You left your front door open for only a few moments, but in that short time your kitty has made her great escape into the great outdoors. What do you do? After you recover from your momentary panic, you need to think clearly to plan and execute your cat-catching tactics.
The Short Term
If you know that your cat escaped within the last few minutes, then you may be able to catch him without going very far. Most cats, particularly those that rarely or never go outside, become extremely cautious as soon as they make it out the door. They tend to seek shelter in the immediate area by going under bushes, porches and other dark places. Gather any help you can get on short notice -- friendly neighbors or a spouse for example -- and get out of the house as fast as you can. Search quickly but keep your pace at a brisk walk, as excessive movement may scare your kitten into deeper hiding.
Catching the Cat
If you do manage to locate your cat around the house, don't be too aggressive or bold with your movements. While your domestic kitty may instantly come at the sound of your voice indoors, there's a good chance that it won't be like that at all when they are outside. Crouch to the ground and beckon your cat by making soft noises or, better yet, hold out some of his favorite treats. If you can get with arm's reach, grab him quickly and get him back in the house. You can also try to "shoo" him back indoors by asking your helper to hold the door open while you spook the cat through it.
If you suspect the kitty got out hours ago, or perhaps even last night, then he is probably still in the area but may not be right next to the house. You can try walking around the house calling him, but there's a good chance he won't respond even if he can hear you. Warm up some canned tuna in the microwave, or use another aromatic and appetizing food, and place it outside. Step back from the plate a bit, but don't wander too far. Your kitty is probably starving, and the smell will drive him nuts. If he comes running to the plate, let him get settled and take a few bites before you grab him and bring him inside.
Missing for Days
If your cat escaped hours or days ago, you will probably need to approach the problem differently. While indoor cats often don't travel far, even after days of being outside, some of the more curious kitties may already be hundreds of yards or more away from home. Print out some "missing" flyers for your cat, preferably with a picture and written description, and put them on viewable locations within a mile from your house. Check for recent online listings for missing cats, including sites such as Petfinder and Craigslist, and call local animal shelters every day. Do not neglect this step; you will be surprised at how many people are willing to rescue a cat they think is lost and take her to a shelter.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.