Everything We Need to Know About Survival, We Can Learn from a Missing Cat

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Remember how I told you that the day we moved, our beloved kitty escaped out a window into the forest and our missing cat was never heard from again?

Well guess what?

Our lost cat is now HOME!

How the Misadventure Began

Syllies day 1


Sylvester has always been a skittish cat. We got him when he was just a few weeks old, after some horrid person had tossed him and his sibling into a trash can to be picked up on garbage day. He was starving and scrawny, and my daughter fell madly in love with him, setting her alarm to bottle feed him in the middle of the night.

I guess you could say, he’s always been a survivor.  Soon, he had become healthy and basically took over like a little 2-pound purring dictator.

Syllie kitten on the laptop

Fast forward to a year and a half later. Sylvester was a big, beautiful, luxurious house cat and the adored companion of my teenage daughter. His hobbies were jumping on our elderly cat, swatting the dogs tail, and scratching things he wasn’t supposed to scratch.

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Then, just over a month ago, we moved to our new home on the edges of a national forest. I brought the cats and dogs over myself, in the back of my Jeep. I put the cats into the bathroom and shut the door. But what I should have done was shut the windows, because unbeknownst to me, the screen on one of them was not in properly.

When we went in later to bathe the cats because of an unfortunate incident during the car ride, Sylvester was gone.

We searched frantically, long after dark, calling him, shaking treat containers, opening cans of cat food. It was all to no avail. Our cat, who had never been outside at all, was lost in the deep dark forest.

Over the next few days, we did all the things you’re supposed to do according to the experts when you have a missing cat. We put up lost kitty ads, we canvassed the neighbors, we put his litter box and some personal items outside hoping he’d find his way home.

He never did. After a couple of weeks went by, we were pretty sure that something had eaten him. There is quite frequently evidence of bears and mountain lions in the forest around our property, and he would have been a big, tasty meal for them. My poor daughter was broken-hearted.

The Return of Our Missing Cat

A couple of days ago I was walking out the front door to water the herb garden when I startled a cat on the upper patio. It took off before I could do anything more than stand there with my mouth open but I was pretty sure it was our missing cat. After all, how many fluffy gray and white kitties could there possibly be in the forest? Was this going to be one of those nearly unbelievable stories of lost pets that miraculously make it home?

We went out and called for him to no avail, but I put out a dish of food and water on the patio. The next morning it was gone, but of course, we had no way of knowing if it was eaten by the kitty or something else.

The vet here in town lends out live traps in certain situations, so we picked one up the following afternoon. Within an hour of putting in the stinkiest cat food I could find, we heard a rattling. As we sat there and watched, hardly daring to move, a skittish, skinny kitty suspiciously sniffed all around the trap. Finally, the hunger was too much for him and he went in and ….

We have our cat back!

He was frantic when we caught him, absolutely terrified, and it took him a few minutes to recognize us. We carried the trap into the house and went into the bathroom with it so we could release him in a controlled area. After about 15 minutes of hand feeding little bites of kitty kibble, he was back with his mama.

Sylvester is home

He’s headed to the vet today for a check-up, but here’s our initial assessment.

  • He has assorted small wounds – gouges, scratches, etc.
  • He lost TEN pounds. He’s gone from a huge, kind of chubby cat, to a lean, mean, surviving machine.
  • He has what seems to be a hernia on his belly.
  • He somehow got a claw ripped out of his back paw.
  • He had a lot of ticks, which we’ve been patiently removing.

I was really glad to have a veterinary guide on hand to aid us in checking him out. This saved us a very expensive trip to the emergency vet in the middle of the night.

But holy cow. I can’t believe our pampered house pet survived in the forest for this long.

Survival Lessons from Sylvester

It really got me thinking about how unprepared most of us would be to survive in the forest alone for a month. You know, Sylvester didn’t pack a bug-out bag before his journey. He didn’t have food stored or a canteen of water or a firestarter. He only had the weapons nature provided him: his claws, his agility, and his speed.

Maybe the lessons from Sylvester aren’t absolutely everything you need to know about survival, but he covered the basics – you just have to fill in the skills to achieve those basics.

The main lessons are these.

  • Find something to drink.  It would have been a lot more difficult for him in another location. Fortunately, we live right on a mountain stream, so water was abundant.
  • Find something to eat. You don’t get to be picky and you have to figure out how to catch it and kill it yourself. Obviously he found something to sustain him, although not much, given his extreme weight loss.
  • Hide from the things that want to eat you. There are all sorts of predators out in the woods that are just as hungry as you are. On their side is the fact that they are used to hunting and you are not. Find a place to hide where you are hard to get to.
  • Stay warm. It dropped below freezing for several nights, and we also had a lot of rain during his misadventure. Somehow, he managed to stay warm and dry enough to survive.

