roommate lost cat

What to Do When Your Roommate Loses Your Cat

roommate lost cat

Roommate lost your cat? Here are the top ways to find your pet:

  1. #1 method: a complete inside/outside physical search.
  2. Tempt your cat with familiar sounds and smells (the rattle of dry food, the smell of wet food, etc.).
  3. Motion-activated cameras or baby monitors can keep watch outside when you can’t.

Uh, oh! Your roommate lost your cat!

Or perhaps YOU are the roommate who has lost another roommate’s cat?

Either way, there’s a cat to find, right? So, let’s get to it!

Before we begin, though, I need to tell you about the research of Kat Albrecht. Albrecht found that lost cats behave differently depending on which category they belong to.

There are three main categories.

Category 1: an indoor-only cat that has gotten outside.

These are the cats that all those roommates have lost by leaving the doors open for too long.

Category 2: an outdoor-access cat which has been scared away for some reason.

Sometimes a dog, more dominant cat or even a loud sound (such as fireworks) will frighten a cat, and they will leave their usual territory.

Category 3: a lost outdoor-access cat.

In this case, something has happened to the animal, and it cannot come home.

Examples of what could have happened are injury, death, and being picked up by the local animal catcher.

Albrecht informs that cats stay in one territory. In other words, unlike dogs, they do not run away from home.

Albrecht also teaches that a feline survival strategy is to hide in silence. So, chances are that your cat will NOT meow to show where he is.

Lastly, according to Albrecht’s 2017 research, the most successful way to find a lost cat is by doing a physical search of the area.

I suggest you keep all this in mind when choosing your strategy(ies) below.

1. Search your home

search home for lost cat

I love cats and have had one or another since I was about 6 years old. So, I can tell you that they are very sneaky creatures.

If you are not 200% sure that the cat went outside, it could be that kitty is sleeping or trapped somewhere.

Cats are notorious for getting themselves into places you would never think they would fit into. As a result, you don’t look there.

Conduct a calm, well-lit search

Look all over your house from side to side and top to bottom.

Open all doors, including wardrobe, closet, and cupboard doors. Look under everything.

Do not neglect a spot for any reason.

2. Look around outside (for houses)

Kat Albrecht and Dr. Jacquie Rand carried out a study of 1,232 owners who had lost a cat.

They found the median distances that cats travel home.

(For anyone who is not familiar with the word ‘median’, it means the middle. So, not the longest distance, not the shortest distance, but the one in the middle.)

But back to our story…the median distance which indoor-only and scared outdoor cats traveled to get home was 54 yards (Those are the cats in Categories 1 and 2 above).

That’s about 2 ½ houses away from your home on any side.

How to search

Walk calmly and quietly in and around this 2 ½ house area.

Check inside every structure and under every bush or hedge.

You may need to get permission from your neighbors to enter their yards and outside buildings.

Use a flashlight where needed. Your cat’s eyes could be reflected in the light.

Get help from your roommate. After all, he is mostly responsible for losing your cat!

Roommate Expert Top Tip: Since median means middle, your cat may have gone even farther. So, you may want to widen your search area.

If you suspect that your animal has been scared away by a neighbor’s pet(s), talk to your neighbor. Ask them to keep their animal(s) inside during your search.

3. Look around outside (for apartments)

Looking for indoor-only cats lost from ground floor apartments is similar to looking for a cat lost from a house.

This is because the kitties have easy access to the street. So, go back to #2 above.

Yet, if your roommate has lost your cat from an apartment on another floor, you need to search differently.

Apartment ‘hiding places’

All apartment buildings have stairwells. Perhaps your cat is trapped in one of them?

Apartment buildings have neighbors. Maybe someone invited your cat in for dinner…and your cat decided to stay.

Ask all the neighbors on your floor, the floor above, and the floor below if they have seen your lost cat.

Does your apartment have a lobby with a doorman? Perhaps he has seen your cat.

