Cats are territorial creatures of habit. This is why we can let them roam outdoors and trust that they will return. So, when an outdoor-access cat suddenly vanishes, it means that something has happened to interrupt his customary behavior of coming home. If you own an outdoor-access cat, then knowing the five most common ways that they become lost will help you know how and where to search should your cat ever fail to show up for his kibble.
They become sick or injured and they hide.
Outdoor-access cats are at risk of being injured by dogs, other cats (a cat fight), predators, and by moving vehicles. They can also ingest poison and can become ill due to organic reasons (infected abscess, urinary tract disorder, kidney failure, etc.). When a cat is sick or injured, his natural instinct is to hide in silence—his primary defense mechanism from predators. Many cats crawl into a familiar location, such as under a house, deck, or porch, and may even die there. That's why it's critical to search hiding areas thoroughly when your cat goes missing.
They become trapped and can't come home.
Cats are curious. They wander through open doors or windows and crawl inside sheds, basements, inside parked RV's, and other structures where doors are open. When the owner secures the doors and windows, the cat is trapped. They also climb or are chased up trees and telephone poles, or even onto the roofs of houses, where they become too afraid to descend. Unless they figure out how to back down a tree or pole or they can jump down, these cats will need to be rescued.
They become displaced after being chased.
A chased cat will typically not run for miles. Instead, it will look for a place to escape, such as a high spot, or beneath something, like a neighbor's deck. Sometimes they are forced to flee into an unfamiliar area—the first response then is to hide in silence. Some cats will break cover once their chaser is gone and will return home. Others will not. This is how some cats are found living in a neighborhood just a block or two from the area where they were lost.
They become victims of unintentional transport.
Cats that develop the habit of climbing inside open vehicles, into boxes, or other containers are at risk of being transported out of their area. These are the cats that end up climbing into open construction vehicles, service vehicles, moving vans, or convertibles. Curious cats also climb into boxes that are carried and transported out of their territory. Some of these cats end up being driven across town and, in some cases, clear across the country.
They become victims of intentional displacement.
In some cases, neighbors, apartment managers, or even ex-lovers will intentionally displace a cat—someone removes a cat from its territory and releases it into another area. Often, cat-hating neighbors, who are tired of free roaming cats entering their yards, will bait a humane trap to remove the neighborhood cats. Some people will take the cat straight to the animal shelter (one reason why it is imperative that cat owners immediately search their shelter for their missing cat), and others will simply release the cat into another area of town. Many pest control companies that are hired to humanely trap free-roaming "feral" cats inadvertently capture and remove pet cats as well.