The Scoop on Your Kitty’s Litter Box – What They Want You to Know

Patchy playing in the litter box just after I added fresh litter!

Just Another Article about Kitty Litter…

Right?

No.

It’s all been written already. If you Google search “cat litter boxes”, there is probably a bazillion articles on the “best” way to set up their boxes.

So, instead, I decided to just share how I have mine set up, and maybe help you to understand, through our own human experiences, why your cat may not like using his litter box.

Inappropriate elimination and litter box problems are among the top reasons for pet cats losing their homes and being surrendered to shelters.

I hope that this post helps to save at least one cat’s life, if not MANY!!

How the Wrong Litter Box Setup Could Cost Your Cat’s Health

He Was Holding His Pee Until He Couldn’t Anymore

I have a friend who adopted a former feral cat in 2016. As soon as he arrived at his new home, it was love at first sight for both of them. Once we let him out of the carrier, he started purring, and I don’t think he has stopped purring since!

He adjusted to indoor cat life very well and had no problems.

However, just about a year ago, my friend realized something was “off” with him. He wasn’t eating much and appeared lethargic. So we called my vet to come out and take a look at him.

When our vet examined him, his bladder was SO painfully full that he eliminated all over the room. That ruled out a urinary blockage, but they had to get to the bottom of this, so they took a urine sample.

No crystals, no signs of infection. The only thing that was abnormal in his urinalysis was that his urinary pH was 7.0, which is a little higher than I would like to see, especially for a male cat since they are so prone to blockages from crystals. I aim for a pH of 6.5 for my own cats.

It Was His Litter Box

Soon after, I was cat sitting for my friend while she was away for the weekend. When I went downstairs to scoop his litter box, the FIRST thing I noticed was a horrid perfumey smell. If you ever had a grandmother that used to wear the Jean Nate body splash, THAT’S how offensive it was to me.

Now, follow me here. Kitty was raised feral in my yard. He used sand to cover his “business”. Plain, old unscented sand.

Imagine how unpleasant the Fresh Step with Febreze was to him?

That stuff should SERIOUSLY be outlawed!

I got on the phone with my vet and told him my theory. The litter box was SO unpleasant to her cat that he only went in to use the box when he ABSOLUTELY HAD TO. The poor baby waited until he could no longer hold his pee to eliminate in the box!

Isn’t that just heartbreaking? What’s more heartbreaking is that her kitty still used his box like a GOOD little boy rather than eliminating elsewhere in the house.

When my vet did a house call for his followup visit, he checked out the litter box and agreed that it likely was the litter scented with Fabreze that was causing his issues.

Since we switched him to Young Again Zero Mature to balance his urinary pH and we switched him to Tidy Cats Free & Clean unscented litter, (knock wood) he hasn’t been having any problems and uses his litter box much more frequently!

If she had just followed my suggestions when she first adopted her kitty, she would have saved herself over $500 in vet bills! And saved him A WHOLE LOT of pain and discomfort!

When I Took the Hood Off of His Litter Box, I was HORRIFIED

My neighbor asked me to feed his rescue cat while he and his boys were away for the weekend.

I decided to scoop his litter box and was HORRIFIED when I took the hood off the box….

That box hadn’t been scooped in at least a week. And God only knows the last time it was changed completely.

And he was using scented litter.

It was so disgustingly dirty and smelly that I don’t even know how kitty didn’t start using another area in the house to do his “business”.

This is animal cruelty in MY book.

Let’s put it this way. Imagine leaving your toilet lid open, not flushing the toilet for at least week, leaving the bathroom door closed at all times, and using the worst perfume you can find to cover up the odor, and add ammonia to the mix. In other words, a Porta Potty that hasn’t been cleaned in AGES.

Wouldn’t that make you reluctant to use the litter box? Have you ever held your pee until you could get to a REAL restroom rather than using the Porta Potty? Because I know I have!

I talked to my neighbor about his kitty’s litter box when he returned and how it can affect his cat’s health if he didn’t make some changes. I can only hope that he took my suggestions.

The Method to My Madness

I have a “system” for EVERYTHING. Our litter boxes are NO different!

How I set up my boxes is loosely adapted from Dr. Lisa Pierson’s recommendations on Catinfo.org.

How Our Litter Boxes are Set Up
How Our Litter Boxes are Set Up

After I rescued The Kits, I needed to come up with a better way to handle six litter boxes. Since I was graduating from two indoor cats to FIVE, I couldn’t see discarding 120lbs of litter every week. I used to do a complete litter change once per week.

I didn’t love the idea of using Rubbermaid totes as Dr. Lisa suggests, especially since Penny was having problems with spinal arthritis. So, I modified Dr. Lisa’s recommendations by using the large Nature’s Miracle litter boxes. By using Dr. Lisa’s method of keeping the litter REALLY deep (at least 3-4″), the pee and poop never hit the bottom of the litter box, therefore eliminating the need to scrub the boxes every week and/or use litter box liners.

Another reason why you want to make the litter DEEP is so that they can completely cover their “business”. This, instinctively, is VERY important to cats. Cats bury their “business” as a way to keep predators off their track. If predators smell their poop, they will know cats are nearby, which means either there is a food source nearby or the cats ARE the food source. This behavior is ingrained into their DNA, so a cat is more comfortable when they actually have enough kitty litter to completely cover their “business”. Therefore, they need litter deep enough to bury the hole that becomes their “toilet” and they need enough litter to bury it completely.

Creamsicle buff tabby, Teddy (feral), digging a big hole in the ground outside before he uses the bathroom.
Teddy digging his way to China before he does his “business”.

I use Dr. Elsey’s Cat Ultra Premium Clumping unscented scoopable litter. This stuff binds SO well that you could lay a foundation to a house with it when it gets wet, so it’s easy to get ALL of their “business” out of the boxes while scooping.

TYPE OF BOX

Like I said, I use the corner Nature’s Miracle Litter Boxes. They have a nice “entry way” that was great for when Penny was in her final days and very weak. As sick as she was with kidney disease at the end, she never once failed to use her litter box. Most recently, this helped Fluffy easily get in and out of her box after her mammary mass removal. She had a large incision that extended under her left armpit and she had NO trouble getting in and out of the box while she recovered.

They are large enough for even my bigger cats to turn around in. Penny was once 16lbs and she was a large Maine Coon mix. If she can turn around in the box, any of my cats can!

I’m slowly switching over to the high-sided boxes to reduce the amount of litter being scattered all over the house by some of our more rambunctious cats, who seem to think bathroom time is also play time!! These high-sided boxes still have that “entry way” that older or arthritic cats need to easily enter and exit the box.

Nature’s Miracle High-Sided Litter Box

WHY I DON’T USE HOODED BOXES

I’ll admit I once used a hooded litter box for Taz and Tabby. They were also as bonded as two cats could be, and I’ve always scooped litter boxes twice per day, so it was not an issue for them. Honestly, I really didn’t know any better then, either. I was very lucky with Taz and Tabby as they were the best-behaved cats a girl could EVER ask for. In EVERY way!

That being said, I really don’t like hooded litter boxes. And I have several reasons why. I watch my Yard Cats do their “business” outside every day. And usually, when one of them is going to the bathroom, there’s at least one cat stalking them to chase them. When a feral cat is going to the bathroom, they are vulnerable.

Charlie preparing to ambush Teddy just after Teddy went to the bathroom.
Charlie getting ready to ambush Teddy after Teddy went to the bathroom!

I noticed my indoor cats like to stalk who is using the box too. So, if there’s a hood on that box, they are TRAPPED inside and cannot escape. This happened to Penny when she was still at the rescue and using a communal litter box with a hood on it while their cages were being cleaned. There was a large male cat on top of that hood waiting for her to jump out. And he attacked her as she jumped out of the box.

Unless your cats are super-bonded and join paws every night to sing campfire songs together, a hood could be a problem on that box.

P. U.!!!!

Another reason why I don’t like hooded boxes is that it confines all of that odor inside the box. I totally get it. I don’t want my house smelling like cat poop either. But if you’re keeping the box well-scooped, using the right litter, and keeping the litter boxes out of high traffic areas (we will get more into why this is a good idea, anyway), smell should be a non-issue.

If you INSIST on using that hood, I want to ask you to try something for me. I want you to use your bathroom all day and ONLY flush it once. Close the door to the bathroom and keep the toilet lid open all day…

Now, if you can honestly say that at the end of the day, the stench in that bathroom didn’t bother you or make you want to vomit, then be my guest and leave the hoods on!

But, also remember, your cat inhaling all of that dust confined into the box is no good for their respiratory tract, either. And I’m not afraid to dust. Those Swiffer dusters are a cinch to use!

