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Do Cats Come Back When They Run Away?

By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: December 4, 2019
Do Cats Come Back When They Run Away?

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Some people believe cats have a preternatural ability to find their way home. While they have better olfactory function than humans, the idea that they can find their way home whatever the circumstance is both false and dangerous. Cats get lost every day and some may never make it back home. Additionally, a cat which has escaped is now exposed to numerous risks and dangers including fighting, accidents, disease, parasites, etc. For this reason, it is important to take the correct preventative measures to prevent the feline from escaping.

In this AnimalWised article, we will discuss if cats come back when they run away. We will not only help determine will your cat come back home, we also show you what to do if a cat does escape and how to prevent it happening again.

You may also be interested in: Why do Cats Run Away? - And How to Stop It

Why do cats escape?

Although cats do not have built in Google Maps, they are highly intelligent and sensitive animals. They have privileged instincts and environmental stimuli can both capture their attention and awaken their curiosity. This is why, despite having a comfortable home life indoors, the outdoor environment can seem to provide a lot of entertainment and distraction.

The attraction of outside may be found in a potential mate, prey animals, beguiling smells or whatever piques their interest. This is why many cats try to escape. A cat running away may be trying to exercise their hunting skills, mate or simply to indulge their natural curiosity.

In general, cats which have not yet been sterilized have a greater predisposition towards escape. Satisfying their sexual desire can be a great temptation as they want to reproduce. For this reason, sterilization for cats is recommended. It will not only curb this desire and prevent unwanted pregnancy, but it will reduce the likelihood of developing behavioral issues, help prevent disease, reduce aggression and stop accidents which occur from escape attempts. In fact, one study suggests that sterilization can eliminate escapism and roaming behavior related to sexual desire in 90% of cases[1].

A cat's personal history is also important, especially if we have adopted an adult cat. Often it is the case where we will not be able to know exactly what has happened to a cat before they arrive in our home. This is why it is also important to consider the character of the individual cat. Some cats are naturally more good-natured, docile, timid or calm. Others are anxious, hyperactive or inquisitive. In fact, researchers have suggested that there are generally 5 different personality types of cats[2]:

  1. Neurotic
  2. Extravert
  3. Dominant
  4. Impulsive
  5. Agreeable

The difference between personality types means they are more or less likely to have a desire to escape. For example, impulsive cats may take opportunities to try to run away when they appear, while a neurotic cat may be too afraid of the outdoors to venture outside on their own.

Will my cat come back home?

Unfortunately, there is no absolute answer as to whether a cat will return home after running away. The individual circumstances of each cat need to be taken into consideration. It is difficult for researchers since, even with the advent of microchipping, it is difficult to find data on lost cats.

Part of the problem is due to the cat's curious nature. Felines have great intelligence and highly developed senses which help them to identify stimuli in their environment and orient themselves within it. Despite this, there is no guarantee they will return. In fact, at least one study has shown that certain smells will encourage exploratory behavior in cats[3]. This means that once a cat is attracted to a certain smell, they are likely to investigate it. Once they do this, they may forget how to get back home.

This is why is is so important to keep indoor cats safe and block any possible escape routes from the home.

Do cats know how to return home?

Not all cats need to remain indoors. Some cats are well accustomed to making small journeys either in the garden or in the local neighborhood. They have slowly been introduced to it and they can work their way back easily enough. However, even in these cases, it is important to take measures to ensure their well-being.

The best ways to prevent a cat running away include:

  • Sterilization (neutering and spaying)
  • Complete vaccinations
  • Deworming
  • Microchipping
  • Cater well to their basic needs (food, comfort, etc.)
  • Provide environmental enrichment
  • Give the cat adequate affection and attention

Microchipping is very helpful as it can help insure a cat from being lost as well as being stolen or taken in accidentally as a stray. A veterinary clinic should have a scanner to scan lost cats and return them to their own after they ran away.

For indoor cats, many people want to know if their cat gets outside will it come back. We cannot say for definite either way. We can hope that, since the cat is likely to be scared, they will return home of their own accord. This does not mean you shouldn't look for them, as we explain further below.

