Why Do Cats Run Away From Home?


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Why Do Cats Run Away From Home

Some of us might feel reluctant to let our kitty roam outside of the safety of our home. There are those who live in areas that it’s just not possible and then there are those cat parents who let their feline companions explore the outside world freely.

Whichever the case might be, finding out that your kitty has run away or has been missing for longer than usual can be truly a horrifying experience.

Why do cats run away from home? Cats usually run away during the reproductive period, or to hunt in a new location. A stressful environment, their territorial instincts, or the attention from another human could also lead them to run away for a couple of days or go missing entirely.

If you want to find out, why do cats run away from home and how to prevent it, then keep on reading!

Let’s begin!

Why Do Cats Run Away From Home?

One might think that a cat running away from home could only affect those cat parents who let their kitty enjoy the outdoors freely, but that’s not entirely true. Cats are sweet and loving, but they can also be sneaky individuals that can find the right opportunity to slip out the door.

While I have two indoor-only kitties, I’ve had the unfortunate experiencing and escape…twice! Once he fell off the balcony and thankfully living at that time on the first floor meant that he was left unscathed. The second time my father forgot to close the door and the poor thing had to spend the whole night down in the basement.

I’m sure most of you also have a similar story or two and some of us would like to know what drives our kitties away from home.

1. Your Cat Is In Heat

If your cat hasn’t been spayed or neutered, at some point they’re going to feel the urge to mate and will naturally want to get out of the house.  A cat in heat will be more vigilant, trying to detect other cats in their area to mate, and if they don’t find any, they most likely will start searching further away from home.

No matter how high your fence might be, a kitty that’s looking to mate will quite possibly manage to get away. Male cats can be especially stubborn and if necessary, they’ll travel as far away as needed in order to find a mate. Unneutered male cats will also begin to spend more time outdoors and there’s a higher chance of them running away.

According to a review on Breeding and the Reproduction in Cats, published in the Veterinary Manual, “the queen (female cat) can enter her first heat as young as 4 months of age, and she generally has 2 or 3 cycles during the breeding season, typically February to October.”

That’s not the only thing that happens when a cat feels the urge to reproduce- cats also tend to be more aggressive and fights are a common occurrence. Neutering or spaying your kitty will reduce their natural instincts and the urge to fight. This way you can limit your cat’s need for running far away, as well as protect them from potential wounds and transmitted diseases.

It’s also now more cost-effective than ever and you can easily find a low-cost spay and neuter facility in your area using Pet Smarts clinic finder.

2. Your Cat Is Giving Birth

If your cat is pregnant you might notice some changes. According to the Central Texas Veterinary Hospital, “most develop an unusually sweet and loving disposition and demand more affection and attention. However, some may become uncharacteristically irritable.”

So, don’t be surprised to find your kitty seeking more alone time during the late stages of their pregnancy. They go on to explain “The expectant mother begins to look for a secure place for delivery.” This means that your cat might even run away in order to build her nest where she will feel safe enough to give birth.

If your cat is preparing to give birth, it’s advisable to keep them inside the house. Create a warm and secluded space, preferably a large box where the cat and kittens can move around freely. Make sure necessities like food, water, and a litterbox are always close by.

For more information on how to prepare for your cat’s birth, get in touch with your veterinarian. You can get instructions there, monitor your cat’s health and if there are any complications you and your kitty will have the proper support for a healthy birth.

3. Territorial Instincts

Even with a large and spacious house, it doesn’t mean your kitty won’t look for more territory to conquer, especially when they have free access to the outside. Most felines will mark, with their scent glands, the surrounding areas as their own. This includes your house, the yard, the streets around it, and even the entire neighborhood.

As mentioned, this sense of territory is usually stronger in unneutered male cats. According to VCA Hospitals, “by depositing an odor, the cat communicates to other animals that it was there long after it has gone. Cats will mark their territory to signal “ownership” and to advertise sexual receptivity and availability.”

If you own a confident cat it’s quite possible that as soon as they feel comfortable within their area, they might try to expand it even further. But if your cat is shy, they might also be driven out of their own yard and housing area by a more assertive neighboring cat.

4. Hunting

Cats are known for their strong hunting instinct to the point of notoriety. And while we might think that domesticated cats are quite tamed in comparison to their wild siblings, scientists are here to disprove it.

Professor Robbie McDonald, head of Exeter’s Wildlife Science group, talks about how important it is to reduce their hunting without affecting their welfare. “Having such independent pets creates extra anxieties for owners about both their cat’s safety while ranging free, and the impacts on wildlife,” Professor McDonald points out.

It’s possible that cats that seem to have run away or just out for an extended hunting trip because there isn’t enough to hunt in your area.

You might notice your cat bringing their prey to your home or leaving it at your doorstep as a gift to you. “By leaving a dead animal on the back porch, your cat is acting out its natural role as mother and teacher,” some studies suggest.

While it’s a common enough behavior and can be a cute gesture, this habit can be dangerous for your cat’s health. And of course, there’s always the possibility of them running away, driven by their primal instincts.

It’s important to remember that cats can be happy as a strictly indoor pet, provided their needs are met. Satisfying their hunting needs might seem more difficult, but it’s not impossible. Offering them plenty of stimuli like toys, actively playing with them, and in some cases having a second pet can be beneficial in that aspect.

5. Your Cat Is Curious

If your kitty is free to enjoy the outside world then it’s only natural that they’ll want to explore it. The further away your cat’s curiosity takes them the more dangers they might encounter. So, while you might be thinking that your kitty has run away from home, they might be stuck somewhere.

You see, most outdoor cats go on daily walks and face adventures we couldn’t even imagine. Even in a safe neighborhood, there are narrow places, like a fence or tubes your cat might find interesting to go through and end up getting stuck. Some cats might be brave enough to climb a tree, but not brave enough to come down of it.

6. They Have A Double Identity

If you find your cat disappearing from home every day for a few hours then they might not be running away from home, but instead, they’re cheating on you. If your cat doesn’t have a tag, then your neighbor might think they’re giving their love to a stray cat, some might even adopt them.

A spokesman for Cat Protection states that “several studies following the movements of cats using GPS trackers have shown that some cats will regularly visit neighboring properties.” If the neighbors don’t know that the friendly kitty is yours, they might adopt it and you’ll be left to think that your kitty has runaway.

It’s also important to note that studies have shown that, “As most of our household cats are neutered, the main motivator for them to explore the neighbor’s house is food!” So, if you notice your cheating fluffball gaining weight despite your carefully measured portions, they might be getting the extra calories from a friendly neighbor.

If this is the case your cat might start facing obesity in which case, you should probably ask your neighbors to stop feeding them. But if your feline friend is not after food, but attention, you might not even notice them being gone. The smart fluffy overlord might be visiting this caring neighbor during the hours you’re at work.

There are plenty of reasons for a cat to run away from home to another one, and you don’t have to take it too personally. Extra social cats can have more than one person they care about and it just can happen to be your neighbor. Perhaps they’ve created a special bond with your neighbor’s cat or dog instead.

7. A Cry For Attention

There are plenty of things in our lives that demand our attention, work, family, perhaps a new baby. All these can leave our kitties feeling neglected and alone. Despite what some people might say, cats want and need to socialize with their owners.

Kristyn Vitale, a postdoctoral fellow at Oregon State University, was leading a study that tried to find out if cats are capable of creating attachments with humans. According to the study not only did cats had the ability to bond with their humans, but they also could develop insecure attachments.

Kristyn Vitale explains that “subjects with insecure attachments tend to exhibit anxiety or fear toward their caregivers. Signs of insecure attachments among the cats included twitching their tails, licking their lips, or avoiding their owners when they returned.”

So, while you might feel like your cat is rejecting you by running away from you or running away from your home overall, in fact, it’s your cat’s way of showing you that you’re the one abandoning them. If every time they’re gone you start seeking them out, calling their name, then they might start using this technique to get your attention.

8. Your Cat Got Scared

The outside can be a fun place for a cat, but it can also be quite dangerous. One minute they might be enjoying the sunshine, laying on freshly moaned grass, and the next thing they know they’re chased by a neighbor’s dog. The outside world can create plenty of potential situations where your kitty runs away from home because they got scared.

This can happen even to the bravest cat out there. So, if you’re wondering in confusion, why do cats run away from home and specifically why yours, then ask yourself if the area you live in can make them feel threatened. Are there stray cats that have easy access to your yard? Are your neighbors loud and is there a load of traffic around your building?

9. Your Cat Is Sick Or Wounded

You might think that your kitty has run away from home, but the truth is they might not be in a position to return. They could be just lost, or they might also be injured and too hurt to come back.

It doesn’t matter in what condition you find your missing kitty, and it’s vital that you take them to the vet immediately. Your vet will check for any wounds, broken bones and they’ll run tests to see if they have caught a virus.

Unfortunately, there are many dangers your kitty might face outside your home. They could be poisoned by a bad neighbor or hit by a car, even if you live in a secluded area. A report showed that “most cats avoid busy roads, suggesting they are more likely to have accidents on quieter lanes where they are not frightened of the constant noise, movement, and exhaust fumes.”

10. Your Cat Is Old

Being the owner of a senior cat can become stressful since old age can have an effect on their health and personality. But as the final days are getting closer you might find your cat wandering off.

Some believe that cats will leave to face their final hours alone, but the actual truth seems to tell us a different story. “Cats do not go off with the intent to die alone and cold. When cats don’t feel good, they often like to find a quiet corner to be by themselves until they feel better.”

If your house is always full of people, filled with lots of energy and life, it might be somewhat overwhelming to your old kitty. Try to create a safe and secluded space for them to spend their time. And if they go for a long walk and don’t come back, then remember that they didn’t run away from you, they simply went to visit the cat heaven.

What To Do If Your Cat Runs Away?

I know having a cat flee from home can be extremely scary no matter the circumstances, but my first advice would be to just breathe. Take a moment to collect your thoughts and as difficult as it may sound try not to panic. After all, there are a few things you can do to try and bring your kitty back home. It might feel like a long and tedious process, but we all know it’s worth it!

Plan Out A Strategy

Indoor cats that manage to slip through an open door usually don’t run away too far. Check your yard, or the area around your apartment first and see if they’re not hiding in some dark corner. Take a few treats and your cat’s cage to keep them from running away again.

An outdoor-indoor cat usually has the freedom to come and go as they please, which makes it difficult to realize that they’re missing. If your kitty is vaccinated, has a collar, and has also been microchipped then you can let a day pass by, before doing anything more drastic.

Try calling their name and put out the food they like outside to get their attention. If this behavior is unusual have your cat’s microchip information at hand and contact local shelters and the animal control in your town to let them know your cat is missing. Physical descriptions and their personality traits will help them identify your cat and approach them accordingly.

Ask someone you and your cat trust, to stay at your house while you’re out looking for them in case your furball returns. Print flyers with your cat’s photograph, where their face, body, and color patterns are clear. Post them around your neighborhood and let your neighbors know that your cat is missing. The Internet can also be of help in these situations, so make sure to make a post on your local lost and found social media pages and apps.

You can take their favorite blanket and cut it into pieces, leaving them around your area. This could help an indoor kitty since they might have a greater chance of finding their way through the familiar scent.

Remember to return to the scene of the crime. A shy cat will probably stay hidden next to where you live. When my cat fell out of the balcony, I sat there for a few hours talking to a friend. When I was about to give up, I heard a noise behind me. I turned and saw my cat come out of his hiding spot, scared and definitely hungry for some treats!

Finally, make sure to contact your vet and ask them for more advice and tips on the matter. And while you’re looking for your kitty don’t forget to be patient, because it’s a process that can be tedious and time consuming.

Be Cautious When Offering Rewards

There are plenty of wonderful people that will be willing to help you find your runaway cat and that’s a great advantage. But there are also some who will claim they found your kitty once they see there’s money to gain.

Cat parents that are owners of rare breeds might find people calling and demanding more money or trying to scam them altogether. If you’re putting up a reward on your flyer perhaps you could leave out an identifying detail of your cat so you can be sure that they’re telling the truth.

Do Cats Come Back When They Run Away?

There are various reasons behind your cat running away from home. Usually, they’re connected to their natural instincts like reproduction, hunting, territory. Some cats run away and go missing and others can be gone for several days or more, only to return as if nothing happened.

Because all cats are different, some can become disoriented and struggle to find their way back, while others might travel miles on end to return to their home. According to Lost Pet Research, cats can travel long distances to find their home, 80 miles in 3 months, 52 miles in 2,5 years, 38 miles in 6 months, 30 miles in 10 days, and 20 miles in 21 days.

Relying simply on the idea that your cat will return isn’t enough and that’s why it’s important to start looking for your cat as soon as possible. According to research, “A physical search within the first week of a cat going missing could be a useful strategy.”

Statistics also showed that 75% of cats were found within a 500 m radius of their home. As mentioned, outdoor cats can travel longer distances unlike indoor cats and if they’re the curious type, it’s quite possible that they’ll end up in another person’s home.

How Do Cats Come Back Home After Running Away?

Even though relying on your cat to simply return home after being gone for a few days isn’t a good tactic, there are some stories that tell us it’s a possibility.

Home Instinct

Home instinct is believed to be the ability of animals to perceive direction, in a way humans cannot. This instinct helps an animal, in this case, our cats to return to their home after being moved or being stolen from their established territory.

