Strategic Pet Recovery
Strategy - Technique - Tools
Field Proven Skills to Recover Lost Pets
“What greater gift than the love of a cat.”  Charles Dickens
Just For Cats
This information is provided to increase the odds of recovering a missing cat.  It is based on personal experience with many cats, various studies and surveys, and my in field analysis of cat behavior.  If you're here because your cat has gone missing, please know that immediate action and persistence are the main ingredients for getting your cat back home.
Immediate Actions To Find a Missing Cat

Conduct an Initial Search
Look everywhere inside your home, including the smallest, highest and lowest places you would never expect your cat to be. Then search again. Ideally have a second person conduct the same search to eliminate any bias you might have about the cats ability to hide.

Look everywhere outside your home. Look up and look down, make no assumptions about your cats ability to get up a tree, onto your roof, or in a drainage pipe it cannot get out of. Speak softly when calling your cat, it will know you are nearby before long before you say anything. Never yell for your cat, you will scare it away.  Use dawn and dusk as your advantage as cats like to travel during these times. If you have security cameras, check to see if your cat has shown itself and check often. If your cat has a routine (e.g. on the back patio around 2PM), be there to check when the time is right.

Contact People
Talk to your neighbors within a tenth of a mile radius or more  from your home. Let them know your cat is missing and ask for their help. Give them your name and phone number, then ask them to keep an eye out for your cat and to "please check inside your garage, vehicles, sheds or other enclosures" to be sure your cat isn't trapped.

Communicate
Initiate communication via social media, Craigslist and other online sources. Describe your cat and/or provide a recent photo and include the date missing, place last seen, and your 24x7 contact information. Be sure to check back often so you don't miss timely reports or sightings.

Make posters. Most people wait too long to create posters, it should be done right after you conduct an initial search and contacting your neighbors. Use the posters as handouts and place them at key locations around your neighborhood. Look here for how to make a simple and effective poster. Provide them to your local delivery and service people in your area (e.g. UPS, Police, GasCo, and so on).

Be Persistent
Your cat is relying on you to keep the faith, do not stop looking, talking to people, and communicating. Check your local animal shelter frequently, take posters to the local vet offices. Cats have been recovered after being away for a long time, do not give up.

Additional Actions
Put some dirty laundry in a safe location near your home, the scent will attract your cat (I'd advise not to put its litter pan outside as it will attract other, more dominant cats, which may keep your cat away).

If you have a security camera, place a bowl of water and a half can of tune out each night and monitor for your cats presence. If you do not have a security camera, but a small trail camera (~$40) from a sporting goods store and place it in eight feet away from the tuna and water. Check the images at least twice a day.

Go outside after dark  with some cat treats to just sit and monitor for the cat to appear. If it is anywhere nearby, it will detect your presence and come to you (presuming you keep calm and quiet).

Top Reasons Cats Go Missing - In no particular order

Sick or Injured 
A cat with a chronic illness or acute injury will often seek refuge by hiding

Intentionally moved away from home
If your cat is friendly, someone may take your cat until it is no longer convenient, for example, a child picks up your cat and carries it to school.

Unintentionally moved from home
A cat may enter a parked vehicle only to be driven off before it can escape

Unfixed male or female mating
Unspayed and unneutered cats will behave differently during mating season which can lead them a long way from home.

Trapped
A common  occurrence for cats, seeking shelter in a shed or garage or other outbuilding, and then gets closed inside by the unknowing owner.

Hunting
Cats know the seasonal variety for hunting and may wander or stay away from home longer when these seasons occur.

Better food source
If your outdoor cat is fed kibble, but your neighbor starts putting out smelly wet food for the local stray cat, your cat may start dining at your neighbors and potentially stay if the food is regular enough.

Jumped out of car away from home
A curious cat or one seeking shelter will often jump into or onto a parked vehicle. Once the vehicle is in motion it may be too late for the cat to bail out until it comes to a stop.

Family move from one location to another
An outdoor cat has a very strong urge to be "home". If you move, its natural instinct is to get back "home" and consequently will do whatever it can to get there.

Predation
Outdoor cats are subject to predation, leading to injury or death.

Vehicle traffic
Speeding cars are the biggest liability to a cat that lives or roams by a street or highway.

Hiding or sleeping nearby
Your cat may very well be inside your home or on your property, but in a location making it difficult to find.

Bored and lonely
If your cat is mostly left alone, its motivation to leave is increased dramatically

Chased
A loose dog or other animal has chased your cat away from home and it is hunkered down until it's safe to return.

General Cat Behavior
Under the best of circumstances a cats behavior can be elusive.  Unfortunately it is this natural behavior of most cats that makes them especially hard to find when they're missing.  Generally speaking, cats do not want to be away from "home" with a safe place to sleep and their regular supply of food and water.  Their desire to return to their place of security is particularly strong, yet sometimes they encounter obstacles that cannot be overcome and they need help to be recovered and returned home.  Conversely,  your missing cat may have simply taken a break from its daily routine and is enjoying a bit of an adventure at your expense, causing you to worry that you've lost a furry friend. And herein lies the problem, the missing cat could be close by but out of sight, or it could be truly lost and a mile or more from home.

