How to Describe a Lost Cat?

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If your cat goes missing it is very important to know how to identify your lost cat even if it has a collar or microchip. Learn how, and why, you need to know more about what your cat looks like. What color is my cat?

Without looking at your cat, can you say what color eyes it has? If your cat has white on its paws, which paws are white? What color collar does it wear?

You may not think knowing these things is important, after all your cat is on your lap right now as you read this, but what if your cat got lost? Knowing what your cat looks like is important to helping you find a lost cat.

There are many ways you can identify your cat, but physical appearance is the easiest. Other people who are not particularly familiar with cats, or who many not want to touch a cat they think is a “stray” can understand “Black cat with white paws on the front”, which is considerably more descriptive than saying “Black and White cat” when one realizes just how many black and white cats there are.  As well if you say you lost a Abyssinian cat, the word "Abyssinian" means nothing to your neighbor who took in a brownish colored cat.

cat outside

This cat could be described as a DMH black/brown tabby, white bib, white only on his front paws but higher on back legs, with gold eyes.  Photo by author. 

Animal shelters (dog pounds, SPCA's, humane societies) in large cities may take in 20 stray cats a day. When you phone to report your cat missing it will be very helpful for the shelter to have more information than “Tabby”. They may get 7 or 8 Tabby cats in a day. Gender of course may eliminate some, but knowing what color eyes your cat has, and where it has white, are important identification markers on cats.

Even if your cat has a collar, it may fall off. Your cat may have a tattoo, but if your cat is very frightened when being admitted to the shelter they may not be able to check for it, or it may not be clear. Your cat may have a microchip, but not all shelters have scanners for all types of chips, and microchips have been known to fail.

Most animal shelters, pounds, humane societies, and SPCA's have a Lost Cat Report where owners can leave information. Typically they ask questions about the cats color, including the color of the cats eyes. This is one question most people are not sure of. But when a shelter has cages and cages of solid black cats, the eyes might be the only distinguishing feature. Indeed there have been cases where people have taken home the wrong cat because they were not so sure which was theirs, only to realize the mistake later when the cat couldn't find its way around the home.

The best place to keep information on your cat is on its veterinarian record. Similarly cat owners should have two or three good pictures of their cat showing its face, and paws. Photographs can be used on “Lost Cat” posters or left at the animal shelter on their Lost Cat report. Pictures can be very important to help you find a lost cat.

The scenario nobody wants to think about is if their cat is hit by a car. Looking at a freezer full of dead tabby cats is not something you want to do. (Most shelters keep cats hit on the road in a freezer for a week to allow owners to claim their bodies, some animal shelters may get as many as 4 or more dead animals brought to them in a day.) If you can provide the animal shelter with a description of your cat they will screen the bodies and show you only the ones that match your cats description, or picture.


photo source - If every stray cat that came into the shelter were different looking it would be easy for the shelter to know whose lost cat is whose, but what if 4 black and white cats are brought in, or 3 solid black cats, or 4 tabby cats?  You need to know more specific information about your cats color and markings.

Things to Note

DSH, DMH, DLH – refer to hair length, Domestic short hair, medium hair, or long hair.

Eye Color – note that cats can have two different color eyes, and if so, which is which.

Color – Learn your cats color, Tabby means it has stripes, Tortoiseshell is black (or gray) and orange (or pale orange), if the cat also has white it is a Calico. These are the three colors most people confuse, as some think all cats are “tabby”.  (Also note orange is correctly referred to as "red" in cats).  There are many other cat colors.

White Markings - on the feet, tail, face, body...

Gender – you should know this but note a “Tom” is an male who is not neutered. Some people are unaware of their kittens gender, if you do not know.... do not guess.

Breed – if your cat is not a registered cat, do not refer to it as a breed, many people erroneously call their long haired domestic cat a “Persian” but shelter staff will dismiss cats they call DLH in that case and only consider cats with pushed in faces – a characteristic of the Persian breed.

Collar Color – Of course collars do fall off, as do tags, but knowing the color of the collar can be of help.

Behavior – be aware that a normally friendly cat might not be so calm and friendly in the shelter, as such behavior is not usually a good identifying feature.

Identification – does your cat have a microchip or tattoo. Do you have the number. If the cat has a tattoo, do you know where it is?

Declawed - declawed cats shouldn't even go outside, but you should know if your cat is declawed only on the front, or all four?  (this is in no way an endorsement of declawing which is cruel and has many side effects)

Related Links

Should Cats be Allowed Outdoors?

How to Find a Lost Cat

What to do when you Find a Stray Pet

Rules of Thumb for Pet Owners

How to Take Better Pet Pictures

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Posted on Sep 12, 2010