WHY I HAVE SIX LITTER BOXES

Because I have five indoor cats. And even though four are litter mates and the fifth one is their former feral mama, they don’t all get along. My shy, timid Patchy does not like to use the litter box with ANY other cats around, even the cats she’s friends with. Following the “number of cats + one” rule is an assurance that Patchy won’t ever have to hold her “business” for fear of being ambushed.

WHY I USE UNSCENTED LITTER

Remember that my indoor cats were all born and raised “feral”. They are used to using sand outside. When I rescued The Kits, I wanted the transition from using the great outdoors to a litter box to be as easy on all of us as possible.

Our Yard Cat (feral), Domino, covering his "business".
One of our Yard Cats (feral), Domino, going to the bathroom.

Also, having had a cat with chronic kidney disease, I cannot help but to wonder if the scent agents and Fabreze in kitty litter aren’t going to have any long-term health effects on my cats. These scented litters are made with CHEMICALS. They use the litter box, and later, when they are grooming, they clean their paws that stepped into that litter box. Cats like my Patchy enjoy rolling around in and sitting in the litter box.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Believe me, once you’ve had a cat with chronic kidney disease, it makes you question EVERYTHING you are using around your kitties!

SCENTED LITTER SMELLS LIKE BAD PERFUME ANYWAY!

Did you ever have that one co-worker/relative/friend who drenched herself in the foulest smelling perfume around and it made your eyes water and your throat hurt whenever you were in the same room or car with them?

Cats’ respiratory systems are sensitive and they have a MUCH stronger sense of smell than we do. I imagine that’s what these scented litters smell like to THEM. Especially the new brands that have Glade, Fabreze or any other air freshener in them. If my friend’s scented litter with Fabreze made MY eyes burn, imagine what it did to her kitty’s? Did I mention that his third eyelids were protruding when the vet saw him? And did I also mention that they stopped protruding and his sneezing stopped when my friend switched to unscented litter?

WHY I ONLY USE CLUMPING LITTER

Since I don’t do complete litter changes (unless I suspect a parasite or illness), GOOD clumping litter makes it easier to totally remove their urine when you scoop the box. Scoop, top off with fresh litter, and it’s CLEAN!

I also use litter box scooping time to get a good idea of their urinary tract health. Back in the 1990s, my Taz became blocked with urinary crystals when he was just a year old. My sweet, shy boy spent five days in the hospital with a catheter in him so he wouldn’t die. That ordeal cost us over $1500 and cost Taz a whole lot of unnecessary pain and anguish. Although he never became blocked again, he suffered with urinary tract infections for the rest of his life.

I swore if I ever had a male cat again, I would take what I learned from Taz to spare them the pain and suffering that Taz endured.

My Siamese mix Taz during Christmas of 2000. He was 4 years old.
Taz, Christmas 2000. He was 4 yrs old.

When I scoop the litter boxes, it’s much more to me than making their boxes nice and clean and odor free. It’s also my time to check to see how the kitties are doing in THAT department.

LEARN YOUR KITTY’S BATHROOM HABITS AND WHAT’S NORMAL FOR THEM

Paying attention to my cats’ bathroom habits is also how I caught Penny’s feline diabetes so early. As soon as I saw the LAKES of her urine, I KNEW.

In this case, size DOES matter! A healthy, well-hydrated cat should produce “pee balls” anywhere from the size of a rubber bouncy ball to a small tennis ball. If you’re using clumping litter and seeing pee balls smaller than the size of a ping-pong ball, and ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE A MALE CAT, treat this as a medical emergency and get in touch with your vet ASAP!

The size of the “pee ball” also depends on the cat. Patchy, my female runt, only weighs about 6 1/2 lbs even though she’s over 3 years old. Her “pee balls” are much smaller than her brother Rascal’s, who is a hardy 14lbs. However, I know her habits, so I will know if she develops a problem.

On the flip side, if you have a cat peeing LARGE amounts and/or really large pee balls, this could be a sign of feline diabetes, feline chronic kidney disease, or hyperthyroidism, among other diseases. A vet check with blood work and a chem panel should be a PRIORITY if you encounter increased urine output.

POOP IS IMPORTANT, TOO!

Often, people will come to me for help because their cat stopped eating. The first question I ALWAYS ask is, “When was their last bowel movement?”

Most of the time, they have NO idea.

After parenting a senior cat who suffered with chronic constipation and a Maine Coon with hairball issues, I can honestly tell you on most days when each of my five indoor cats pooped in the past 24 hours. And some of my ferals, too!

