One of the first things often told to someone who has had a cat get lost (or slip out of the house) is to place their litter box outside. The difficulty with that is the reason cats bury their waste is to avoid detection by predators. Litter boxes and food may attract something that would scare or hurt your cat. If smell will attract your cat, your smell is saturated around your house where you enter and leave. To enhance it, you could put previously worn clothing outside near where the cat left from.
Most cats that get out are found quickly and very close to where they got out, even if they ran a few houses away right away, they often come back. In the minutes and even the first hour of an escape, hunting for them is the best choice. Knocking on all the neighbours doors, checking backyards, under cars, behind bushes, in open garages offers the fast opportunity for a quick reunion. Don’t forget to recheck the places you have already checked. If you have checked 5-10 houses away several times and still have not seen your cat, you will need to get reinforcements.
The next step if the initial search doesn’t produce sightings is to get the word out. This is where posting online (helpinglostpets.com), placing posters, using an application like Nextdoor, or a Facebook group for your community will produce more results. Don’t worry about details like age and gender. Colour, maybe size and hair length will get you further. A poster need only include the words “Lost Cat”, a photo (with background removed – just the cat), and a phone number. Printed on brightly coloured paper or poster board will draw attention.
The vet clinics in the area are where someone who found a lost cat would be able to have the microchip scanned so they are the next contact to make, as well as your microchip registrar and the animal control for the area you are in. It doesn’t hurt to contact animal control for the nearby areas as cats can get in vehicles or run a distance on their own. Make notes of everywhere you have placed posters and everyone you called as when you have found your cat you will want to remove and notify everyone.
What you are looking for at this stage is sightings. To know where your cat has been seen and when will help you plan to be where they are. To actually catch them you can use a live trap as we use for colony cats or you can even use a carrier if you have a way to close the door (like a string pulled through). Leaving a garage or shed open your cat may shelter inside. Or a window or door of a room you can close the interior door to prevent other animals gaining access to your house. Your cat may let you walk up to them and pick them up, but this is unlikely as they are in survival mode and not comfortable like they are in your home. Their response to you or your voice is not going to be normal, survival is the priority. Food (smellier the better) is more likely to attract than treats.
There are always exceptions, each cat is an individual. Even a cat that has lived outside can act like this if they get surprised by being out in a place they haven’t been before. It is called displacement and can also happen to outside cats if they get chased or transported a distance from their territory. The biggest key is to not give up. Keep hunting, keep checking, keep asking. Cats were reunited years after being lost (due to microchips) and owners had given up looking.