How Long Do Cats Go Missing For?


As an owner, you get to know your cat’s habits. You allow them outside as much as they like and you know when to expect them home. When one doesn’t come back as expected, panic can quickly set in.

How long do cats go missing for? Most cats that go missing return home or are found within 24 hours. The best advice is to start a local search as soon as you realize your cat has vanished. Speak to neighbors and check garages and outbuildings. If you don’t locate it this way, put up a lost cat poster and spread the word on local social media groups and missing pet sites. The sooner you do something the better chance you have of finding your lost furry friend.

It’s something that happens to most cat owners at some point. If it hasn’t happened to you then there’s a good chance it will do (unfortunately) at some time. Cats like to roam, not always that far but they are naturally inquisitive which can sometimes lead them in the wrong direction. If they see an open door, they love to have a nose at what’s inside. Then someone notices the door open and shuts it. You then have a cat that’s not getting out until the door gets opened again and in the meantime, a very worried owner.

On average, once a cat has been missing for 24 hours it will typically be missing for another 1 to 2 days before being found. In fact, a cat usually has its fate fixed in the first few hours after they go out. This is when they will find that open garage and go in for a sniff only for the door to be shut behind them. Cats, the vast majority of the time, get noticed and let out and then come home. One of our cats was trapped in a neighbor’s garage for three days but we’ve known other cats who have been gone for a week, even months, and have eventually returned.

How Long Do Cats Go Missing For?

The Missing Cat – Worrying Times

It is, of course, a very difficult question to answer and we can only go on averages. You’re probably reading this as one of your cats hasn’t returned, it’s a horrible feeling. I know this feeling first hand as I talk about later, I know how sick it makes you feel to the bottom of your stomach. I remember having to go to work and wishing I was at home, able to look for him.

Some cats can go missing for hours, a day or two, or a week or so. Others go missing when their pet humans go on holiday (maybe they go looking for them?) but turn up again as soon as their humans come home. Then there are cats who go missing for several months and even a year or two or three, sometimes considerably longer. This is of course extremely rare but you occasionally see news items like this in the press. You must read this article (opens in a new tab) of a cat that went missing for 8 years and was eventually found in another city!

The Cat is Inquisitive

Some cats see an unattended vehicle with a door left open as an invitation to come on in and explore – they just can’t resist it. When the driver reappears, the cat hides and finds itself on an unplanned journey to who knows where with a blissfully unaware person at the wheel. At the next stop, one of two things usually happens: either the cat darts out and runs away (worst-case scenario) or the driver is able to contain the cat (hoped-for scenario).

The driver is then faced with the problem of what to do for the best, especially if they have made several stops that day and have no idea where their furry stowaway embarked on their journey. Hopefully, they are kind enough to take the cat to a local vet, tell them all the locations the cat could have come from (imagine a courier who has had 100 deliveries that day). Hopefully, the vet finds the cat is microchipped and the owner is traced. However, if the kitty is not micro-chipped, what can the vet do? In situations like this, vets often turn to social media and lost pet sites to advertise the details of the cat.

Some Missing Cats are Found in Sheds and Garages

Our cat went missing a few years back. After the first night, we scoured the neighborhood, posting leaflets through doors asking people to check their sheds, garages and other outbuildings. After the second night, we traipsed around the same areas calling his name. We were lucky to discover him trapped in someone’s garage but then had to wait several hours for them to come home from work to release him. The owners of the garage had actually opened their garage the day before to see if he was in there but he had obviously hidden from them and missed his chance to escape. Another cat we knew of was missing for many months. He was finally discovered several months later in a building site next to his home. His owner had checked there many times. These examples go to show that when they are scared, cats will conceal themselves and miss opportunities to be rescued.

Cats Go Missing When They Lose Their Bearings

How Long Do Cats Go Missing For?