Our Maine Coon mix, Penny, sitting on the bed - 2013
Penny – Spring, 2013

PAY ATTENTION to what they’re doing in that litter box! It very well could save their life!

WHY I DON’T USE THOSE PLASTIC LITTER LINERS

I’ve tried to use them in the past with Taz and Tabby. And they just tore them to shreds while trying to bury their business.

I’ve scooped litter boxes with those liners in it. They never quite fit right. The liners push all the litter to the center of the box. And trying to keep the “pee balls” intact while scooping a lined box is damn near impossible. They break apart. And then I cannot see how big they are.

If you pour the litter deep enough, the liners are completely unnecessary.

I don’t think they are BAD, but I see no reason to use them. And my cats’ boxes never stink.

I SCOOP TWICE PER DAY

No ifs, ands, or buts on this one. I flush the toilet more than once per day, so I scoop their boxes more than once per day.

AND, if someone poops and I happen to be around, it only takes me a SECOND to scoop that poop out.

I don’t ever want to give my cats ANY excuse to go outside of the box. I’ve had cats with urinary issues my entire adult life, between Taz’s crystals and chronic UTIs, and Penny’s diabetes and her chronic kidney disease. And I can honestly say that NEVER ONCE did any of my cats do their “business” outside of the litter box (knock wood).

Believe me, barring a medical problem, if your kitty is going outside of the box, they’re either adults who are not spayed or neutered (why isn’t your kitty fixed, anyway?), or they are telling you they don’t like their litter box.

My Choice of Poop Scooper

I cannot STAND most of the poop scoopers on the market today. They are plastic, with holes that are too big, so “little bits” go back into the litter box. Some of the really big, cumbersome scoopers just don’t do the job right. The plastic scoopers make it hard to sift the litter around to locate kitty’s “business”.

This is my FAVORITE poop scooper and it’s well worth the $12 I spend on it! It’s lightweight (great for carpal tunnel syndrome), metal, easy to clean, and I can wack the side of the box to bang off any “pee balls” that are half on the side and half in the corner of the box. Since it’s more flat, it’s easier to get under the pee ball to scoop it out intact, which is neater and cleaner. This scoop even passed the “my Penny has kidney disease and pees lakes” test!

Make It as Easy as Possible for Yourself, Too!

I’m a convenience gal. If something is not convenient, I won’t do it. Or I will procrastinate until I absolutely HAVE to… ie: meal prep! I live in fast-paced New Jersey. Life here demands convenience!

So, I have a poop scooper by each one of my litter boxes, as well as bags to put their “business”. It takes me less than five minutes to scoop six litter boxes in six different rooms on two levels of my house. Easy, peasy.

WHAT IF MY CAT LIKES TO PEE ON THE SIDE OF THE BOX?

I have one of those, too. Actually, both of my boy cats like to pee on the side wall of the box. So, I keep Lysol Daily Cleanser Disinfecting Wipes and a roll of toilet paper by each of the boxes. I push the litter out of the way, wipe with the wipe, dry with a wad of toilet paper, and push the litter back. I like these new unscented, “pet area safe” Lysol wipes. However, I take the extra step of drying the area I wiped just as a precaution.

LITTER BOX PLACEMENT AND TOILET TRAINING

I do have a three out of my six boxes in corners of bedrooms. However, I make sure they have an escape route on either side of the box so if one of my other cats decides to ambush, they ALWAYS have an “out”.

I have four boxes upstairs and two down in the unfinished basement that is slowly turning into a large cat playroom! My cats never have to travel very far to use the litter box.

I set this up this way back when Penny was still alive. I never wanted to make it difficult for her to get to a litter box with her health issues.

PLEASE consider your cats when choosing to place the litter box(es)! It’s not fair to an older, arthritic cat to make them have to travel up or downstairs to use their box.

BATHROOM TIME SHOULD BE QUIET TIME

Choose a quiet location for them to do their “business”. Cats startle with loud noises easily, so placing the box near the washer, dryer, furnace or A/C may not be the best location for them.

Also, keep litter boxes away from high-traffic areas, especially out of kids’ play areas. I watch my ferals. They always go off away from all of the action to do their “business”.

You don’t want an audience while you’re going to the bathroom, right?

Well, neither do our cats.

Also, the “Number of Boxes Rule + 1” rule requires proper placement!