Do Cats Come Back When They Run Away? - Will my cat come back home?

How long does it take for a cat to return home?

In the face of being lost and disorientated, the behavior of a cat is variable. Some may have left a train they leave behind using urine and pheromones secreted from glands. Others may travel miles to try to return home. If your cat does not return home after a few hours, you will need to exert some patience. They may just be caught up or wandering, but can still be able to return easily enough. After 18 to 24 hours of being missing it is likely time to act as they may indeed be missing.

While you may be asking yourself, “will my cat come home?”, you need to know it is important you need to do something. These statistics on cats running away can help provide some context[4]:

  • 75% of cats are found within a 500 m radius of their home, so a physical search is very important.
  • Cats which have regular access to the outside travel longer distances than indoor only cats which run away.
  • 61% of cats are found alive within 1 year of going missing, with only 34% of cats found alive within 7 days.
  • Highly curious cats are more likely to be found in the home of another person.

These statistics go to show that it is vital to start looking for your cat as soon as you consider the cat missing. A physical search and asking neighbors directly are a good start, but we provide tips in the next section to show you what else you can do.

What to do if my cat has escaped?

Your pet escaping is a situation none of us want to imagine, let alone experience. However, knowing how best to react is important and panicking is going to be unhelpful even if it is understandable. The more experienced your cat is at going outside, the more likely they will return home of their own accord.

There are some tips you can follow on how to find a lost cat. Start by making brochures or posters to put up in the nearby area. Ensure you include the right information by which you can identify the cat as well as the appropriate contact information. You can also distribute them to veterinary clinics and shelters as people who find the cat may be likely to bring them there. Supermarkets and other centers for the community might also have boards for this purpose. You can post these on telegraph poles and lamp posts, but be careful as come local councils prohibit flyering and you may get fined. Classifieds in the local paper may also help.

In addition to these ‘old school’ methods, it's important to remember we live in the digital age. Sharing info about a lost cat on social media can be helpful, especially if you have a large local network. There are also messaging groups and forums which might be able to help you. Also, don't forget how important your bond is with a cat. If you go out into the neighborhood to look for them, they may recognize your smell and be more likely to come to you.

Do Cats Come Back When They Run Away? - What to do if my cat has escaped?

How to prevent my cat from escaping

We cannot always control the impulses of a cat, but we can do what we can to reduce the chances of escape. These involve making sure they have as little reason as possible to leave. It does not involve causing them undue stress or fear.

  • Positive environment: as with people, cats will want to return to the places where they feel comfortable, happy and loved. Therefore, if we want our cat to stay at home, we need to ensure this is a place which is positive, peaceful and secure. Each cat must have their own place to rest, to feed and do their business. Lots of fresh water and environmental enrichment is also important. They need to have stimuli to keep them engaged in a positive way and to reduce boredom. Remember a bored cat is more likely to try to escape as their needs are not being met.

  • The right care and attention: a cat's home will never be complete without the love and affection of their guardians. You will need to reserve enough time to play with your cat and spend time bonding together. The proper care also means providing the right diet and nutrition, giving them an education, socialization and not overcrowding them or feeding too many unhealthy treats.

  • Preventative medicine: every cat needs to receive adequate preventative medicine to preserve good health and to ensure stable behavior. Therefore, remember that you will need a vet's checkup every 6 to 12 months. Also, respect their vaccination and deworming schedules. This means if your cat does escape, they will be better able to avoid acquiring a disease.

  • Sterilization: whether castrating/neutering a male cat or spaying a female cat, these are the most effective ways of controlling reproduction. You need to not only prevent pregnancy, but by removing ovaries or testicles, you will reduce their hormonal drive and reduce the likelihood of escape. Before you do this, it is very important to speak to your vet about the best course of action in sterilizing your cat. The professional will be able to advise on the best procedure and let you know what sort of things to expect.

  • Positive reinforcement: if you are wanting to let your cat be an outdoor cat, you shouldn't just dump them outside and expect them to get back again. Tentatively, you can let them investigate a little space outside and then slowly increase the range. Whenever your cat does return, be ready to give them love, reassurance and a treat (whether in the form of food or a toy). This will help them to associate returning with a positive experience. This will mean they will be more likely to return.

