As an owner, you get to know your cat’s habits. When you allow them outside you know when to expect them home. When one doesn’t come back at the usual time, panic quickly sets 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 where your cat might be trapped.
If you don’t locate your cat quickly, put up lost cat posters 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 feline friend.
A missing cat is something most cat owners experience at some point. If it hasn’t happened to you then there’s a good chance it will do (unfortunately) at some time.
Why do cats go missing?
Cats like to roam, not always that far but they are naturally inquisitive which can sometimes lead them in the wrong direction. This is one of many reasons why cats go missing. Of course, there are many others.
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 sealed in the first few hours after it goes out. This is when it will find that open garage and go in for a sniff only for the door to be shut behind them.
For those who wonder if their missing cat will come back, statistics show that the vast majority do find their way home.
One of our cats was trapped in a neighbor’s garage for two nights but we’ve known cats who have been gone for a week, even months, but have eventually returned home.
Missing Cat: Worrying Times
It is very distressing when a cat does not come home. How long your cat is missing before you worry will depend on many factors but many owners start to feel concerned if their cat is missing for over 8 hours.
If your cat has never gone missing before, it’s best to worry sooner rather than later. Begin a search because you will at least feel like you’re doing something constructive. Often while your out looking, your cat returns home and then wonders where you are!
If your cat is a serial offender and goes missing often, you might not worry for the first 24 hours. But as soon as your cat has been gone for longer than any previous time, you should start to feel concerned and begin your hunt.
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.
Some cats can go missing for hours, some for a day or two, and some for a week or more. Others go missing when their humans go on holiday (maybe they go looking for them?) and turn up again as soon as their humans come home.
When cats go missing for weeks then return, they may have found a ‘new home’.
It is not unheard of for people to think a cat is homeless and take it in. They keep it indoors where they think it is safe not realizing that someone is fretting over its wherabouts.
Once these well-meaning new owners let their ‘new’ cat out, said cat often returns to its real home, much to the delight of its real owners, who then wonder where it has been for weeks!
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 about these incidents in the press.
One cat went missing in London and was found 8 years later – in Paris 8!
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
One of our cats went missing a few years ago. 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 hear him meow from inside 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 but he has remained hidden.
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
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
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 a cat is unsure of where it is after this panic sprint, it may then be unable to relocate its 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.
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
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.
Use a GPS Pet Locator to Track a Missing Cat
Once you have your little bundle of fur back with you, try to prevent it from going missing again. There are many pet GPS trackers on the market.
This one (click to see reviews on Amazon) is our favorite because it has a 20-day battery life, is waterproof, has a light, and fits snugly onto a cat’s collar. It will also alert you if your cat leaves a preset area such as your garden.
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.
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!