Maybe it was the unseasonably hot weather we had this year, but for a while back there it seemed as if the cat of a friend or neighbour went missing every week.
I’m a super soft touch, particularly when it comes to kitties, so I get overly invested when little ones get lost – even if I don’t know the individuals involved. I’ll retweet every lost cat who crosses my Twitter timeline if I think I have an audience close enough to help (after checking the person’s profile first to see whether there has been a happy ending in the meantime), and I’ve been known to check in before I even get out of bed in the morning if the cat belongs to a friend.
Thankfully every lost cat story I got caught up in this summer had a happy ending. Even the one from the top end of the estate, who I cried over every time I passed on my way to the doctor’s, or the cinema: she must have stayed away for about a week, and her owner left her bed, bowl and litter box outside the whole time to encourage her back home.
It got me thinking about what I would do if Scooter or The Big Man got out, and that it would be useful for me to type up my thoughts in case they helped drive-by Googlers.
Scooter and The Big Man are both indoor cats. Scooter, despite her boldness, has never shown any interest in the outdoors; while Biggie’s dodgy heart means we’re nervous about what might happen to him if he was to get out. This summer, we thought we’d see what happen if we let him out, under supervision, and whether we could get him home if we had to by shaking his food bowl. It… didn’t go well.
So, in the meantime, we have two indoor cats who seem perfectly happy, with full run of a two-storey house in which to run about (and, occasionally, have epic cat fights in).
The trouble, of course, is that if they were to get out – having no experience of holding their own in the outdoors – I’d be even more worried about them. And so, without further ado (but plenty of excuses for cat pictures), here’s everything I’ve learned about reducing the likelihood of your precious pet going missing – and what you should do if that does happen.
Get your cat microchipped
Hands down, the most important thing you can do for your cat is to get them microchipped. Microchipping – and making sure that your details are up to date with the microchip database (probably Identibase, formerly Anibase, in the UK) – means that if somebody finds your missing cat, they can get him or her scanned at a vet or by Cats Protection who can then get in contact with you.
The microchip is about the size of a grain of rice, is usually inserted under the skin between your cat’s shoulder blades by way of a quick injection and, once it’s in there, can’t be felt by them at all. Both Scooter and The Big Man had theirs done while they were being spayed, so they were already under anaesthetic, but the general consensus online is that the procedure will be no more painful for your cat than having their booster shots or getting blood taken.
If your cat goes missing, you can contact the database provider and they’ll add a note to their file. Do make sure, if you change phone number or move house, that you update your details on the database – not least because moving can be confusing and stressful for a cat, so if they get spooked and run off it’s best to be prepared.
Opt for safety collars
Although they are indoor cats, we like to keep Scooter and The Big Man in collars. I never turn my nose up at an accessory – plus, if they do get out, it’s immediately obvious that they belong to somebody.
There is, of course, a trade-off here between identifying your cat and keeping them safe, which is why we’ve always gone for safety/breakaway collars over the traditional buckle ones. The plastic catch is designed to snap open if tugged with sufficient force (because your cat has gotten caught on something for example – or is play-fighting a little too hard with her brother), but is sturdy enough that there’s no damage and it can be used again if retrieved (from under the couch).
Scooter and The Big Man were gifted with new collars from Cool Cat Collars*, a UK-based business with a huge range of accessories for your cat – and collars in everything from cartoon designs to tartan, leather and glittery velvet (perfect for Christmas!). I also picked out contrasting “I’m Chipped” tags to go with each collar. Cool Cat Collars have some funny options here, including bags of chips (!), but I decided I preferred to keep the message simple and obvious.
The I’m Chipped tags* have space for four lines of text on the back, though again I kept it simple here with just the cats’ names and my email address (admittedly, knowing I’d be publishing pictures here played some role in my decision). Unlike with traditional engraving, the text and images on these tags are laser-printed in a way that is designed to be permanent – and Cool Cat Collars guarantee the tags for life.
Check local hidey-holes
So that’s the “preventative” stuff out of the way – but what do you do if the worst actually happens?
Cats can squeeze into just about anywhere (if we’ve lost Biggie, we’ll usually find him at the bottom of the wardrobe, behind my handbags) so keep that in mind and thoroughly search your house first. Cats tend to be creatures of comfort first and foremost – it’s amazing how many times we’ve thought one has gotten out or gone missing only to crawl out from under the sofa or behind the TV as soon as we shake a bag of Dreamies.
Once you’re positive your cat isn’t indoors, move outside – sticking close to home at first, before moving further out. Check in garages and outbuildings, sheds and cars, particularly if it’s somewhere that a cat might have gotten into and then not been able to get back out of once the door closed behind them: that happened to at least one cat of my acquaintance this summer. Bring a bag of their favourite treats and call their name, particularly if you tend to call out for them at dinnertime.
Yes, this is probably the point in your search that you will regret calling your cat The Big Man.
Cats have a really strong sense of smell, so leaving a favourite blanket, bedding or litter tray outside is a good idea, particularly overnight. A dish of food and fresh water could also help to entice your little pest home.
Use your local networks
If my experiences this summer are anything to go by, the days of the traditional “lost pet” poster on every lamp post seem to be coming to an end as people use their social networks to get the word out instead – and while nothing beats a good, clear picture, with the Scottish weather it can be hard to guarantee a poster will be legible for long.
Before you jump onto Twitter though, it’s best to think strategically. Do you have enough of a local audience that their engagement and shares will be helpful? Are there popular local hashtags that will get your tweets seen, local media or animal charities that might be able to help or local influencers willing to spread the word? (Seriously, if you’re in the east end of Glasgow/Rutherglen area, you know where I am).
Facebook is almost certainly a better bet than Twitter, especially given the growth in local community groups and pages you can post to – just do a search for your local area and one will almost certainly spring up. Make sure your posts are public, so that your network can easily share (you can always take them down once your little one has returned home, if you’re as much of a stickler for privacy as I am). Community social network Nextdoor reunited a fair few local pets with their owners this summer – see if a neighbour can send you an invite if it has reached your area, as the people using the site tend to be particularly engaged in their local community (or just super nosey, like me…).
I hope these tips have been useful. If you have any of your own, please leave them in the comments!
This post contains PR samples, but all views are my own and unbiased.