If you want to read similar articles to Do Cats Come Back When They Run Away?, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

References

1. Hart, B. L., Barrett, R. E. (1973). Effects of Castration on Fighting, Roaming, and Urine Spraying in Adult Male Cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 163(3), 290-292.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4737262

2. Litchfield, C. A, et al. (2017). The ‘Feline Five’: An Exploration of Personality in Pet Cats (Felis catus). PLOS ONE, 12(8), e0183455.
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0183455

3. Machado, J. C, & Genaro, G. (2014). Influence of Olfactory Enrichment on the Exploratory Behaviour of Captive-Housed Domestic Cats. Australian Veterinary Journal, 92(12), 492-498.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25424764

4. Huang, L., et al. (2018). Search Methods Used to Locate Missing Cats and Locations Where Missing Cats Are Found. Animals, 8(1), 5.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5789300/

Bibliography

1. Landsberg, G. M, Hunthausen, W. L., & Ackerman, L. J. (2011). Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat (3rd Edition). Saunders Ltd.
https://www.elsevier.com/books/behavior-problems-of-the-dog-and-cat-e-book/landsberg/978-0-7020-5294-1

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7 comments
Nelly
I lost my cat for 3 week's now I m so upset nobody's see her she is brown colour name Bihter I move in New hose but I keep going to old house try to take with me but she is not there any more do you think she will be back where she could be whot she eating now I m so worry and feel quilty
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Nelly,

We are sorry to hear this. Have you tried following the advice in the article about what to do if your cat escapes?
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Janine
Hi! So yesterday I bathe my two month old kitten for the first time and today he seems to have diarrhea or just keeps having watery poop and multiple times. Because of this, I took him outside, which is normal for him. It was raining, and for a few seconds he was there and went to read something and he was gone. He doesn't usually go out of our area. And I think he is missing, how can I find him? I fear that he thinks that I don't want him anymore that is why she left.
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Janine,

There are some issues in this story. The main one is that a kitten should not be removed from their mother before a minimum of 2 months, the exceptions being if the kittens are abandoned or there is a health reason they cannot be with the mother. They are still developing all of their skills and location is one of them. A 2 month old should not be allowed to walk outside on their own, especially without vaccinations, etc.

If the diarrhea continues for more than 12-24 hours, there is perhaps a health issue and they will need to see a vet. We cannot predict whether or not a kitten will come back, but if they do, they should be taken to the vet.

We are sorry if this reply seems critical, but kittens have important needs which need to be met. We also understand there may be mitigating circumstances in your story, so we hope everything works out for you both.
Teresa
When your cat runs away I found him does he really want to come home his behavior is different sleeps in litter box all day does eat bu
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James O'Sullivan
One needs a clear distinction between animals that stray from home leaving a continuous trail they can follow back and those that escape, say, from a carrier box at the vet's leaving an unknown territorial gap in their experience. Presumably the chances of the latter finding the way home are slimmer.
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi James,

We tried to convey that there are many variables when discussing how cats can get lost, but thank you for your comment and providing clarification in case it is needed for some!
Brian Nolan
Hi I've just rescued an 8 yr old unwanted neutered Tom.i had him for 8 days and he escaped I live in a village he was spoilt and I like to think all the attention he needed .he seemed to be settled.he been missing now for 60hrs do you think there is much chance of him coming back home
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Brian,

It is very difficult to tell as each circumstance has different factors. We suggest looking around for him and asking neighbours. If you live in a village, it is possible someone has seen him around. We have one question. How do you know the cat is unwanted? Is it possible they have tried to go back to their previous home?
Jenny reid
My cat is a boy that is white with black spots if found pleads return him I really miss him his name is Oliver spot pleads call 423 494 6060
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sasha
my 2 cats left a month ago will they be ok there only 1 ones a tabby cat which is brownish blonde and the other is just black if you see them contact 07907181004 and send a pick there called chilli and nimaway (nimnim)

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