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Did You Find a Lost Cat Outside?

Did you find a lost cat outside? Perhaps a new addition to your established community cat colony showed up recently.  Have you found a hungry cat in your garage or under your shed?

I implore anyone that has a cat show up on their doorstep or their established colony to not assume she’s simply another community cat who lives outside.

You know the saying about “assume” right?

Chances are that any cat who shows up likely IS one of the millions of community cats that make their home outdoors. Most ‘lost’ cats aren’t actually lost. It is completely possible that the cat was abandoned by her owner and left to fend for herself. Or it’s entirely possible she was once a beloved pet who simply got lost and has a family missing her very much.

Did you know that only 64% of cats are found after they are lost? 34% are NEVER found. Only 1.5%-4.5% of cats in shelters are returned to their owners. If you want to read some interesting statistics on lost pets, visit here.

So that brings me to my first tip!

Related Post: How to Save a Cat

Feral Calico Mama with Three Feral Kittens

1. How to Tell if a Cat is Lost or An Outdoor Cat

If you’ve had a lot of exposure to community and feral cats, sometimes you will automatically jump to the conclusion that is a cat is not socialized simply because she refuses touch, won’t eat in front of you, hides, and hisses if she feels trapped. All of these behaviors could indicate a cat is feral and/or the cat is terrified.

Or if you do find a friendly, but scared cat, you will often assume the cat is dumped there by humans.

Don’t assume. Both finding feral cats and friendly, dumped cats is common, but not every cat falls into these categories.

A frightened cat will hide, stay silent, and hiss or growl if she feels threatened. She might not trust anyone easily because she is simply so freaked out that everything is frightening her, including people. That does not mean she’s feral or a community cat.

No cat will react to being lost or abandoned the same way. Some of terrified and hide. Some will come up to the first friendly person they see, scared out of their minds. Some adapt fairly easily. You never can tell.

So no matter what you believe about the new cat in your territory, please at least attempt to see if someone is missing her.

However, in general, an outdoor cat is often clean and well-fed while lost cats are skinny, dirty or ill-kempt. This is not a fool-proof guarantee that a cat is lost as he could be a sick feral cat. And some pet cats survive well while lost.

There is no way to tell for SURE that a cat is an outdoor cat or a lost pet just by looking at them.

2. Check for an Ear Tip (and Collar)

Is one ear missing the tip? This is the universal sign of a community cat that has already been fixed, vaccinated against rabies, and returned outdoors. This is called Trap-Neuter-Return or TNR. This means the cat is a community cat and unowned. A caretaker might be missing her from their cat colony, though, so I would still look online just to be sure. Sometimes, people will trap and relocate free-roaming cats they want to be rid of. Even community cats have someone who might be missing them!

Barn Cat Tweety Showing Off His TNR Eartip

If the ear tip looks torn, however, please follow the rest of the instructions just in case it is an injury and not the result of TNR.

If she has a collar, she is likely missed by someone. Check for tags, too. Chances are, however, that most cats won’t have a collar or if they did, it was a safety collar designed to break away if needed to prevent harm to the cat. Cats are often climbing trees and the like, and if the collar gets snagged on a branch, this can result in strangulation of the cat. That is why many cat collars are break-away or a safety collar to allow our feline companions a way to escape.

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3. Determine Sex, Color/Breed, and Approximate Age

You first need to determine the sex of the kitty in question. I say her in this post, but it could as easily be a boy!

It might even be hard to tell if a neutered male isn’t female. Some places remove the entire scrotum with the testicles when they neuter cats, and some leave the scrotum intact but remove the testicles. So this makes them look like shrunken testicles in neutered males. Or no testicles at all. Or you can’t see the scrotum because the cat has long hair!

Do your research on the proper color naming of a cat. Don’t call a tortoiseshell cat by the wrong term, like a calico! Some people might know what you mean, but if someone is just reading an ad in the newspaper that says “Found a calico at So-and-So Street,” they may not call because they’re looking for a tortoiseshell cat or a torbie, which are similar to a calico but are not calicos.

It might be best to just describe the colors, “orange stripes and black on white fur” or the like.

A Calico Cat Lost Outside

Any strange markings that are unusual? Extra toes? Those are polydactyl cats and quite memorable. It should always be mentioned!

You can usually guess if a cat is a young cat or an older cat, but after a year or two old, until they hit ten years old or more, it’s difficult to guess. But be sure to say “young cat” or “old cat” in a post, or older kitten, so that it gives some reference.

4. Check for a Microchip

The most obvious way to check if a cat is a lost pet is to have her scanned for a microchip. This can be done at shelters or vet clinics in your area. If she does have a microchip, and it’s properly registered? Bingo!

Be sure to ask shelter staff if the cat has already been fixed or not! They should be able to tell easily with the male cats. With females, they have to check for the tattoo a lot of places use by shaving their bellies or possibly more invasive measures. Also ask them to guess their age, which they can do by checking their teeth. This is an estimate only, but might help you describe this found cat online.

So how do you get the cat into a shelter or vet?

