How to Lure a Cat Back Home: A Step-by-Step Guide

Key takeaways

There are three essential steps to lure a cat back home. These include using familiar scents, using familiar sounds, and monitoring your kitty's behavior. We explore the best ways to make these steps as effective as possible.

Most lots cats can find their way home thanks to their incredible homing abilities. However, indoor cats or those who have just moved house might struggle more than others.

There are lots of reasons why your cat might not be coming home. It's important as an owner to be aware of these circumstances so you know when to go out searching for your kitty.

Quick Navigation

  1. Key takeaways
  2. Step 1: Attract your lost cat with familiar scents
  3. Step 2: Attract your lost cat with familiar sounds
  4. Step 3: Monitor your progress and keep consistent
  5. Can lost cats find their way home?
  6. Why do cats not come home?
  7. FAQs
  8. Final thoughts

Step 1: Attract your lost cat with familiar scents

Cats have an incredible sense of smell. It is truly a superpower and one we owners need to tap into when our kitties go missing. Our furry friends can detect a smell from 4 miles (6.5km) away. This means when you're luring your cat back home, leaving familiar scents outside can be very effective.

Leave the litter box outside

Our kitties are territorial creatures. Their scent will be strongest in the cat's litter box (dirty, preferably). This means it can be a good idea to leave this outside. Although evidence is inconclusive on whether cats can smell their litter box from far away, it's definitely worth trying in case they are hiding nearby.
Remember, a dirty litter box outside won't just attract your cat. It will also lure potential predators and other pets in the area. Be sure to keep an eye on this. If you think you're attracting animals that will prevent your kitty from coming home, move the litter box back inside.
Cat sniffing the air detecting a scent to help lure them back home

Leave food and a treat bag outside

If your cat hasn't come back for dinner for a few days, it's likely they are pretty hungry. As owners, we know the power our cat's favorite treats have over them. Leave a bowl or bag of treats outside your door to help attract your missing cat home.
Alongside your kitty's usual cat food, try smellier snacks like tins of tuna, mackerel, and freshly cooked chicken. This will improve the chances of your furry friend picking up on a scent.
Top Tip: Remember to leave drinking water outside. Cats can go a couple of weeks without food but only three days without water.
Cat waiting at the door after being lured back home by treats and food left out for them

Leave blankets, toys, and scratch posts outside

Another option for your missing cat to smell your home is to leave items that not only have their scent on but yours as well. This can include clothes, blankets, and pillows.
Alongside this, toys and scratch posts will have your kitty's scent all over them, so putting these near the house will encourage your cat to come home.

"Cats have an incredible sense of smell. It is truly a superpower and one we owners need to tap into when our kitties go missing."

Step 2: Attract your lost cat with familiar sounds

Not only do our fur babies have incredible noses, they also have fantastic ears. With the ability to hear frequencies three times higher than humans, most cats can use their hearing to navigate their way back home.

Open up doors and windows

By opening up your doors and windows, you'll make familiar sounds more accessible to your furry friend. The daily goings-on in your house will be recognizable to a kitty who has lived there their whole life.
This will also mean if your cat wanders home, but the doors are shut, they might leave again. Keeping everything open will make sure you don't miss your chance to be reunited.
Cat waiting by an open window after being lured back home

Shake food bags at regular dinner times

Cats love routine. Our creatures of habit enjoy the structure and security of a stable day-to-day life. And this includes regular dinner times.
Just because your kitty isn't home doesn't mean you have to break this routine. When it comes to dinner time, snack time, or breakfast, be sure to shake food bags or tap tins near open windows.
It's possible your furry friend may have been making their way home for a quick snack, and this could give them the extra boost they need to find their way back.

Keep calling their name

It's already becoming clear just how clever our cats are. Well, they never stop astounding us. Our little fur babies can recognize specific vocal patterns. This means the hours spent calling their name are definitely not wasted.
In the morning, at night, whenever you have a spare moment, keep calling your kitty home. If your cat is displaced and disoriented, the familiarity of your voice will not only comfort and calm them but help them locate their home again.
Cat responding to familiar sounds. Picture of a cat meowing next to a speaker with sound waves all around them

Step 3: Monitor your progress and keep consistent

It can feel hopeless not knowing if your efforts are futile or not. But you don't have to guess. There are ways to monitor whether your strategy is working or not. This means you can adapt what you're doing in order to be more effective.

Use wildlife cameras

Wildlife cameras can offer incredible insight into missing cat behavior. You can see whether your kitty is, in fact, in the area, whether they're drinking and eating, and where they might be hiding.
It's also important to see whether any wild animals are hindering your search efforts. If potential predators or even other pets in the area have claimed your kitty's territory, this might be the reason why they're hiding.
If this is the case, you can take steps to prevent these animals from coming back. This can include scaring them with loud noises when they do return.
Picture of wildlife cameras set up outside to help find a cat

Use humane traps

If you were to hire a pet detective, they almost always use humane traps. These are contraptions that safely capture your kitty so you can find them and easily bring them home.
If you have spotted your furry friend on your wildlife cameras, then setting up some traps in the area might be the way to finally get your baby home.
Illustration of a cat in a humane trap outside

Keep the house calm

It's possible your furry friend ran away because of disruptions in their home environment. If they can see that nothing has changed, they may not want to come home.
When you're trying to lure your cat back home, keep the house as calm and quiet as possible. This means avoiding visitors, new pets, building work, and loud music.
Expert Insight: Respect your cat's home. It's as much theirs as it is yours. A regular routine and a calm environment makes for a happy cat.