There are two known pieces of research on the homing ability of lost cats done by Herrick in 1922 and Precht and Lindenlaub in 1954. Herrick tested a single cat that was taken into 7 different locations, away from home. The cat managed to find their way back within 4 to 78 hours of being released.

Herrick suggested that most cats can return back home but that, “the use of homing ability is determined by the experience and the physiological state of the cat at the time.” Precht and Lindenlaub placed a number of cats in a large maze to see if they could find their home. Most cats managed to exit the maze closest to their home location.

Muriel beadle author of, The Cat: History, Biology, and Behavior tried to explain this ability by saying that it was caused by, “unusual sensitivity to the geomagnetic field of the earth which enables the cat to keep a compass fix on their home region regardless of distance and direction traveled.”

A cat’s olfactory cues, meaning scent abilities can also help them find their territory thanks to the markings they leave behind. But Bonnie Beaver, the executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and a professor at Texas A&M University suggests that “cats, like other animals, might rely more on magnetic fields.

PSI Trailing

PSI trailing is a theory which refers to an animal’s ability to locate their owner in case they were separated. This concept of Bell’s Theorem was introduced by veterinarian Dr. Myrna Milani which suggested that mammals, in this case, cats, sync up in a natural rhythm with their owners at an atomic level.

In other words, some believe that there might be an even deeper running bond between us and our fluffy familiars which helps us stay together.

Personality

While your cat’s personality doesn’t play a major factor in their ability to return back home, it might play some role. For instance, shy and scaredy cats that end up outside might be hiding somewhere close by, but are less likely to reveal themselves, even when called upon.

Cats that are bolder and are less nervous when they end up in new environments are more likely to return back home and answer your calls by meowing back at you. Studies suggest, “an accurate assessment of pet cat personality may help owners manage their cats in a way that optimizes cat welfare.” So, knowing your cat’s personality can give you an advantage when looking for them!

How To Prevent Your Cat From Running Away?

Our cats may love us with all their furry heart, but their love doesn’t take away their free will and independence to do as they please. While this is something, we love about them, we can’t deny the fact that the modern world can be too dangerous for our cats to explore freely.

As with everything we love, being protective can help keep our cats healthy, without taking away too much from them.

1.Spay/Neuter Your Cat

Whether your kitty is an indoor or outdoor cat neutering/spaying is vital for their own health. It reduces the chances of your cat running away from home to reproduce, but according to the Humane Society of the United States, neutered cats also have a longer life span and the risk of certain types of cancers is reduced.

More studies support this by stating that, “intact female cats and dogs have a greater chance of developing pyometra (a potentially fatal uterine infection) and other cancers of the reproductive system. For male cats, there’s a significantly smaller risk of getting testicular cancer and results in lower rates of prostate cancer.”

Some people see it as an unnecessary intervention, but veterinaries around the world suggest otherwise. Spaying/Neutering is the choice of a responsible cat parent and it could benefit your cat long term, and it should also help reduce the number of stray kittens that are born on the streets.

When you adopt your kitty make sure to visit your vet and get the right information on their overall care, but also on when is the best time for your feline companion to be neutered/spayed. This way your kitty won’t have the time to run away and look for a mate. If you’ve got a cat in heat, you can find a list of low-cost spay/neuter clinics across the globe thanks to PetSmart by clicking here.

2.Keep Your Cat Indoors

The best and most effective way of keeping your kitty from running away is keeping them inside. Outdoor cats, especially if they’re curious and extroverted, will stray away from home, even if it’s just to go check your neighbor’s back garden. Keeping an eye on them 24/7 might still not prevent them from exploring and expanding their territory.

A cat that’s spend all her life indoors won’t have any problems. Of course, you’ll have to provide them with the right environment like scratch polls, interactive toys, cat beds, and elevated areas where they observe their kingdom.

An indoor cat has fewer chances of contracting a disease from another stray cat. There are fewer parasites and germs that they can bring with them. Even in the most secure area, you can’t keep your cat completely safe from other cars, an attack from an aggressive dog, or a wild animal. By keeping them indoors you can protect them from a cat-hating neighbor and subsequentially all this will prolong your cat’s life expectancy greatly.

According to recent research, “many cats go missing after leaving via an open door or garage (74%), but some escape via a window (11%), broken window screen (6%), or jump from a balcony (5%).

That’s why it’s important that they have a collar with important information attached to it. Always make sure that your kitty is vaccinated and microchipped in case an unfortunate event like having your cat runaway or fall out of the balcony ever occurs.

3.Microchip

If you want your cat to experience life outside of your home as well, then microchipping them is a must. This way you can register your cat’s microchip and shelters, as well as the providing company, will be able to contact you.

Collars can also help your neighbors, local shelter, and animal control identify your kitty and contact you. It’s important to note that the wrong collar can be dangerous. A safe quick-release collar like this one on Amazon is all you need and it can make a world of difference when you need it. This kind of collar can be custom fitted, it has a sturdy build that can hold a bell and a tag that will release your cat in case it gets caught.

4.Help Them Adjust

If any changes occur in your life don’t wait for your cat to show you signs of distress and neglect. Some cats might be quick to react and run away from home before you even realize they were in distress. Studies suggest that “it is likely that exhibition of “problem” behaviors could be in response to a poor quality environment or one in which the cat is unable to cope.”

If there are major changes happening in your life, give your kitty attention and love, even spoil them with a few extra treats and play sessions. If you have a friend or a partner your kitty isn’t afraid of, ask them to help out and keep your kitty occupied.

Sometimes cats will also run away when they can’t have a place where they can spend some time on their own, especially if you have guests staying over. So, make sure that they always have their own space and a few hiding spots where they can retreat to.

5.Train Them To Return

For some, training a cat is unheard of, but there are many cat parents that will prove the disbelievers wrong. The trick is to start their training when they’re still kittens and by using positive reinforcement.

You can use treats or also a bell and treats to train them to come to you when you call them. The process is simple, call their name and when they come near your reward them with a treat, then move to another spot and repeat.

Some cat owners prefer to call their cats back home every day right before the sun goes down, so it becomes a routine. The sound from the bell should pull their attention to seek out the reward and the smell from the treat should also catch the attention of their scent sense.

Of course, it may not work for all kittens and cats, since personality plays a big factor in their trainability, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Who knows maybe you’ll end up teaching your cat how to do your taxes!

6.Keep Windows And Doors Closed

This one I can 100% relate to since my cat slipped out of the door during the night! If you have a few people staying over make sure to check the doors and windows regularly. If you have enough space you could keep your kitty in a safe room with all their essentials, until the guests are gone. A bell on your cat’s collar could also help you note where they are, and it should make it difficult for them to run away unnoticed.

7.Get A Catio Space

If your cat is used to being outdoors, but you’re too afraid to let them out then a Catio can be a great alternative for you. You can look for local companies that can install a Catio Space in your garden, which is an outdoor enclosure.

Of course, if you’re crafty you might want to check a DIY catio tutorial, like this one!

A Catio space is perfect for curious cats. This way they get the freedom of experiencing the outside without the great risks that come with it. They also won’t be able to run away from home ever again! Some catios have enough space for small trees and bushes to grow freely, which will be useful in providing adequate shade. Clean water and food should also be provided and this way you’ll know that there’s nothing else they’re in need of!

Another great alternative to a catio could be a portable outdoor cat enclosure. This way you can offer your kitty a taste of the outside world without having a permanent structure in your yard. This could be the perfect investment for cat owners who are renting their homes and can’t make any permanent changes. You can check our list of the best portable outdoor cat enclosures or you can simply check our top pick with one click here!

8.Get A GPS Tracker/App

If you don’t see yourself changing your cat’s outdoor habits, then a great investment would be a tracking device. These devices can be attached to your cat’s collar or they might come together with it. You can keep it connected to your phone through an app, and it should keep you informed of your cat’s whereabouts.

Just don’t tell your kitty you’re spying on them, they might take it the wrong way!

9.Use A Leash

Training your cat to go on walks can be a great middle-ground in which you can keep your cat strictly indoors, while also providing them the outdoors. This way you’ll be able to set your own timeline and have control if something goes wrong.

A good harness will also keep your kitty from running away and slipping out of it. Make sure your kitty is comfortable and that you take it slow. Breeds like the Maine Coon are especially known for being outgoing and are easily trainable to go out on a leash.

Closing Thoughts

The thought of losing our feline soulmate can send cold shivers down our spine and it’s completely understandable. What would our world look like without their magical fluffiness?

Our cats can run away for various reasons, that we have no control over and that’s ok. But if there’s anything we can do like, neutering/spaying our kitties, deciding on keeping them inside altogether or building them a catio, then we should try doing them.

Most importantly don’t forget to love your kitty and give them space where they can truly be happy, whether it’s inside or outside!

Let us know if you’re aware of any other reason in regards to why do cats run away from home? Has it ever happened to you and what did you do?

Marina Titova

Marina was cat-struck 8 years ago. It was early autumn when Dante, her grey cat, found her and adopted her. They’ve been inseparable ever since. Dante has been a great cat-teacher and BetterWithCats.net seemed like the perfect place to share his cat-knowledge.

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