Cats like to be up and moving at night when things are quieter, with fewer humans, dogs and cars that scare them. They also like to eat at dawn and dusk if possible. If you've observed cats move around outdoors, you would notice that they will often move from one safe place to another. This, and their small size, make them difficult to see - even if they're nearby. Further, a scared cat will rarely make any noise for fear of giving away its location.

Cats are nearsighted, meaning we can typically see further than they can during the day but their field of view is greater. At night time, they only need one-sixth the amount of light we need - so they can see better at night then we can. And while a cat can hear about as well as we can, their range of hearing is much greater, allowing them to detect many noises we would never hear (e.g. Up to 64kHz). Their ears can pivot, which also gives them the ability to know which direction a given sound comes from. 

A cat has a sense of smell which is about fourteen times greater than humans.  This means it can smell that half can of tuna from a long distance away.

Missing Cat Behavior - Outdoor Cats
Cats like to be up and moving at night when things are quieter, with fewer humans, dogs and cars that scare them. They also like to eat at dawn and dusk if possible. If you've observed cats move around outdoors, you would notice that they will often move from one safe place to another. This, and their small size, make them difficult to see - even if they're nearby. Further, a scared cat will rarely make any noise for fear of giving away its location.

Cats are nearsighted, meaning we can typically see further then they can during the day but their field of view is greater. At night time, they only need one-sixth the amount of light we need - so they can see better at night then we can. And while a cat can hear about as well as we can, their range of hearing is much greater, allowing them to detect many noises we would never hear (e.g. Up to 64kHz). Their ears can pivot, which also gives them the ability to know which direction a given sound comes from.

Domestic cats will travel a given distance from home when they smell food but will be well within range to return home after eating (e.g. at a neighbors down the street). However, if something scares them further away or they are transported far from home, they will move in search of food each day and may not return to the point they were last seen.

See the image "Lost Cat Travel Distances" below.


Missing Cat Behavior - Indoor Cats
A cat that has been strictly indoors for most of their life reliably demonstrate the same behavior when they initially escape to the outdoors.

Curiosity may motivate an indoor cat to exit the house, but it will not venture far from it. Given the chance, it will usually want to come right back inside, because outside is "scary". However, if the cat escapes while no one is looking, odds are the cat will explore around the immediate outside of your house until it feels safe and has the opportunity to get back inside.

Obviously, the cat relies solely on its owner to get back inside, requiring patience and persistence. You do not want to force the issue, else you may scare the cat further into hiding. Leave a door (or doors) open for the cat to return, and be sure to secure any other pets you have inside or out.  When you see the cat, allow it to come to you or the open door. Speak to it in a soft and calm voice. Walk thru the open door so it can see the passage back to safety.

If these actions don't cause your cat to retreat back indoors, try placing some tuna or other smelly food a few feet inside an open door. When the cat is eating, quietly close the door behind it.

If your cat gets really scared, it will likely find safe shelter just outside your house and may try to stay there for multiple days and nights. Always provide it some food (not too much) and water, then repeat the steps above.

If the cats refuses to return inside on its own after a few days, it's time to set a live trap and capture it .

Did You Move Or Lose Your Cat Away From Home?

Cats can find their way home, within limits.  For example, if you recently moved across town and your cat escaped, it may be heading back to your old house. Or perhaps your cat was unknowingly transported a relatively short distance away from your home. These and other reasons your cat is somehow taken away from what it knows as "home" may be resolved by its innate homing ability. 

Cats have long been known to have a homing capability, but research and science have not been able to figure out how or why it exists. Still, it has been shown over and over that cats can find their way home.

The limitation comes down to distance, which is a variable thought to be three to five miles. Still, cats have returned home from much greater distances and the limits are probably determined by the hazards confronting the cat (cars, dogs, highways, etc).

In the "Johny Cat" <sic> example below, you can see where the cat was relocated to a new home. Somehow the cat got out (normally a move should require a cat to stay indoors for a full month after relocation). Since it did not know the new house was "home", it started on a twelve day journey to get back "home". In doing so it traveled well over a mile in harsh weather thru busy neighborhoods and streets. This is a factual example of a cats homing ability. The distance traveled each day is also consistent with my research done in 2018 "Lost Cat Travel Distances" , image above.

So, if you move and your cat escapes, or your cat jumps out of its carrier at the vets parking lots, or whatever, remember cats have a homing ability but it will take a lot of time for it to get home. Be sure to put scented articles outside along with food and water which should be monitored frequently until it returns. Do not give up hope.

REFERENCES:
1922 STUDY "HOMING POWERS OF THE CAT"