If you can pick the new cat up and get her into a carrier easily, awesome. But if the cat will not approach, you may need to trap her to accomplish this step.

Lost Tabby Cat in a Trap

5. Check Classifieds, Social Media, Shelters for Lost Cats

You will want to check Craigslist, social media, your local newspaper’s classified ads for a lost cat matching the description of the cat you found.

There are many regional Facebook groups for lost and found animals, as well as apps, that will do the same thing. Definitely post that you found a cat, with her picture, to these groups as well. You don’t know how long this cat has been lost. It could be days. It could have been years!

Find out the local animal control and humane society shelters, and contact them. They often have a database of lost and found animals, just in case one gets brought in. You can report that you found a cat. You can also post on their Facebook Page wall, and ask them for a courtesy post. They might share your post about finding the cat to their followers.

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6. Be Persistent!

Keep checking ads and social media regularly over the next couple of months. If your new feline friend has been missing a very long time, her previous owners might not be checking often anymore. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t love her. Just that they had given up hope of finding her.

Imagine how much joy you could bring to a person’s life just by finding their beloved animal companion? That’s a big reason to not give up after the first post.

Happy Kitten High Five

7. Success! Or No Luck? [Figure Out What to Do]

If you find someone who lost their pet, through the microchip or an ad in the newspaper or a post on social media, be sure to talk to the person. Make sure they can show you pictures of the cat they lost. Let them meet the cat.

If the pictures don’t match the cat at least a bit, or the cat doesn’t recognize them, it’s a no go. But don’t rely on both. Cat appearances can change. Cats can also be standoffish even with people they know. She might not go to her old family immediately.

Be reasonably sure this cat belongs to them before letting them take her. While most people aren’t malicious, there are some horrible people out there.

If you don’t find the owner, then you must decide what to do.

Is the cat fixed? You will need to get them fixed.

Is the cat-friendly enough to be adopted into a home? Does she like being inside? Does she use the litter box? She’s a candidate for adoption then. She can be brought to a shelter or you can try to rehome her yourself.

Is she afraid of people? Does she freak out when locked inside? Then she’s likely unadoptable and needs to be returned outside, or if no one can care for her outside, then relocated to another home, like a barn or another cat colony with a caretaker.

Are you up to the task?


Too long, Didn’t read?

Here are all the steps really quick!

  1. Don’t Assume Anything
  2. Check for an Eartip (and collar)
  3. Determine Sex, Breed/Coloring, Age Estimate
  4. Check for a Microchip
  5. Check Classifieds, Social Media, Shelters
  6. Be persistent
  7. Success? No Luck? Figure Out What to Do

Have you had experience reuniting a lost cat with her fur-parent?  Have you lost a cat before? Did you find him or her? Have you reunited a pet with their owner? Let me know in the comments!  Have questions?  Ask those below too!


8 thoughts on “Did You Find a Lost Cat Outside?”

  1. I wish all of your tips can be applied to our country. Sadly, we don’t have the same means to check and see if the cst has a home to return to. Our government do not have much program for stray cats being vaccinated or been TNR. so if the cat here is missing an ear tip, it’s probably because it was hurt. Not all owners also provide a microchip on a cat’s tag. Even if they do, chances are, only small numbers have it in our country. We will end up looking for print ads or social media ads and community announcement to look for the owners. 

    Still, it’s our responsibility to help and intermediate for the reunion of the lost cat and its owner. Thank you for your tips.It’s very interesting if you read it from another country. Thank you for sharing!

  2. This is indeed a very nice post. Most people may see a cat at their door step and without even having a second thought just chase her away. Sometime ago my cat left the house and we all thought she was just at the next compound with other cats not knowing she has gone missing. Someone saw her and was able to trace us through her collar. These are are very essential things to look out for when we come across a cat roaming around, rather than chasing them away. Thanks for sharing. 

  3. Hi Rochelle. I have to admit I have a real soft spot for cats. We often have them roaming around our property at night,before reading your article I did actually assume that they were strays. Now I know better what to look for. I had no idea that the tip of the ear missing had any significant meaning. Thank you for informing me. I’ll make sure from now on that I check them thoroughly, including if their micro chipped or not. They may just belong to someone that is missing them. Just a quick story. A friend of mine gave a cat he could no longer look after to a relative that lived about 30 mils away, one week later the cat reappeared at his front door, and they think only dogs are that loyal. All the best. Jim 

    1. Cats often try to find their way back to their original home!  This happens even with relocated feral cats as well as they are very attached to their territories.  It’s a very dangerous journey for them to undertake if they’re as far away as your friend’s cat was.  Thanks for coming by!

  4. Hi, Rochelle
    You are a very cat-loving person, and very caring, have a good experience in helping cats go home.
    The place where I live, there are people who like cats, and I often see a lot of stray cats on the road. People are used to it and will not help them go home.
    I will translate your post into Chinese and share it with my friends. Thank you.

    1. Thank you!  While most cats are simply outdoor community cats with no family to miss them, there are one or two that are lost instead of simply homeless.  Thanks again!

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