Here’s our boy’s before and after picture. Poor fellow sure is happy to be home. I’ll add an update after we see the vet!

OP collage of Sylvester

Veterinary Update

The lump on his belly isn’t a hernia. It’s an abscess. He was running a fever due to the infection. He lost more than half of his body weight and is malnourished. His paw isn’t infected, thankfully. He’s still badly infested with ticks to the point that we had to use a chemical treatment. He’s on antibiotics and we’ll be taking him in to have the abscess checked again tomorrow.

All things considered, he’s in pretty good health after his lengthy impromptu camping trip.

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3) PreppersDailyNews.com, an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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  • Oooh ouch. I’ve had to nurse more than one animal back to health with an abscess. I didn’t have access to a vet at the time. I’ll share this just for SHTF info, not for use as I am not a veterinarian nor a doctor. Warning, not for squeamish people.

    The abscess I dealt with were primarily from damage to the skin that then got infected. Bites, cuts, things of that nature. First thing is assessing how bad it is. Is the animal feverish, how much does the wound pain the animal, etc. If the animal is feverish I immediately start trying to get it to get hydrated and hopefully eat something. In really bad cases that means soup broth. In terrible cases that means using a turkey baster or syringe to get the broth into them (just gently releasing broth to the back of the throat and massaging their neck to get them to swallow). In not as severe cases I can often get the animal to eat peanut butter or yogurt, both of which have enough protein to pack a serious punch. Finally, if the animal is not really feverish but just having a hard time I will blend or grind their food to make it easier on them if needed.

    The reason I emphasize food and water so much is often by the time an animal is in that much need for help they are a rack of bones.

    Next is inspection of the damaged spot. As I said, I mainly dealt with external injuries, bites that got infected, injuries from broken glass. The skin would be red, lumped up, hot to the touch, painful for the animal. If you have gloves, use them, if not oh well. Boil the tools you are planning to use. If it’s very bad clip or shave the hair if possible. But otherwise it all proceeds the same. Lance the abscess. I use a very sharp needle, and then a heavier gauge needle. I use a needle so as not to need to stitch the wound close. The pus that comes out can reek, it’s painful for the animal. I recommend two people, one to help hold the animal still. Squeeze as much of the pus out as you can. Wipe off the pus as you go. I wipe using paper towels. Plain to start off with. Carefully keep an eye for any foreign object that might have been embedded in the wound. At the end, wipe very carefully with paper towels that have been soaked in rubbing alcohol. Always wipe away from the wound, you do not want to introduce anything else to it.

    Apply your choice of antibiotic ointment. Neosporin, yarrow salve, whatever you have that works. Apply ointment to a piece of gauze, lay the gauze on the wound, wrap with vet tape. Always, always, have vet wrap on hand. It is incredibly useful and costs $1-3 a roll at a feed store. Change the dressing twice daily or three times a day if need be. Every time you change the dressing douse the wound with rubbing alcohol and apply fresh gauze and ointment. Make sure the wrap is placing pressure on the gauze but not cutting circulation off. If it hurts the animal too much to unroll the wrap, then cut it off with scissors.

    -If- you have antibiotics on hand give a round to the animal as you would a person, going three days beyond when visible symptoms disappear. If you do not, then take a deep breath. Animals are amazingly resilient creatures. It is highly likely the animal will survive with careful nursing. Try your hardest to keep food and water in the animal, whatever it can stomach. It will be an incredibly stressful time but it is possible for animals to pull through. Bring the animal in to a warm room with lots of bedding. Make sure they have free access to water/soup broth. I often would bring them in to my room to keep an eye on them, but that’s a personal preference.

    Keep a very close eye on the wound. If red streaks start to shoot away from it, you are going to need antibiotics. If they get longer and are not halted, you are definitely going to need a vet. I was very fortunate not to have that happen.

    As I said, regard this tale perhaps as a curiosity, certainly not as clinical advice as I am in no way a doctor nor a veterinarian.

  • Wow, what a saga. If Elise & I lost our cat (Avery) we would be absolutely devastated. I can only imagine how scary this was for you.

    Really glad the tyke made it back, how do you think his claw got ripped out?

