empathic people are and how many want to help (and will want to be notified if your cat is found).

  • The use of a humane trap should be considered if you have a strong suspicion your cat is hiding in a certain area. Many shelters and humane societies have these and are willing to lend them.

Most of all, be persistent. Many cats will be missing for days, and then spontaneously come home — if only they could describe their adventures!

If you have any questions about microchipping or clicker training, please don't hesitate to call the Muddy Creek Animal Hospital team at (978) 948-2345.

Dr. Sylvia Reiser is an associate veterinarian at Muddy Creek Animal Care Center in Rowley, MA. Dr. Reiser is also a member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners.