Cats love exploring and sometimes roam away from home on kitty adventures. Most cats explore for a few hours before returning home for dinner, whereas others spend days exploring. But if your cat doesn’t show its face for a few hours, it can be easy to start panicking.
Nothing is worse than freaking out that your cat might be lost, injured, or worse! This leaves many concerned owners asking the same question: Can cats find their way home? According to the experts, the answer is yes!
Cats have highly attuned senses that help them to navigate the outside world, which I discuss in this article. I also provide tips on keeping your cat safe and preventing your furry friend from getting lost. Plus, I teach you what to do if your kitty appears to have lost its way.
How Can Your Cat Find Its Way Home?
Most cats can find their way home. This is an intuitive ability called homing. If you have heard of the term homing pigeon, it has the same meaning – the ability to navigate effortlessly and find their way back home from miles away.
But how do they do it? Scientists and animal experts can’t say for sure how cats can find their way home. We might have to accept what we know – cats do have a kind of superpower related to direction, but how they do it is still somewhat of a mystery.
Nevertheless, experts believe cats’ homing abilities depend on three things:
- Their strong instinct regarding direction
- Their keen sense of hearing
- Their incredible sense of smell
1. Strong Instinct Regarding Direction
Many experts believe cats have intuitive navigation skills linked to survival. This is supported by looking at brain studies that relate to memories, as spatial memories are the ones best stored in feline brains. In comparison, visual memory is less strong. This shows the ability to remember directions are extremely prevalent in cats.
To help even more, they seem to have very good night vision. This enables cats to find their way home even in the dark effortlessly! In fact, you can get a cat to come home at night with a bit of training – all thanks to their impressive spatial memories and nighttime vision.
2. Keen Sense of Hearing
One theory suggests cats can use their ears to detect magnetic signals from the earth. This is supported by research. In a study conducted back in 1954, cats were put in a giant maze to see if they could get out of the maze and find their way back home. Cats were highly successful at this, but their ability was dampened when magnets were attached to the cat. This is strong evidence magnetic geolocation is involved.
Research has shown that other animals, including deer, may also possess this skill, further supporting the possibility that a similar mechanism could be valid for cats. But there haven’t been enough in-depth studies to prove this theory is 100% true.
3. Incredible Sense of Smell
Cats rely on scent communication for all kinds of things, including navigation. They purposely leave their strong scent behind to mark their territory. Because cats’ sense of smell is so advanced, they can use this scent they’ve deposited on their travels to point them in the direction of home.
Depositing scent onto surfaces is what your cat is doing when it smooches on furniture, doorways, and you with its face. Many scent chemicals called pheromone are found here, and rubbing quickly deposits them on the surface in question. Cats also do this to mark people and animals as family, to establish their territory, or to help themselves feel calm.
Can Cats Find Their Way to a New Home?
Even though your pet cat does have amazing senses to guide it back home, there may be times when it gets disorientated and lost and needs some help.
One prime example is moving home. When you move to a new house, your cat might be confused, distressed, or unhappy to be in a new environment. Therefore, many cats end up returning to their old homes. These intelligent creatures of habit can travel by foot for miles and miles over rough terrain in challenging weather conditions to get to the house they know and love.
Nevertheless, your cat will slowly learn to love its new home. But while your cat is transitioning, there are some steps to take so your cat makes the connection to your new house and knows it belongs there:
- Keep Your Cat Indoors Initially: When you arrive at your new home, keep your kitten or cat indoors for a week if possible. Don’t allow your cat to roam, or it may make a run for it. Keep the windows closed and be careful when you go in and out.
- Let Your Cat Adjust Gradually: Let your cat walk around your new house and get used to the new surroundings. Make sure its belongings, including toys for cats to chase and bedding, are around. It will recognize its things, smell their familiar scent, and slowly recognize this new property as its home.
- Allow Short Outdoor Visits: After a week, you can release your cat outside for short. Keep a close eye on your cat to ensure it doesn’t go too far into the unknown. Soon your cat will forget about the old neighborhood and settle into the new life.