What about a laundry room? A gym? How about a spa? A basement? Check each one and ask any people who are usually in these places.

4. Entice your lost cat to return

entice lost cat to return

MaxPixel, Ginger The Homeless Love Pets Food Cat

The research shows that you and your roommate (the one who lost your cat!) can try to encourage your cat to return home.

In each case, open the front door, stand just outside it and…

  • Shake a box of dry food or cat treats. It’s a sound your kitty knows…and loves.
  • Wave around a can of wet food. Softly call your pet’s name as you spread the smell around.
  • Put the cat’s litter box on the ground near your. Another smell your cat is familiar with.
  • Take your pet’s favorite toy and begin playing as if she were there. If your cat can see you, chances are she will come.

5. Check your last home

Have you moved to this home recently? Is your previous home nearby—in cat terms?

Earlier in this article, I spoke about Albrecht and Rand’s study of 1,232 owners who had lost a cat and how they found the median distances that cats travel home.

(A quick note about the word ‘median’ in case you didn’t see the above explanation: it means the middle. In other words, not the shortest or longest distance but the one in the middle.)

Albrecht and Rand found that the median distance traveled by lost outdoor-access kitties was 344 yards. In terms of houses, that’s 17 houses in any direction from your home.

Roommate Expert Top Tip: Of course 17 houses is only the median. Your pet may have run off even farther. This site posts extraordinary cases. The record is currently 1,500 miles. So, it would be worth checking your last home, even if it is quite a long distance away.

6. Visit the local animal shelter(s)

cat in animal shelter

Your cat may be at the local ASPCA. Find your local shelter here.

Is there an animal control center near to where you live? Check that one too.

And by the way…visit, don’t call. You want to be sure, right?

7. Bait a humane trap

humane cat trap

Wikipedia image by FelineAvenger

This type of trap is the one used for TNR (trap-neuter-release) programs run by the ASPCA and other animal welfare organizations.

You may be able to rent a humane trap from your local animal welfare organization or buy one online.

Before you rent or buy a trap

Make sure that using such a trap is legal in your area. You will need to search your local town/city/county codes.

A trip to the police station or municipal building is an alternative to online searching.

Before setting the trap

Traps can catch cats other than yours, like your neighbor’s.

So, one day before setting the trap, post notices around your neighborhood informing everyone that trapping is taking place.

Post at least 5 notices. Post them in highly visible places such as the local supermarket, entrance(s) to the local enclosed mall or shopping center, etc.

Preparing the trap

Put a soft blanket, towel or other material on the floor of the trap.

Place a small, open can of wet cat food at the back of the trap.

Set the door on its spring.

Drape a blanket, towel or other material over the trap. This is to reduce the stress of the animal trapped inside.

Place the trap on a level surface near your house.

Monitoring the trap

Check the trap on the ½ hour and on the hour for as long as the trap is in active use.

Dealing with the results

Trapped your kitty that your roommate lost? Congratulations! Job well done.

Trapped another animal that looks like a pet? Remember those notices you posted?

Replace them with FOUND notices: a description of the animal, where it was trapped, your contact information. Maybe you have gotten someone’s pet by mistake.

If no one claims the animal or if it looks feral (wild), contact your local animal welfare organization for instructions.

You can find more details about using humane traps (and a helpful video) here.

8. Hire a pet detective

scooby doo pet detective

Yes, this is serious business to all of you giggling with memories of Jim Carrey as Ace Ventura, Pet Detective.

You can search for a pet detective at this site.

9. Keep an eye out with technology

I get that you cannot be outside 24/7. I also get that your lost cat may check back from time to time and not seeing anyone about, go off again.

Motion sensor/activated digital cameras and baby monitors can be your eyes and ears when you just can’t be outside.

Motion sensor/activated cameras

How they work

Very simply, these cameras are constantly comparing images one after another. If a pair of consecutive images are different (in other words, the next image comes immediately after the previous one), the camera decides that motion (movement) has happened and starts recording.  (source)

Set up tips

You will need to tell the camera what percentage of image change equals ‘motion’.

If you were using this to catch intruders to your home, you would probably put the percentage of change at 50% (or medium)—to catch a human, not a mouse.

In this case, you are actually looking for a smaller object. So your percentage of change is going to have to be closer to 100% (or high).


Put your motion sensor/activated camera in a natural cat path. That is, in a place in which you cat is most likely to walk.

Position the camera so that your cat will walk parallel to it rather than towards it. (source)

Where to get them

Here are ‘best camera’ reviews from Safewise, PC Magazine, and The Gear Hunt.

Baby monitors

How they work

Remember radio? The radio station sent out a signal (the radio show) and your home radio (the received) picked it up.

Same for baby monitors.

The part usually placed in the child’s room is the radio show, and the part near you in the kitchen, living room or bedroom, etc. is picking up the sounds.  (source)

Set up tips

Pay attention to the transmission range of your monitor. Placing it too far away means you won’t hear kitty even if he’s there.


Choose a relatively quiet spot. Competing noises can drown out any sounds your lost cat will make.

Where to get them

Check out these PC Magazine and Tech Hive reviews.

Hopefully, one of the above methods has returned the beloved cat which your roommate lost.

The important thing now is to reduce the chances of it happening again.

10. Take your share of the responsibility

The harsh truth (you are forewarned) is that it is your cat, not your roommate’s.

I agree that roommates losing cats is not acceptable behavior. Your pet is precious to you, and that should be respected by your roommate.

However, the fact remains that accidents will happen.

Roommates will leave front doors open too long. Roommates will not pay attention to who or what is slipping by them while that door is open.

Understand, then, that as long as you are living with a ‘catless’ roommate, there is a chance that your kitty might get lost.

11. Get a pet tag

This low-tech, ID tag is a super way for people to return your lost kitty to you…or at least let you know where he has been spotted.

Of course, your pet has to agree to keep the collar on…

Assuming he is cooperative, here is what the American Kennel Club (AKC) offers.

American Kennel Club: How it works

You join the AKC reunite program. You give them contact details [phone, email, alternate emergency contact(s) ].

Then, you buy a pet tag.

Each tag will have the pet’s name, an ID number given by the Kennel Club, and the toll-free, 800 number of AKC’s Reunite program (manned 24/7).

You put the tag on a collar and the collar on your cat.

When a good Samaritan finds a pet, like the cat your roommate lost, he simply calls the AKC number, giving them the ID on the pet tag.

AKC gets in touch with you—or your emergency contact if you don’t respond—and kitty comes home.

Another option is Tags for Hope.

Tags for Hope: How it works

This option is sort of a miniature driver’s license/passport/medical card all rolled into one.

On the front of the tag there is a picture of your pet and the following ID possibilities: state, pet name, address (home or email), vet’s address, class, date of birth, eye color, hair color, breed, sex. You do not have to use all the possibilities.

The back of the tag is for special needs, instructions, and/or comments. Things such as: whether or not your pet has a microchip and what that number is; special dietary requirements or food allergies; things your pet is especially afraid of; behavioral issues; and even a heartfelt plea to “Please help get our baby back! We love him so much!”

12. Microchip your pet

Time and time again, the research shows that microchipping will help a lot in case your roommate loses your cat.

Organizations which handle lost and stray animals generally scan new animals for microchips.

How it works

A pet microchip is about as big as a grain of rice. It is enclosed in a glass cylinder.

When a scanner is passed over an area containing a microchip, the scanner’s radio waves ‘turn on’ the chip. So, no battery needs to be replaced.

When activated (turned on), the microchip sends out a number. This is displayed on the scanner’s screen.

The number is linked to your contact information in the microchip company database. So, when your pet is lost and then found, you will be contacted easily and quickly.