If you have ALL of the litter boxes sitting next to each other, and I see this ALL OF THE TIME, it totally defeats the purpose of this rule! If you have a bully or stalker cat, and most people with multi-cat households do, they can STILL intimidate the more timid cats in your household if you’re putting all of the boxes together in one spot. Please don’t make bathroom time a stressful time for your more timid cats. This can and WILL lead to health problems down the line, I promise you that!

This rule only works if you place the boxes in different areas throughout the house. And if you have more than one level to your house? You should have litter boxes on every level!

WHAT ABOUT TOILET TRAINING MY CAT LIKE MR. JINX IN “MEET THE PARENTS?
Jinx from "Meet the Parents" using the human toilet.
Jinx from “Meet the Parents” (Image may be subject to copyright)

That’s a big, fat NO.

Cats urinating and defecating are an instinctive way for them to mark their territory. Again, I have the benefit of observing my feral cats bathrooming outside on a daily basis.

Please, don’t take that method of marking their territory away from them! They will find other ways to mark their territory if you do!

Plus, I never want to compete with my cat over the toilet!!

MY THOUGHTS ON THE TIDY CATS BREEZE SYSTEM

I’ll pass.

I considered the Tidy Cats Breeze Litter System back when Penny was still here. It sounded so alluring…no tracking litter, no pee balls, only change the pee pads once per week.

But then I got to thinking…if I’m only changing the pee pads once per week, how can I really properly monitor my cats’ urinary tract health?

I’d have to change those pads daily. And they’re expensive. I wouldn’t ever want to ration those pee pads because they’re too expensive.

I’m sure the pellets are not unscented.

The litter boxes are too small.

However, I do see how they can be beneficial in special circumstances.

My friend’s cat has urinary tract health issues. She uses the Breeze system. She found out that her kitty still had blood in her urine when she changed the pee pad one day after kitty finished taking her course of antibiotics. That prompted my friend to have the vet culture the urine to figure out which antibiotic kitty should have been taking.

But this would be about the only use I can see for this type of litter box setup.

And, again, I have the benefit of watching cats outside in the “wild” daily. Litter that mimics sand is best. After reading some reviews on Amazon, I did notice that some cats just won’t take to those pellets.

THIS IS ABOUT THE CAT’S HEALTH AND HAPPINESS

I’m pretty sure Better Homes & Gardens will not be stopping in anytime soon to take pics of my house and decor.

But if they do, I’ll have to vacuum up the scattered kitty litter and dust really quickly.

Yes, I know it’s a pain. And life is short.

But I decided I wanted cats. It wouldn’t be fair to give a cat a home and then make their bathroom time as unpleasant as many people make it for their kitties.

If you’re committed to having a pet cat(s), then shouldn’t you be committed to health and happiness?

Creamsicle red tabby, Mischief, relaxing on his cat hammock.
Mischief lounging on his hammock.

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All treatments, foods and supplements mentioned in this blog are based on my own research, experience and done with my vet’s knowledge and consent. Consult with your vet as necessary.

LOST CAT! Some Tips to Help You Bring Kitty Home!

But First! A Couple of Stories…

Before I get into tips to help you find your missing kitty, I wanted to share a couple of stories.

Blue

Blue went missing in my neighborhood December, 2017, just as an early deep freeze set in. This deep freeze lasted about a month. Blue was an indoor/outdoor cat who was outside when their neighbor’s shed caught on fire. Blue’s owner corralled his cats inside before he called 911, but Blue never came in. By the time the fire department came and left, Blue was nowhere to be found.

His owner just about knocked himself out to find Blue over the next couple of months. He rode around on his bicycle with a flashlight during sub-zero weather the first two weeks and got in touch with every feral cat caregiver in the area. He followed up with sightings by setting humane traps baited with stinky food and put up flyers. His daughter posted all over social media. Our entire block was on high alert.

At one point they believed Blue was living outside at another house about a half mile away. But they never did trap him. I was on high alert because I have my own colony just a half mile from Blue’s home in the other direction and was in constant communication with Blue’s owner.

But, Blue never was found.

His owner stopped here about six months after Blue went missing to ask me a question on another issue.

I inquired, “Did you ever find Blue?” He replied that they did, in fact, find Blue when they opened their pool a few weeks before. His body was found under the pool cover. Blue must have hid under the pool cover when he was frightened by the fire. They never thought to check under there. The heartbreaking part was knowing he likely froze to death.

Sometimes we get so busy looking far and wide that we don’t think to look right under our noses.

Blue's social media post when his owners were looking for him.
Blue’s social media post when his owners were looking for him.

Blacky

Blacky is my neighbor’s indoor/outdoor cat. He hangs out here the better part of the day when it’s nice outside and he eats here regularly.

One day I was outside mowing the lawn when my neighbor, Rose, stopped over in a panic because Blacky never came home the previous night. Most nights he will come home when she calls him and he stays inside overnight.

The last time I saw him was the previous day in the afternoon when he came here to mooch food. She feared him dead because he has his routine and sticks with it. But I knew differently. I had a feeling he was alive somewhere. I feared he was sick and was hiding. Blacky is a true survivor who has lived in several towns in South Jersey and survived Superstorm Sandy while living at the Jersey Shore.

So, I sprang into action. I searched EVERYWHERE with my Mag Lite. Day and night. Called him during every feral feeding since he often came over during their feeding time. I posted on social media and alerted all of the neighbors on our block since Blacky was known to be the Man About Town. His mama went next door to my other across-the-street neighbor and asked them to check their barn since they often have it open during the day while doing yard work. I even crawled under my next-door neighbor’s barn, where Fluffy once had The Kits tucked away, and shined a flashlight to see if he was under there. Nothing.

By Day Three, I Was Starting to Panic

The third morning, I was REALLY getting worried. My hopes of finding Blacky alive were fading and fading fast.

While I was out during the morning Yard Cat feeding, I started calling him. I kept picturing Blacky’s face in my mind and willing him to let me know where he was. I told him I couldn’t help him if I didn’t know where he was. It occurred to me to look UP. I spent so much time checking under things and in bushes that it didn’t occur to me to look up in the trees. Maybe something chased him up the tree and he couldn’t get down? He’s so quiet-spoken, I’m not sure I would hear him if he was stuck up in a tree.

Just as I was saying out loud to myself while looking for him, “I bet he got his dumb ass stuck up in a tree!”, I heard it. A loud “MEOW!” from across the street. It sounded like a cat in heat but any cat on this block is neutered, unless there was a new one I didn’t know about!

I started making my way across the street to the house next door to Rose’s. And I saw his dumb little face in the window of the barn door, crying his little heart for me to come save him!

I got the neighbor to let me into the barn. Blacky knows them since he hangs out on their property all the time. But he wouldn’t make himself known to them while they were in there looking for him. He cried for me when I called his name. But wouldn’t come out until I asked them to leave us alone for a bit and I brought back a can of his favorite food to crack open, knowing he would come out once he heard the can open.

And he did.

But he was skittish. Starving. And I’m sure mildly dehydrated because it was hot that week and he was stuck in that hot barn for three full days.

He wasn’t himself

When his mama Rose came to collect him, I asked her to bring back a carrier because I thought he should be inside for a while so she could thoroughly check him out and make sure he’s eating, holding down food, etc.

Blacky when I found him in the neighbor's barn - May 2018
Blacky when I found him trapped in the neighbor’s barn – May 2018

He was SCARED. So scared that he hid when his beloved mama came in to get him. I had to feed him more food to coax him out. Then she went in for the grab to get him in the carrier so he could go inside for the day.

Blacky, safe and sound and heading home for a while to rest up and recover after his ordeal.
Blacky, safe and sound and heading home for a while to rest up and recover after his ordeal.

What Do Blacky and Blue Both Have in Common?

They are both allowed to go outside. Blacky is one thing. His mama, Rose, found him as a feral cat when she lived down the Jersey Shore. He was already neutered and ear tipped when she found him. He never forgot his feral roots. Although I strongly suggest people keep their cats as indoor-only cats unless they are caring for a feral cat colony, I know Blacky and know how impossible that is for him.

However, Blue’s owner adopted him from a shelter and his owner likely entered a contract to keep him indoors-only. They let all of their cats outside. In the US, in our town, on our street, in this day and age, there is no way I would let my cats outside. I don’t even like my ferals living out there! Blue’s owners have since adopted another kitty and are doing the same thing…letting new kitty out with all of their others. It’s frustrating because I feel it will only be a matter of time before he puts our entire street on “high alert” once again to help him find a cat that he LETS outside to begin with!

That being said, indoor-only cats get out by accident, too. Here are some tips to help you find your kitty! I’ll also talk about tips to keep them safely indoors, as well!

Let’s Find Your Lost Cat!

  1. Scent is EVERYTHING to your cat! The FIRST thing you want to do is put their soiled litter box outside, as well as something that smells like him AND his favorite human in the house. A shirt that hasn’t been laundered yet, his favorite bed..and catnip can’t hurt, either. They say that a cat can smell their own litter box from miles away!
  2. USE SOCIAL MEDIA! I’ve seen SO many pets reunited with their owners using Facebook and the Next Door app! Share, with a GOOD picture of your kitty, in all local pages as well as any lost and found pet pages for your area. Do a post from your personal profile and make it “PUBLIC” so other local friends can share! Make SURE you include location, town and state so local people can share your “Lost Cat” post. And include a phone number. Make it EASY for your cat’s finder to actually get in touch with you! Also, if you report your lost pet to Pawboost, your lost pet will be added to a nationwide database and they will do a Facebook post in your local state’s lost pet Facebook page. While on social media, check all local pages and lost and found pages for “found pet” posts!
  3. PUT OUT FLYERS!! Don’t skip this step! Not everybody in your neighborhood is on social media, especially elderly neighbors. You can use any one of the preprinted flyers on Google or make one yourself on a word processing program. Be sure to use a CLEAR picture in good lighting and include anything that’s unique to your kitty, such as a rare marking, scar, stumpy tail, ear tip, etc. Again, include your phone number on the flyer. You want to make it as EASY as possible for someone to get in touch with you if they find your kitty! Use a staple gun to place the flyers on every other telephone pole for a one-mile radius in each direction of where kitty went missing.
  4. For indoor kitties, search close to your house FIRST. Likely, they won’t be far from the house. My aunt’s indoor-only cat (and my former feral), Junior, got out twice. Both times, she set off her smoke alarm while cooking and, without thinking, she opened her slider door a crack to air out the house. The piercing wail of the smoke alarm scared Junior and he and BOOKED out that door. Both times I found him in the alley behind her townhouse, hiding in the brush. I should note that when I called him, he came crying to me, he ran from me when I tried to grab him. My aunt noticed her sensor porch light lit up a couple of times, so we thought he was trying to make his way back to the house. I sat quietly in the yard and we put wet food by the door. Both times he came back home when we quieted down and she was able to coax him inside.

    Junior's "Missing Cat" post on Facebook
    Junior’s “Missing Cat” post on Facebook
  5. USE A FLASHLIGHT, even if it’s during the day! A flashlight will help you to see their eyes if they are hiding under a deck or in bushes. If your cat is particularly timid to begin with, it may help to wait until dusk or nighttime when everything quiets down and try looking then. Often, when it gets quiet outside, they will work up the nerve to come out of their hiding spot.
  6. LOOK UP! I forgot this when Blacky was missing and almost forgot to mention it in this blog post!! Cats climb trees and forget how they get down all the time. They get up there and then forget how they got up there. Use a flashlight, even if it’s during the day, so you can see the reflection of their eyes.
  7. KEEP CALM! I’m guilty of this one. Cats mimic our energy. I made this mistake with Junior and also when I found Blacky. I couldn’t contain my excitement when I found Blacky alive and well and my nervous energy frightened him.
  8. Use a humane trap. This one works particularly well if your indoor cat has never been trapped in a humane trap before. Here are some tips for trapping cats. Using tuna or sardines works particularly well. If you see your kitty near the trap but just won’t go inside no matter how hungry they are, try using a dog cage to trap them. Here’s a Facebook Live video I did showing how to do that. **PLEASE NEVER LEAVE SET TRAPS UNATTENDED!!**
  9. VISIT your local shelters to check for new intakes! Calling them isn’t enough. You want to visit them every day or every other day and ask to see the new intakes. Find out which shelter does “open intake” for your town or municipality. Check that shelter first because if someone calls Animal Control when they find your kitty, Animal Control will take kitty to that shelter. Also, check with local rescues, as they often take stray pets and adopt them out if the pet doesn’t have a microchip. They see so many dumped off pets, they may assume that’s what happened with YOUR beloved pet.
  10. If you live in an area with commercial establishments like restaurants or fast food joints, check with them. Your kitty may go after the food in their dumpster or the rodents who frequent their dumpster.
  11. Bring cat food and treats with you when you search! If your kitty is anything like ALL of mine, they react to the can of cat food cracking open or the shake of the Temptations treat bag! That’s exactly how Blacky came out of hiding!
  12. PICTURE THEM home safe and sound. Get a mental picture of their face in your mind and talk to them. Tell them you can help them if they will just let you know where they are hiding. I swear this worked with Blacky. Telepathy is not as freaky as it sounds and is much more common than you think, especially if you and your kitty have a tight bond!
  13. DON’T LOSE HOPE! In May 2016, an emaciated gray/blue cat showed up on my property late one Saturday night screaming for my help, despite the fact that my resident ferals were trying to chase him off. We held him in Mom’s bedroom until Monday morning so I could take him to the vet. Luckly, he had a microchip. While I had the vet examine him and treat him for worms, etc, the owner called the vet back. We delivered him home later that day. Smokey was missing for 3 1/2 months from a house 1.5 miles from my house. He was an indoor-only cat. The kicker of the story is that his mama owns an animal rescue!