- Put Butter on Their Paws: A tip from the old days is putting butter on your cat’s paws when you finally let it outside. Some cat owners believe the butter will hide the smell of its previous home, and it will lose the desire to run away. It also might be busy licking the butter from its paws.
- Keep Your Cat Indoor at Night: The outside world is a dangerous place for cats at night. They are at greater risk of getting hit by a vehicle, getting into catfights or other conflicts, or getting lost. Confining a cat to a room at night until it has adjusted to its new home and surroundings is usually a good idea.
Tips to Make Sure You Won’t Lose Your Cat
Experts believe all cats can find their way back home. However, this doesn’t mean cats cannot get lost occasionally! Here are some other tips to help ensure your cat avoids getting lost and always makes it back home:
- Keep it Indoors: If you know your cat is prone to roaming, keep it indoors whenever you are out, including when you go to work and when you go to bed. You might also want to consider leaving your cat inside permanently, but bear in mind you need to provide plenty of other enrichment. This includes cat trees, automatic laser cat toys, hiding places, food puzzles, and other stimulating activities.
- Use a Kitty Leash: Use a leash or pet harness and take your cat for walks. Cats need regular exercise and fresh air to maintain their health and well-being, so it’s nice to take cats for a walk outside – even if they’re usually indoor-only kitties. While by your side, there is no possibility that they won’t make it back home.
- Consistent Routine: Keep a routine for feeding your cat and bringing it inside. Cats are intelligent creatures; as darkness falls, they will remember it is time to come indoors. As for food, you know your cat will always be ready to eat, especially if its favorite cat food is waiting in its dish. When used together, feeding and curfews are a great combination!
- Invest in a Catio: A catio is an outdoor cat enclosure so your cat has the benefits of a stimulating outdoor environment without the risk of getting lost. You can hire a local builder to make one, build one yourself DIY-style, or buy readymade kits online. Put toys, bedding, and layers of shelves with ramps inside the catio to keep your cat completely content and entertained.
- Neuter Your Cat: Cats that are neutered are far less likely to roam far away. When your cat doesn’t have the urge to find a mate it won’t be heading outside the boundaries of your property nearly so much. If you are not planning on letting your cat have kittens or breed, you should get it spayed or neutered It’s never too late to neuter a cat, but the earlier the operation is performed, the better!
Should I Worry if My Cat Doesn’t Come Home?
If your cat doesn’t return home at their usual time, don’t panic.
Outdoor cats love to explore, especially males who roam for miles and miles to look for an active mate. This roaming behavior is one of the main differences between male cats vs female cats to be aware of and why many owners get their studs neutered (don’t rule this out if you have an older kitty – it’s never too late the neuter a cat!).
However, even females can spend some time away from home and indoor cats can sneak their way outside. I’ve had my indoor cat missing for 24 hours, but she made it back home safely despite being entirely unaccustomed to the outside world.
You don’t need to worry about your furry friend forgetting you or your home while on their adventures either. I spent a while traveling and was surprised to find my cat remembers me after 1 year! Cats have great memories, so if your cat is missing, you need to trust them.
Often pets will return home when they are ready; after hours of searching everywhere, you might hear that familiar “meow” and see your cat has returned.
What Should I Do if my Cat Doesn’t Come Home?
If your cat doesn’t come home, remember this one thing: patience.
As mentioned, cats come home when they’re ready and don’t have the same sense of time as humans. If your furry friend is playing outdoors or basking in the sun, coming home will be the last thing on its mind.
On the other hand, a hungry cat that wants to be fed will come rushing home. But if it happened to catch a few mice during its adventuring, it may not be hungry. Some sneaky cats will have a little food tour they take every day. They will have places they go to be fed by kind-hearted people who might not realize they have loving homes. If your cat gets into this habit, it might stay away from home for longer.
I understand there is only so long you can be patient, though. If your patience is wearing thing and you’re starting to worry something might have happened to your kitty, here are the steps to take:
- Do a good search of your house, property, and the local area. Make a note of your cat’s favorite hiding places and check these thoroughly before declaring a lost cat.