Cats can go astray for so many reasons. Sometimes they lose their bearings and can’t find their way home. In this situation, some can revert to a wild state and manage to hunt or scavenge, but most will struggle to survive. Life is very hard out there with no help at all. Always do your best to help a cat you think is lost. Call a local vet or cat rescue center for advice.

Cats Go Missing Due to Curiosity and Panic

How Long Do Cats Go Missing For?

Un-neutered tomcats will roam surprisingly far and wide to locate a queen and to stake out their territory when the weather is warm, especially after a long cold winter. Occasionally they go so far that they can’t find their way home. Unspayed females can become frustrated and may seek out the company of male cats. With this purpose in mind, they also can easily lose their way.

Neutered males and spayed females generally have a smaller territory and rarely go far beyond it. So to keep your cat from wandering and becoming lost you should seriously consider neutering or spaying.

If a cat has ventured a little further than usual and something takes it by surprise, its natural flight reflexes may cause it to bolt for cover. If it is unsure of where it is after this panic sprint, it may then be unable to relocate home territory.

If at all possible it is best to encourage your cats to come inside before darkness falls and then keep them in overnight.

Try to Prevent Your Cat From Going Missing in the First Place

Here are a few suggestions that might help…

Ensure Your Cat Has Sufficient Stimulation

Cats with very small or no gardens at all will need other things to occupy them. Toys, scratching posts and activity centers can all help, but there is no substitute for positive social interaction. Try to play with your cats for at least 10 minutes per day no matter what age they are. Playing with your cat regularly provides important stimulation and this can help to prevent them from wandering off in search of adventure. Ensure your cat eats well and at routine times as this will help to keep their focus and prevent hunting needs from rising to the surface.

So in answer to the question ‘how long do cats go missing for?’ – it is impossible to say for sure. It is far better to reduce the chances of your cat going missing by having it spayed/ neutered, having it micro-chipped, keeping in after dark, having set meal times and by stimulating it in your home with lots of play and affection.

All Cats Should Have Microchips Fitted

Cat wearing barcode

Hopefully, your cat will be back with you soon. Don’t forget about what happened here. If you haven’t already, have your cat microchipped as this gives people who find a stray cat the best chance of reuniting it with its family.

Because some people still don’t seem aware that cats have microchips, when they find a hungry unknown cat in their garden, they assume it’s a stray, feed it, and adopt it (or it adopts them!) Cases of cats having been adopted in this way are often only discovered if the new owner takes the cat to a vet and the vet happens to scan it and finds it is micro-chipped, which leads to the discovery of the prior owner.

Tip: if you ever move house get your details updated on the microchip database – make sure you get details of how to do this from your vet when you have your cat microchipped.

Get a Pet Locator In Case Your Cat Goes Missing

Once you have your little bundle of fur back with you, prevent this from happening again. Technology to the rescue, again! There are many pet locators on the market. This one (click to read reviews on Amazon) is our favorite because it is a nice size for a cat’s collar. These locators can really help speed up the process of finding your cat next time they’re out beyond curfew time.  I know it’s easy to tell someone how to prevent something from happening after it has happened. But these things are really worthwhile considering most owners will experience this at some point.

Finally

So, how long do cats go missing for? Well, usually they return within 24 hours.

Finally, I hope your cat never goes missing but if it does, spread the word far and wide. Call local vets and rescue centers, put up posters locally and talk to all your neighbors. They will most likely be quite close and locked in somewhere they ventured into. Call their name and hopefully, they’ll respond. Once you have them back, give them a stern talking to, informing them of the stress they’ve put you under and inform them they must not do this again!

Jane

I'm Jane Pettitt, co-owner of Pets Knowledge Base with my husband, Matt. I have a grand total of 50 years’ experience as a pet owner. It all started with a guinea pig called Percy when I was 5 years old and since then I’ve lived with two more guinea pigs, a hamster, mice, a rabbit, a tortoise, a dog and 11 cats. I’ve learned so much about pet care during this time and many of my articles are based on my personal experiences and those of my family and friends .

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