Me in my PJs coaxing Smokey the Missing Cat into a carrier.
Me in my PJs coaxing Smokey the Missing Cat into a carrier.

Prevention is KEY

The best way to find your lost cat is to prevent him from getting out in the first place!

I looked up articles to link to for this post and I cannot believe how many missed this first and MOST IMPORTANT tip:

  1. SPAY AND NEUTER YOUR CATS! This alone will greatly reduce the likelihood of your kitty ever getting outside to begin with!
  2. DOORS CLOSED! When I moved back home, I noticed how Mom likes to start talking to visitors AS they are leaving. Like, when they open the front door to walk out of the house! They stand there with the door open to continue their visit or just to be polite. I now walk our visitors out when they leave for two reasons…first, it’s the polite thing to do. Second, it prevents our visitor from standing there with the door wide open while I’m silently having a heart attack and stifling the urge to scream, “UH, CLOSE THE DOOR!!”
  3. LOCK THEM UP FOR DELIVERIES OR RENOVATIONS/CONSTRUCTION. I cannot even tell you HOW many times I hear, “My cat escaped while during the furniture delivery!” or any variation thereof. Renovations stress cats out. The noise that comes with large deliveries or renovations scares cats. They may be looking to escape the noise.  Your frightened cat may grab that opportunity to dart out that open door. Just recently, we had to replace our entire HVAC system. And the cats were NOT happy because I locked them in their “safe rooms” for the job. I provided food, water, litter boxes and hiding places in the closets of all three rooms (for five cats). There was a lot of scratching at doors, meowing, and dirty looks from my cats. But, now the job is over and they are SAFE.
  4. When cats are scared, they go into “fight or flight” mode. Try to minimize opening doors during loud thunderstorms, fireworks in your neighborhood, or loud windy storms (nor’easters, hurricanes, blizzards etc). I bring this up as we had the remnants of Hurricane Michael slide just to our South last night. The wind and thunderstorms scared my indoor cats most of the night. If someone opens the door while they are in “flight mode”, anything can happen, even if your cats usually aren’t interested in the door in the first place.
  5. FEAR THE DOOR. This happened by accident with my cats. Our door jamb swells in the humidity and sometimes it’s impossible to close the storm door quietly. As a result, our indoor cats are afraid to approach the door when someone is going in or out. If they are lurking by the front door on a summer night because of the bugs flying around our porch light, I will knock on the door to get them away from the door before coming inside. If I am going outside and Rascal decides to walk me out, I completely ignore him by the door, walk to the other side of the room, then give him love. I don’t ever want my cats associating that front door with positive things. We never open the door when our cats are right near it.
  6. Have a plan for emergencies. My biggest fear is fire. If we have a fire, I have to get five indoor cats safely outside as well as Mom, who is a stroke survivor. She is mobile, but takes her a while. I always remind her if we have an emergency like that to just quietly go outside. She tends to get very anxious and yells a lot when she’s anxious, which will work against me if I’m trying to calmly get five cats into five carriers. I try to make sure I have at least one carrier per cat in accessible locations throughout the house. I also have a lidded hamper with a roll of packing tape near it just in case I have to put a couple of cats in there to get them safely outside.
  7. For more tips on helping to prevent your cat from getting out, Click Here.
  8. If you have a “door dasher”, here are tips for your particular kitty!

Picture I took of Smokey to post on Facebook and make "Found Cat" flyers
Picture I took of Smokey to post on Facebook and make “Found Cat” flyers

Suggestions are Welcome!

I wanted to do this post so I could share on Social Media every time I see a “missing cat” post.

This is by no means a complete list and we are always open to hearing suggestions, tips, and things that have worked for YOU!

Please, if there is something I missed, or something that helped you to bring your kitty home, comment with your suggestion or connect with us on Facebook and share your idea!

Our hope is that our post helps to bring more lost kitties home!

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