My Cat, Missing for 17 Days, Finally Comes Home

Read about OG’s return home, how we’re caring for him and feeding him, and what you can do to care for a cat that returns home after weeks on the lam.

Missing cat comes home.
Missing cat comes home.

We’re watching television in the dark.

Button Boy, the new orange kitty, jumps on my husband’s lap.

“He’s too thin, Deb; we have to feed him — HOLY S—! It’s OG!!!”

OG, our other orange kitty, had been missing for 17 days. Miraculously, he had made it home. Skin and bones. Tired and starving. But he had made it home.

Two and a half weeks prior, on the only warm day in February, OG had ventured outside for the first time all winter. He usually gets a little sniff of outside air, goes potty and comes back in through the cat door. But he didn’t come home that day.

When days turned into weeks, we, heartbroken, had to think he had been picked off by a coyote or a fisher cat. Although OG was usually a home body, we feared the worst.

The weather had been cold and wintry since OG had disappeared. Until today, that is. We had been out doing spring cleanup chores, in and out of the garage and the barn all day. The last day we had worked outside was that day in February. Because OG came home in pretty rough shape — a bag of bones, actually — I have to think he was locked in someone’s shed or out building that they didn’t open for more than two weeks.

The Prodigal Cat Returns

So I’ve been talking to OG every night, trying to draw him out slowly. He’s reticent. PTSD. It’s difficult for him to talk about his hostage situation. I’m respecting his pain and privacy.

He doesn’t have much strength yet. Eats and sleeps. His friends are trying to draw him out as well. Snoop is continually sniffing his but. Buddy shares his bowl with him upstairs. And Button Boy just wants to play. They don’t understand his tired demeanor. The old OG will be back, I tell them, in time.

“Lost Cat”

The media are always carrying a feel-good story about the cat that makes it home under some hard-to-believe circumstances.

Clients bring me wayward cats that have been missing for days, weeks or months pretty frequently. I, myself, have had three cats given up for lost that have returned:

1. Bluey. This 10-year-old Siamese mix came running across the field one sunny day after being missing for four months! She was fatter than when she had left. Apparently, she had left for the never-ending Fancy Feast buffet at some neighbor’s house. When they told her they were moving to Texas, she decided she was a Yankee after all, and came home.

2. Dickens. This purebred Himalayan was given to me by a client. His owner said the cat had stopped getting along with his own mother. After three years at my house, Dickens ran away and established residency at the very posh subdivision nearby. Apparently, being a gorgeous flame-point Himmie with attitude, he felt more at home in a $700,000 fake Tudor than our old farmhouse.

But my “lost cat” newspaper ad caught the eye of the family he was mooching from. On the last day of my three-week newspaper contract, they saw my ad and I retrieved Dickens. On the way home, he told me they had bought him a cat condo, a covered litter box and a circulating fountain. I told him to suck it up and be grateful for free health care for the rest of his life.

3. Edgar. This very unfortunate stray arrived at my hospital with a three-week-old bad fracture in a front leg. I tried to fix it with pins and wires. The repair was not as successful as I had hoped. I called in an orthopedic surgeon friend, who plated the leg, and Edgar did fine. Two years later, Edgar took exception to the next new stray that moved in to my home. Edgar moved out.

A year after that, a woman brought in her cat for a checkup and asked me to explain why his front leg felt like it had a piece of metal in it. It was Edgar. His new alias was Buddy. When I told her the story, she was terrified that I might want him back! Of course not. She adored him. Edgar/Buddy lived out a happy life and remained my patient for many years.

If Your Cat Comes Back…

Button Boy and OG
OG and Button Boy

If a small miracle happens to you, and your beloved cat makes it home after you have given her up for a goner, here’s what you do.

Feeding

Obviously, after the shock and awe of your prodigal pussy returning home wears off, you want to offer her food and water, but use moderation. Offer a small amount of canned cat food and see how it goes. Don’t let her eat to her heart’s content or guzzle a lot of water all at once.

Starvation is a serious condition in the cat. It can cause electrolyte imbalances and damage to the liver, which may not be obvious to you when your cat walks back through the door.

Feed small amounts frequently for the first 24 hours. If your cat is hungry and not vomiting, you can increase the amount on the second day. High-fat, high-protein, low-carbohydrate foods are the best choice.

Call the Vet

If your cat looks stable, you don’t have to panic, but call your veterinarian to have her checked out as soon as possible. If your kitty is in terrible shape, call your vet on emergency.

Your vet will recommend a minimum database, including blood work and a fecal sample. Your cat may need some IV or subcutaneous fluids. Injectable B vitamins may be in order too. Based on the cat’s condition and blood work, your vet can talk about a safe feeding schedule.

Pets who are too weak to eat on their own will require intensive care, but these guys can often pull through. IV fluids and feeding tubes can stabilize these critical kitties until they are able to take in nourishment.

True Starvation

Most cats who are out in the wild find water and some food to sustain life. The worst reports of true starvation come when a cat is locked inside somewhere without access to food or water.

Unfortunately, many pet-sitting situations go south because of a misunderstanding or incompetence. If you’ve left your pets in someone else’s care for an extended period of time, do yourself a favor: Check in regularly. Call your pet sitter in the first 24 hours to make sure you’re both on the same page as far as the pet-sitting schedule is concerned.

OG’s Progress

OG has been home six days now and is doing well. He’s still not himself, eating and sleeping most of the time. His energy is low, even though his only medical problem is diarrhea, which is resolving. Full recovery will take a few weeks.

He was a 10-pound cat before he left, and he came home weighing under 7 pounds. Over time, he has to gain back a third of his body weight and build muscle. Because his kidney and liver function checked out fine, I’ve been able to get him on a high-calorie, high-protein, high-fat diet. He is eating two to three times maintenance, divided into eight feedings throughout the day.

Turned Inside Out!

OG would never have been in this mess if he were an indoor cat. There’s no question that letting your cat outside poses serious dangers. In this case, the old saying goes: “Do what I say; not what I do.”

Seeing country cats enjoy the great outdoors is a pleasure, but is it fair to put your cat at risk? OG is home safe, getting stronger every day, warm and purring by the fire. He may find the cat door in a permanent state of “lock down” when he tries to conquer the outside world again.

OG is clicking his orange fur slippers together daily, and his face says, “There’s no place like home.” I just wish he could tell me what went on out there in the land of Oz.

Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD

View posts by Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD
Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, is a small animal and exotics veterinarian who has split her time between a veterinary practice in Pelham, Massachusetts, and her studio in New York City. Dr. Lichtenberg is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine with 30 years of experience. Her special interests are soft tissue surgery and oncology.

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