My cat is a little over a year old and has always been an indoor cat. Two nights ago he got out and I found him outside the next afternoon and he hasn't been the same since.
I didn't actually realize he was out so I'm not exactly sure how long he was there. I found my cat lying in the back yard flower bed. I picked him up and brought him inside and he immediately went to the litter box. From that point on, my kitty has been in his bed or in his crate... which he never goes to unless I put him there.
I live on a very busy street and we have a number of other cats in the neighborhood. I might also mention that we have two dogs that he gets along with very well.
Anyway, he is not eating or drinking and is spending his days in his crate (again, not where he usually is). Normally, he's a very playful cat. I don't see any visible injuries and when I hold and pet him he's very calm and doesn't cry out. I have examined him thoroughly. He seems to be losing a lot of hair and obviously is not cleaning himself. I'm not sure if he's just traumatized and I should just give him a couple of days or take him to the vet which might get quite expensive and something I really can't afford right now. Can you offer any advice?
I am sorry to hear about your cat's misfortune. An indoor cat that gets outside for the first time can become very frightened and traumatized, but also can get injured in a variety of ways. Other animals can inflict bite wounds which you would not necessarily be able to see until an abscess forms. A cat can pick up a virus from another kitty and have no outward signs, but could have a fever which you are not aware of and which could make him very lethargic and dehydrate him.
Other problems which you may not see externally on your cat include poisoning and blunt force trauma.
Your cat's drastic change in behavior and appetite is cause for great concern. At this point, it would not be just from stress.
Your cat’s hair loss and lack of grooming also indicate that he is not feeling well. He is undoubtedly dehydrated from not eating and drinking and from a possible fever from a bite wound or a virus.
I would strongly suggest you take your cat to the veterinarian right away. I fear you have already waited too long. If a cat doesn't eat or drink or move around, even 24 hours is too long to wait.
It is possible that fluids and antibiotics and an appetite stimulant may be enough to rejuvenate him and it won't be terribly expensive for you, but I have no way of knowing exactly what treatment he will need.
I certainly understand the financial concerns, but please take your kitty to a veterinarian. He is obviously already suffering and without veterinary care, he could die. Also, the sooner he is seen and treated by a vet, the less likely his treatment is going to be prohibitively expensive. Veterinary medical care is always less expensive the earlier you take your cat for help.