Can lost cats find their way home?

Yes, lost cats can find their way home. They use their sense of smell, hearing, sight, and sensitivity to the earth's electromagnetic field to understand their location.
However, if you have recently moved home, this can make it more difficult for your kitty to recognize their territory. If you let your cat outside too soon after moving, they may run away in an attempt to return to the old house.
To avoid this, be sure to keep them inside for at least 2 weeks. This will help them associate the new home with their territory before exploring the great outdoors.
Similarly, a lost indoor cat won't have the same homing abilities as an outdoor cat, so they might need a little more help getting home.

"Lost cats can find their way home. They use their sense of smell, hearing, sight, and sensitivity to the earth's electromagnetic field to understand their location."

A cat finding its way back home, demonstrating the homing instinct. Sat outside a house in the sunset

Why do cats not come home?

While luring your cat home is an important element of finding a missing cat, it's not enough on its own. There are plenty of situations that mean your kitty won't come home. Instead, you'll have to start a thorough physical search.

They are in heat

If your kitty hasn't been neutered, they will desperately try to find a mate when they are in heat. It's unlikely your furry friend will come home until this has happened.
If you think this is possible, you should start searching the area immediately. Whilst your kitty has been looking for other animals, they could have walked very far and become displaced. This means they will be out of their territory and potentially lost.
Be sure to call local shelters and veterinarians in case they have been handed in.
Top Tip: Getting your kitty microchipped is essential. This means if they do go missing, vets and shelters will be able to find your contact details so you can be reunited as soon as possible!
Lots of cats sat outside together to indicate a cat in heat attracting male cats in the area

They are sick or injured

Unfortunately, when our buddies are sick or injured, they are more vulnerable to potential predators. This is when their instincts kick in. To protect themselves when they are weak, they will seek completely isolated and safe spaces to hide.
They are unlikely to venture back home when they are vulnerable. This means you need to start searching for them immediately so you can get them the care they need.
Old orange cat lying down outside sick and injured

They are lost

If your kitty has become lost and disoriented, they may not know how to get home. This can happen for a number of reasons, including:

They have been chased out of their territory

They have recently moved house

They have become displaced

They are an indoor cat that has escaped

If you think they may be lost, it's full steam ahead with the search effort. Print posters, craft social media posts, start a PetRadar search, and start looking yourself.
Lost kitten in the sunset next to a busy street in a city


Do cats come back home after they run away?

The majority of cats will come back after they run away. In fact, at PetRadar, we have a 68% success rate. If you have recently moved house, your kitty might be lost and not know their way home. Be sure to start a physical search to try and find them.

How likely is it for a cat to come back home?

It is likely your cat will come back home. They have incredible homing abilities thanks to their powerful sense of smell and hearing, meaning they will be able to locate their house from far away.

How far can cats smell their home?

Cats can detect a scent from 4 miles (6.5km) away. However, the general smell of their home may not be strong enough. To help them smell their home from further away, leave strong-smelling food outside, like cans of tuna.

How long should my cat be missing before I worry?

If your cat has gone missing, you should take action straight away. Although you may not need to worry, it's important you are proactive in trying to find them as soon as possible.

What is the most common reason cats go missing?

There are a few common reasons cats go missing. However, the most common reason is if you have just moved house and you let your cat outside. Because it is new territory, they won't know how to find their way back home, and they may even try to return to their old house.

How long will a cat hide if scared outside?

If your cat is scared outside, they are likely to hide for around 24 hours. After this, their adrenaline will wear off, and they'll be more likely to try and find their way home.

Why won't my cat come home?

There are many reasons why your cat isn't coming home. These can include:

New pets or visitors in their house

They are in heat, looking for a mate

You have recently moved house, and they are lost

They have been chased out of their territory

They are sick or injured[[/faq-answer]]

Final thoughts

It's likely you will be able to lure your cat back home with our tried and tested techniques. However, if you're not having any luck, you should start a PetRadar search. This means we can organize a sponsored ad campaign to spread the message about your missing kitty.
You can simply choose the radius of people you'd like to reach from your home, and we'll create a digital missing cat poster that will pop up as a paid advertisement on your neighbors' social media feeds.
By doing this, you can reach over 4000 people in your area who can all join the search and report sightings of your furry friend. We've already reunited 8000+ cats with their loving owners, so you're in good hands!

Written by

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Lauren Jeffries

In this blog, I combine my two areas of expertise: pets and writing. I share my personal experiences alongside plenty of animal behavior research to help owners look after their pets. I have always lived with furry friends and am now a loving cat mum to two orange kitties.

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