    • We have no idea – the vet said it could have gotten caught when he was fleeing and running up a tree or something. The wound on his tummy, not that the swelling has gone down, is definitely a bite. 😮 The poor guy went through a lot.

  • That is wonderful news. If we lost one of our cats it would be awful. Last year one of my pugs got away and I did all the right things too, to no avail. 6 months later the shelter called because she was microchipped. She had apparently been with a family until they got tired of her. It was great to have her back, but she was also in pretty bad shape. She is an escape artist and I have been called several times, after just an hour or so, because they checked her microchip. That’s a great invention. Also, good luck with the screens. That has happened to me where I currently live and it was because the screen frame was not strong enough to withhold the constant scratching of my cats. I’m so happy for you, your daughter and Sylvester! I love your blog – it is my favorite.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Linda. Wow – crazy that you didn’t get your doggie back for 6 months! Yours is another tale to remind us never to give up if our pets go missing. <3

  • So glad to hear your wayward kitty is back safe, save a few issues!! I’ve had more than one pampered house cat get out on me–so nerve-wracking!

    Yay to a happy ending 🙂

  • He must be some fighter…..I wonder what the other guys looked like.
    Seriously. I said some prayers when you first told us. I’ll bet many others did too.

    In time, with your good care, he’ll heal-up. I hope he’ll stay indoors until the…or longer. I am thrilled for you Syl and your family. He is a beautiful boy.

    • Thank you so much for your prayers. I really do feel like it’s a miracle he survived this long! We are so thrilled that we can’t stop petting and brushing him. Never has a kitty gotten so much loving constnat attention!

    • In survival mode a good mouser cat is asset, let them stay outside and work-hunt, and give them care-food if needed, but keep them at arms length. An indoor house cat has little value other than coyote bait should it decide to venture off the porch.

    • Obviously not that stupid since he survived. 🙂

      I’m sure you didn’t mean to be rude, but do remember you’re talking about a beloved family pet owned by a young girl. A young girl who read the comments on an article about her cat.

      It’s okay. She understands that some readers forget there are real human beings with feelings on the other side of the computer screen. As well, she realizes that some people just aren’t very kind and do not care how their words affect others. Again, you probably didn’t mean to be harsh and abrasive, right?

      I hope you have a nice day.

  • So glad you have your kitty back. We have two inside cats, and several that live outside.
    The outside ones are a clan that started this way:

    My husband noticed a feral cat that would hide in the woods just on the other side of our fence. Then he noticed that this cat had a severely damaged right front leg. When I say “severe” I mean really bad! It was really just a black bone. He began calling to it saying “Where Are You?” and it would answer, but not come close. So, he started feeding it by leaving some dry food at the fence. Then it began getting closer.
    We had to leave for a week and I asked a friend of mine to take care of the indoor cats and to leave food for the injured one.
    As things progressed, this cat’s black bone fell off (or was chewed off) and it began to heal.
    We didn’t know if it was male or female. When we returned from our trip, we discovered that she had had three tiny kittens.
    We watched her carry these babies, hopping because she now only has three legs. She would stop to rest, but never put down the baby.
    Long story short – she is an amazing cat and so, so sweet. We have two of the original babies, and a few other off spring outside, most of which have been spade and neutered.
    Her name is WAY for Where Are You.
    She is so wonderful, but I don’t think she would ever be happy inside. She lives mostly on our back porch in a “WAY house” which is a small dog house (Don’t tell her it is a dog house) and she has a “throne” which is a curved scratching board and a WAY bowl etc.
    Can you tell I think she’s wonderful?
    I love my kitties and when I read your post about losing one of yours I was so, so sad for you.
    Now you have Sylvester back and I know your daughter is very happy.

    My sister had a cat named Alexander Dumb Ass. He went missing for a year and then returned, went in the front door and straight to the food bowl. I guess Alexander wasn’t such a Dumb Ass after all, so miracles do happen.

  • So glad Sylvester is home again! We had an indoor/outdoor cat go missing for three days, and after much searching and worry, I was sure he had met his demise as we live in a well traveled neighborhood. But lo and behold, one day I heard the garbage truck go up the street and a few minutes later kitty came tearing into the yard and was meowing at the door! He must have been in a can! I’m not sure why no one heard him but no matter, he was back safe and sound – and little stinky 😉

  • I am so glad to read this! Please ignore my comment on your other post– it sounds like you guys did everything right every step of the way. So happy you have your lil man back!

    • Thank you for your great suggestions and your good wishes about Sylvester! We’re so happy to have him home and he doesn’t seem to interested in sneaking out again after that misadventure 🙂

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