Indoor-only cats are likely to be found very close to home; in fact, sometimes they are stuck or hiding INSIDE the home!
They are most often found in or around the owner’s or an immediate neighbor’s home in the bushes, under the house, in a shed, under a deck, or some other hiding place. When they get out, indoor cats tend to be quiet and fearful, and to hunker down and not emerge, even to the sound of the owner’s voice. We have counseled owners on many cases where they were calling and shaking the food bag right next to where the cat was hiding, but there was no response.
Indoor cats are in danger of being labeled as feral in a shelter environment, because they are not socialized to other people and environments and will likely hiss, strike, and display other “wild” behavior when stressed. This is why it is critical to get them back in their homes as quickly as possible.
Outdoor-access cats are also typically found close to home, but farther than the indoor cat, sometimes 2-3 blocks away.
The reason for an outdoor-access cat’s disappearance is usually that he is ill or injured, stuck, or has been displaced (chased by people, another pet, or a wild animal).
“Curiosity killed the cat” is an unfortunately true adage that leads cats to explore in places like inside a vehicle, in a tool shed or other building, or around outside obstacles.
Sometimes outdoor-access cats, especially those who have been missing a long time, will turn up at other people’s homes or in colonies of free-roaming cats. They will naturally look for things familiar and comforting to them like food, water, shelter, and other cats. This is why it is important for people who notice a new cat to ask around and check lost reports at their local shelter and not make an assumption that the cat was abandoned.
Shy cats will hide and avoid people for very long periods of time. We have experienced many cases where cats hid for days or even weeks and miraculously survived after being found, although with kidney damage and other medical issues as a result of starvation and dehydration. This is why it is critical to get these cats back home as quickly as possible, and to encourage owners to not give up. After days or weeks of searching, the owner may give up, believing their cat is dead when he is still hiding (or stuck) nearby and in need of medical attention.
The outgoing cat may be vocal and approach people, even following them home. Because of this, he may travel away from his own home then become disoriented and unable to find his way back. Such outgoing cats are in danger of being taken in and kept by finders who mean well but assume the cat has been abandoned.