- Call your cat often and tap its food bowl with a metal spoon. Cats have a powerful sense of hearing, so they may hear familiar sounds even if they are far away.
- Make sure you have a recent photo of your lovely cat so you can show neighbors what your cat looks like and ask them to check their sheds and garages. Make sure the picture shows any distinctive markings that help identify your furry feline.
- Consider posting the photograph and information about your cat on local notice boards and online. This extends the sear to the wider community, and you can hopefully get a happy result in a matter of hours.
- Have a list of local animal shelters and vets so you can call around and see if someone might have dropped your cat off there.
Products for Finding a Lost Cat
The above steps will bring most lost cats home. However, many wonderful inventions are available to help you locate your lost cat. And the good news is the cost of the devices are getting more and more affordable.
Here are some of the most effective ones to consider investing in:
Microchips are the most permanent and reliable way to monitor where your pet is. The chip is tiny, and your vet can put the chip in your cat. It is injected between the shoulder blades and doesn’t hurt or take long.
If your cat is found, an animal shelter or vet can scan the chip and retrieve your contact details. They immediately know that you are the owner and call you to come and collect your cat.
The only downside is you cannot find your cat using the chip and must wait for someone to contact you instead. Also, it is vital to keep the information updated. Otherwise, the vet or shelter will be unable to reach you and inform you that your cat has been handed in.
This is probably the most affordable method of keeping track of your cat. You can buy these handy cat accessories at your pet store or veterinarian’s clinic. They slip onto your cat’s collar and don’t cause them any discomfort. You can engrave your information, including the cat’s name and your phone number. If someone finds your cat, they will be able to contact you and know your kitty isn’t a stray or wild cat.
Yet the downside is that many cats lose their collars while roaming. Also, collars can easily be stuck on fences or branches and trap your cat! This is why always purchasing a breakaway collar is essential – these automatically snap when your cat is stuck. Of course, this does mean the contact information is lost, but at least your cat is safe.
Thanks to the miracle of technology, cats can have a GPS tracker attached to their collar that syncs to your smartphone. You can always know where your cat is. This genius invention is fancy but gives total peace of mind. Even if your cat roams far away you will be able to find it.
However, as with name tags, GPS trackers can get lost if your cat is pretty adventurous. I recommend ensuring your collar fits correctly to minimize the number of missing trackers.
A cat scanner can read signals from a special collar your cat wears. You can carry the scanner around and the signal will get weaker or stronger as you head in the right direction. It can be quite effective and is basically the older version of the GPS tracker. However, it’s a great alternative if you cannot afford the fancier piece of kit.
Can Cats Find Their Way Home from Miles Away?
Have you ever wondered how far away a cat can find its way home? Well, the best way to answer this question is by looking at a true story. It is hard to believe this story is true. But this cat overcame all the odds and returned home after an unbelievable time of being lost.
This is a story about a cat called Rolly.
Rolly was a Tabby cat who was five years old when its family moved from one state in America to another – across the entire country. Less than a week after they arrived, Rolly disappeared and was nowhere to be found. After much searching and heartbreak, the family accepted he was gone forever.
But how wrong they were!
A whole year later, an unexpected phone call came from the people living in their previous house. Rolly had turned up at his old home. He looked skinny, scruffy, and rather disheveled, but his collar was still on, and he wasn’t injured. What are the chances? Somehow Rolly had found his way home.
Soon his owner had to collect him and return him to his real home. While that trip to get him back was long, it was nothing compared to the epic journey the cat had made on foot. If only we knew the stories that went on.
We will never know what the cat got up to during the months it was lost. But it does prove we can never underestimate the power of nature, the determination of cats, or the miracle of life!
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
If you are worried about your cat, stop panicking. As you’ve just learned, cats can find their way home easily. They can do this from miles away by using their natural direction skills, stellar hearing, and fantastic sense of smell.
However, there are many ways to protect your cat’s safety and give yourself peace of mind by using methods including tracking technology mentioned in this article. Using technology and your cat’s instinct in combination gives the best chances of your cat never getting lost!
Cats are amazing creatures, so trust your furry friend and know when is the right time to step in and offer help.