Having a cat go missing can be devastating, especially as they are often so much harder to trace than dogs and livestock.

In the UK, it is generally accepted that cats have a ‘right to roam’ as the laws governing the control of dogs and livestock by their owners do not apply to cats. This means they are free to come and go as they please, stray into other people’s homes and gardens as the mood takes them, and venture into extraordinary places they would be unlikely to be found.

Being natural roamers, it is fairly common for cats to disappear for days on end. But days can soon turn into weeks, and even months, with no sign of your dearly loved cat. Maybe they have strayed too far and become lost, are trapped somewhere they can’t escape from, or have simply re-located to a new home and family.

In the latter case, where do we stand in the eyes of the law when it comes to re-claiming our kitty? What can we do if a new family ‘adopts’ our cat without asking?

Cats are regarded as their owner’s ‘property’ in law, which means that their theft will be covered by the 1968 Theft Act and treated the same as if they were an object being stolen.

Therefore, if a neighbour or stranger takes in your cat without your permission, theoretically this is theft of property, although the police tend to view it as a civil matter which makes prosecution difficult.

It all comes down to who owns the cat and, unfortunately, proving ownership is very difficult. Having your pet microchipped will help, but it doesn’t count as definitive proof in an ownership dispute. If you have a cat that frequently roams outside, microchipping is invaluable as very often it is the only way a missing or stolen cat can be traced back to you.

Tip: Remember to update your microchip as and when you move (petlog.org.uk), and get your vet to check it at your next visit to make sure the chip is still there and is still working.

Sometimes a change in circumstances will cause your cat to re-locate, such as a new baby or pet, building work or even a change of address. These sorts of scenarios can cause undue stress to cats who then flee the scene and find somewhere more favourable to live.

A calming product like Feliway can help your cat adjust to the new situation by creating a supportive environment through the release of synthetic pheromones. These ‘happy markers’ are naturally left by cats when they feel safe and content at home, so Feliway works to replicate this mood and provide the same calming effect.

Equally, your cat may be being fed elsewhere, which is often motivation enough for it to re-locate. You can buy collars that read ‘Please do not feed me’ which may go some way in deterring people from offering your cat a tasty morsel.

Those who own particularly rare or expensive cats tend to keep them inside for their protection, as these are prime targets for opportunistic pet thieves. Breeds such as Maine Coons and Russian Blues can be stolen to order and change hands for a lot of money.

Ownership disputes can also arise when a relationship breaks down, so make sure you are both fully aware of who is going to ‘own’ the cat before buying/adopting it and, if possible, get something in writing. A microchip is not always enough to settle a dispute.

Lastly, one of the best ways to prevent your cat from straying too far is to have it fixed. This will remove its desperate drive to find a mate, which should therefore keep it closer to home and make it less likely to roam into other people’s gardens and homes where other cats reside.

If you have any comments on this topic, or experiences you would like to share, please post them here or email me directly: [email protected]

Written by: Hannah