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Lost cats and litter boxes - here's the scoop

Boo was lost for several days but is safely at home now.

The Community Cat Coalition

Boo chose a bad time to leave her indoor-only life. She dashed outside while her owners were home sick! Still, Justin and Jolene did everything right. They arranged to get a trap, did repeated searches of the immediate area, checked WiFi camera footage, covered the trap with bedding from home, left their garage door cracked open and followed all advice on the location of the trap and the type of bait to use.

They also kept her litter box inside!


After posting on social media, these comments popped up:


"There are lots of coyotes and bobcats and eagles in the area . . . just saying."


"Put her dirty litte rbox out, cats can smell it from a mile away. If she's still alive she will find her own way back home."


It is human nature to want to be helpful and social media provides a platform for anyone to speak their opinion. But these two comments are the two WORST bits of advice to give a lost cat owner.




1. Comments about predators cause the owner to lose hope and stop taking the steps necessary to get a lost cat home. Indoor only cats usually hunker down and hide, so they are rarely taken by predators. Reminding an owner about predators does not help, so be sure to shoot down this harmful advice if you see it on lost cat posts! If you administrate a lost cat group, consider adding it to your rules.


2. The popular litter box meme that advertises that "lost cats can smell their litter box from a mile away" is ill-advised for several reasons:


* Everyone with a dog knows that litter boxes are irresistible to many animals. Litter boxes attract dogs, coyotes and territorial cats who may attack or chase your cat out of the area. Some lost cat owners have had coyotes show up on their porch for the first time after putting the box out. Thankfully, nobody has been able to provide any research substantiating the claim that they can "smell their litter box from a mile away." But if they did, keeping it inside would be even MORE important! Keep that litter box inside!


* Clean litter in an unused box is okay. That is an odor familiar to your cat but it doesn't have the waste smell that attracts other animals.


* Lost indoor-only cats are nearly always hiding within earshot of home. Your search efforts should be focused within a house or two distance of home, not broadcasting her waste scent to the neighborhood.


Finding a lost cat takes action. You can't just put out a litter box and wait for the cat to come home. By spreading the idea that they can smell their box from a mile away, you are essentially telling the lost cat owner that the cat will find his own way home. And if they don't? The cat must be dead.


Thank goodness Justin and Jolene ignored those unhelpful comments. Their kitty Boo went in the trap about 10 days after she dashed outside. Boo lost a lot of weight and appears to have tangled with a neighborhood cat, but they contacted their veterinarian right away to treat the wounds on her face and hip. Boo will be fine!

The Community Cat Coalition was formed to enhance the lives of community cats by promoting spay-neuter and providing training and mentoring in TNR. Visit them on Facebook or at



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