Pet microchips are not GPS enabled. In other words, you cannot track your pet’s movements.

Also, your privacy is not at risk.

How it is implanted

Pet microchips are placed under your pet’s skin with a hypodermic needle. Think of it just like an injection or shot.

No anesthesia or hospitalization is needed. Your vet can do it during a regular appointment.

This American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA) article has more details.

Once the microchip is implanted

You will need to register your pet’s microchip in a database.

There are many databases to choose from. I suggest checking a few and deciding which is right for you.

Your vet or local animal welfare organization may be able to give you advice or even a recommendation.

To get you started, here are several which look authentic:

13. Track your pet with GPS

Feels a bit cloak and dagger, right? That narrator’s voice over in a spooky movie: “Let’s have a look…what is kitty up to now…”

How they work

Just like the GPS system you use when driving, GPS pet trackers use satellites to find missing pets…in this case, the cat your roommate lost.

The GPS device works via radio waves or cell phones. Obviously, when there is a limited radio signal or no cell phone coverage, the device will not work. (source)

For most of us, this is not going to be an issue.

The technology is built into a collar which your pet wears.

Buying tips

To make finding your lost cat most efficient, invest in a GPS pet tracking device which works with a dedicated recovery center. If the animal gets lost (like when roommates let them out), you notify the recovery center and they start looking.

Choose a device which can let you know when the battery needs recharging.

Make sure there is a function to give you real-time updates of where kitty is throughout the day.

You may wish to get a GPS tracker which keeps a pet movement history over a few days and can give you a report.   (source)

Where to get them

Here are PawTracker’s recommendations which have been updated for now.

14. Educate your roommate about cat behavior

Set a meeting with your roommate. With friendliness and patience, have a constructive conversation with your roommate who lost your cat.

Probably your roommate is feeling quite bad about the situation. After all, they didn’t give your cat away like some roommates I heard about.

Roommates who don’t have cats are usually clueless about the lifestyle of having a cat.

As you chat, be mindful that you are asking your roommate to change their behavior to suit your ‘with a pet’ lifestyle.

This is not a small matter, so some understanding would go a long way.

Points to mention

Explain about how your indoor cat is not equipped to survive outside.

Is your cat declawed? Remind your roommate that this essential survival feature has been removed so that your home’s furniture stays in good condition.

If you have not vaccinated your pet for outside, explain this to your roommate. Make sure they understand the threats of disease your cat would be exposed to.

Tell them that your cat is quick and clever. So, they need to be on their guard when opening front/back/garden/balcony doors or windows without screens.

Ask them for suggestions about how to reduce the chances of their contributing to your cat getting lost again.

15. Change cat sitters

cat sitter

Was your roommate in charge of your cat while you were away, and that’s when she got lost?

Time to find another sitter for your kitty.

Sometimes, friends or family will host your pet, and there are always pet hotels.

Roommate Expert Top Tip: If you continue to leave your cat with your roommate for extended periods, it should be under a ‘no blame if lost’ agreement. You understand that it has happened once and can happen again.

16. Confine your kitty

Your roommate can’t lose your cat if your pet isn’t roaming around the house.

Consider shutting your cat in your bedroom (complete with food, water, and litter box) when you are away from home for any reason.

Once you are home, you are more able to keep an eye on what’s happening and prevent ‘escapes’.

17. Neuter your cat

Cats in heat (females) are more eager to get outside and find a mate.

Male cats are only too happy to help outside ‘in heat’ females.

Neutering your cat will stop your cat’s need and reduce the chances of your cat getting lost.

18. Re-categorize your cat

Remember I spoke about the three categories of lost cats at the start of this article?

If your cat is an indoor-only cat and you see that your roommate continues to lose him, think about giving your cat outdoor access.

Completing the vaccinations needed is simple enough, and declawed cats can manage outside depending on the situation.

Writer: Lisa Aharon

lisa ahron writer


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