Recently, a friend said to me, “My cat ran away and came back different.” I thought back to the times in the past when my missing cats returned home. They also seemed different – they both looked and acted differently from how they were before they ran away.
Changes in cats after being lost are expected, and the longer your cat is missing, the more significant these changes are likely to be. However, your kitty can return to the bundle of fur you know and love! Getting your cat eased back into its old life just takes a little time and patience.
If you’re desperate to have your old cat back, you’re in the right place. Here I run through common changes in cats after they’ve gone missing and how to counteract these changes. Before long, your kitty will return to its usual sociable, playful self.
Common Changes in Cats After Being Lost
When a cat runs away, its environment completely changes. It no longer has the safety of your home, food provided on a silver platter, and affection on demand. Instead, missing cats are forced to face the elements, hunt for their own food, and spend time by themselves.
This sudden environmental shift causes changes in both physical appearance and behavior:
Changes in Physical Appearance
If your cat can find its way home, differences in physical appearance will be apparent immediately. The longer your cat spends in the wild, the more noticeable the changes will be.
One of the most prominent changes will be in your cat’s coat. Their once beautiful fur coats might now be patchy and unkempt. They quickly become knotted and tangled without you there to brush their fur, especially if you have a long-haired breed. Infections and parasites cats might pick up from the streets also make their fur look more disheveled.
Weight changes are another noticeable physical difference in cats that run away. Most cats lose weight when missing. They’re not used to hunting prey and so often skip meals. This is especially likely if you have an indoor cat missing for 24 hours or more – they’ve probably never had to catch a meal in their life!
However, weight changes can go either way. If your cat is a skilled hunter, it may have successfully caught lots of small prey. Rather than losing weight, he has been eating far more than usual and gained a few pounds over the days and weeks away from home.
Changes in Lost Cat Behavior
It is not just physical differences owners notice in cats that run away. When my cat returned home, it was the behavioral changes that surprised me. My friend said the same thing – she expected physical changes but didn’t expect her cat to have a different personality!
As with changes in physical appearance, the differences in your cat’s temperament depend on how long she has been missing, what happened while away from home, and why your cat ran away in the first place:
- Timid & Withdrawn: My cat became more timid and withdrawn, avoiding social situations, refusing to be handled, and hiding under my furniture. A scared cat will hide, so if your cat is withdrawn, it has likely been stressed while trying to find its way back home. Other signs of fear and stress include excessive grooming, increased vocalizations, and even refusing to use the litter box.
- More Aggressive: My friend’s cat was more aggressive than before she went missing. Aggression typically indicates your cat found their time away from home pretty traumatic. Perhaps your furry friend got into a cat fight, nearly got involved in a vehicle accident, or had a near-miss with a predator. If your cat finds its home environment stressful, its aggression is more likely to persist for longer.
- More Affectionate: Other owners have discovered that their cat has become more affectionate on their return home. These cats can’t wait to be back home and are trying to make up for lost time with their owners. They love the safety, security, and comfort that home brings. Clinginess and excessive affection can also be a symptom of stress, your cat seeking reassurance from you to help calm them down.
What To Do When a Lost Cat Returns Home
If you’re lucky, your missing cat will return home if you let him outside. But as differences are expected when a lost cat returns, you can’t act as if nothing has happened. Your cat has likely been stressed, hungry, and anxious – it’s been through a lot!
Therefore, you should take the steps outlined below when your cat that ran away makes its way back home. This will help to make your cat feel at ease, correct the differences, and give you your happy, playful kitty back!
1. Introduce Food Slowly
When your cat returns home, it is instinctive to give them a huge bowl of their favorite food. There is a good chance your cat hasn’t eaten properly in a while. If your cat has obviously lost weight, the desire to feed them is even stronger.
However, you must take things slowly. If your cat has been missing for a few days, its stomach will have shrunk. Feeding your cat too much too soon can make it feel sick, potentially leading to long-term health issues and liver damage. Instead, gradually introduce food (and even water), monitoring how your cat responds after every portion increase.
2. Give Your Cat a Thorough Groom
Cats notoriously hate water, but you should consider bathing your cat upon its return home. Most cats come back looking different, with poorly maintained and unkempt coats. A bath helps remove the dirt that is making your cat’s coat look dull and anything else lurking in her fur.
I recommend brushing your cat’s fur, as this helps remove any knots and tangles. Grooming also allows you to assess your cat’s skin and fur in more detail. Can you spot any flea bites or eggs? Are there any sores on your cat’s skin? Have they cut themselves while they’ve been missing? This helps identify parasites or infections responsible for the changes in your cat’s coat.
3. Take Your Cat to the Vet
You should always take a missing cat that returned home to the vet. Cats are masters at hiding pain and illness. They might have picked up a nasty infection that needs treating or injured themselves that you’re completely unaware of!
Your vet can do an all-over examination to ensure your kitty is healthy and treat any medical problems they discover. This includes a physical examination, blood tests, and analysis of urine and fecal samples to give an overall picture of your cat’s health.
Veterinarians are also the best people to ask for advice. You can tell them about the differences in behavior you’ve noticed since your cat came back or anything else you’re concerned about. Your vet will advise on handling the behavioral changes and may recommend behavioral therapy if your cat has become aggressive.
4. Keep Your Cat Separate
Your cat will recognize you when it returns home, but it still takes time for your cat to readjust. Your kitty is used to being completely alone and needs to get used to being around people again. If your cat is coming to you, give it some affection! But make sure you always go at their pace.
It is advisable to give your cat a separate area of the house where it can spend some time alone while they get used to the domestic lifestyle. Once your cat is more relaxed, you can reintroduce her to all family members. This should help to reduce hiding behavior and aggression in the coming days and weeks after her return.
You should also give your cat time before reintroducing it to other pets. The introduction was probably too soon if you see your cat walking away from her kittens, other cats, or the dog. Allow your lost cat the space they need. Only then will they relax enough to become their true selves again.
5. Be As Patient as Possible
The most important takeaway from this article is to be patient. When my cat ran away and came back different, I wished I could immediately have things back to how they used to be. However, this isn’t possible and shouldn’t be your goal.
Instead, focus on looking after your cat’s health and correcting physical changes (healthy weight and shiny coat). Give your cat space, slowly reintroduce them to the household, and follow their cues. Even the most traumatized cats should regain their old personalities with enough patience.
Failure to go at their pace can also make a cat more likely to run away again. If a cat does not want to come inside at night as they’re overwhelmed at home, it won’t! Once again, patience is vital.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
Having your missing cat return home is a momentous moment. You’ve got your furry friend back after however many hours, days, weeks, or even months! However, it is normal for a lost cat to come back different – the longer they were missing, the more significant these changes are.
Pay attention to your cat’s behavior and follow their cues. If they’re scared and want to hide, let them. If they’ve missed you and need lots of affection, give it to them. If they want some time to be alone, grant them this space. You need to make your cat feel comfortable again at their own pace.
With a bit of patience, their old personalities will come back!