NEW Is That My Cat? After the adventure, how to recognize your pet and changes to expect

Effects on Appearance

It's hard enough trying to identify your pet when it is dusk or dawn and the animal you've spotted is quickly scooting under the bushes. After an animal has been away from home for some time, its appearance can change and make spotting a pet even harder.

The more of a scaredy cat personality, the more it will stay hidden, the less food it will eat, the less it will groom, the less it will sleep, and the more drastically changed its appearance will be.

A timid cat missing one to two weeks often appears noticeably thinner but is in generally good shape.

A timid cat missing three to four weeks (or longer) will have likely lost a substantial amount of weight. Its fur may have changed — thinner, patchy, dirty, or somewhat different in color. It is certainly possible to not be able to recognize your own pet if it has been gone a long time.


The Russian Blue Bump: A bump on the nose is considered
a flaw according to the Russian Blue breed standard but
it was the one thing that allowed us to ID our silly Sage.

After 27 days gone, the only way we could positively recognize our distinctive-looking (at least under normal conditions) cat was by a small bump on her nose. Otherwise she could have been any very tiny, hungry, and frightened gray cat. Her fur was more sparse, the short baby fuzz around her ears and face were gone. Her ears appeared shiny & black as if the days outside had burned them to a crisp. In health, she has a solid coat of silvery gray fur but on her return she appeared to be much darker in color. Our poor kitty had lost over a third of her original weight. We not only could feel the sharp protrusions of her spine and hips, we could also see her bones from across the room.

I know of only one indoor-only cat that returned bigger than when he went missing 4 months previously. He was not timid at all but actually very dominant and spent his days hunting in an area not too far from home. So his unafraid, resourceful behavior is perfectly consistent with his confident personality prior to escaping.

Effects on Health

Dehydration and starvation are, of course, the most worrisome health concerns when a cat is in hiding for more than a few days; dehydration can lead to kidney damage; kidney damage can lead to kidney failure and death.

With rapid weight loss, cats can develop a very serious liver condition called hepatic lipidosis. Cats who were previously overweight are at a higher risk.

Your cat may be hosting fleas, ticks, worms or other parasites.

May have contracted viruses from other cats.

May have injuries or bite wounds, illnesses that may have contributed to its initial disappearance, or conditions brought on by malnutrition. Any cat that is injured or sick should be seen by a vet.


. . .a lot of sleep to catch up on. . .

May be very sleep deprived. Both Buzz and Sage had changes in sleep patterns. Buzz would awaken quite easily after his return. Sage would fall into a deep sleep state very quickly, then have nightmares where her paws would kick and quiver and she would make little whimpering sounds for the next week or two.

Eating and drinking more upon returning home may worsen the test results for liver and kidney function, which is what happened to Sage. But this was only temporary and returned to normal within a couple months. Her vet hypothesized that the worsening numbers could have been from flushing out all the bodily "stuff" that couldn't be flushed out before (since Sage wasn't eating or drinking) or possibly by-products of metabolism since she was suddenly eating more upon her return and her body was busy converting food into healthy weight.

How long can a cat survive in severe weather conditions?

I personally know of four cases where cats have survived harsh conditions. My 9-year-old indoor-only cat, Sage, survived 27 days missing including record breaking 109 degree F weather. Buzz survived 46 days during which it "snowed, rained, hail, 50+ mph winds, tornado watches, and several thunderstorms! The temps ranged as low as 15-20 degrees and on warmer days it was in the 80s. Nighttimes averaged in the low to mid 30s." Scoonie survived 35 days away including 15 inches of snow and temperatures in the teens or below. John's 10-year-old indoor-only cat survived 30 days outside, during very cold, 18-20 degrees F, and snowy conditions.

According to a woman at the Humane Society, except for pets in locked car accidents, there is not an increase in sick animals (feral or domestic) brought in during heat spells. Their fur insulates them from the elements.

Effects on Behavior

How will my cat behave after an adventure outside?

When we finally brought the trap into the house with Sage in it, she dropped all scaredy cat behavior and instantly reverted back to pet cat behavior; within the safety of her familiar territory, the complete cover instinct disappeared completely. Sage was skittish of doors and the particular window she escaped out of, but was uncharacteristically much mellower towards people — including The Vet — and greeted them with plenty of rubs and purrs. She even demonstrated how relaxed she was by strolling into her sandbox and pooping in front of a room full of strangers. Other cat owners have noticed the same, that their cat was much more mellow and affectionate after returning home.

Depending on how weak or strong your kitty is afterwards, kitty may or may not bathe or scratch or do much in the way of extra activity because all its energy is being put into getting healthy.

In multiple cat households, many people report that the home cats no longer recognize the returning cat and treat it as an intruder. It would be wise to make the introduction slowly, just as you would with any new cat introduction.

Will my kitty remember how to use the litter box?

Yes, everyone so far has reported that their kitty still knows how to use the litter box.

How will kitty's eating habits change?

Both Buzz and Scoonie ate faster after returning home. Buzz also would look around him cautiously while eating. If your vet has no other food recommendation, feed your cat the same thing as before, either free food all day or many small meals per day if your cat gets an upset stomach from overeating.

Is there a chance that my cat will run away again?

Unfortunately, YES! (See Scoonie's Story) Scoonie's mom discovered that it was a patch of Pampas grass that was enticing him to scoot out the door. Now they let him out under supervision to chew on the grass and it has diffused the desire to sneak out and accidentally get locked out — which is the likely beginning of both adventures.

Most cats avoid the area which they associate with their escape. Sage rarely if ever sat on the same window sill that she escaped out of. After a year, she was not quite as wary. And after two years she has completely forgotten her mis-adventure. She nearly escaped out of our kitchen recently when the door blew open.

What can you do to prevent another escape?

See Prevention.

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