Do Cats Come Back When They Run Away?

By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. July 4, 2018
Do Cats Come Back When They Run Away?

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Some people believes 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. In doing so, we'll see what can be done to prevent it happening in the first place as well as what to do if they have managed to escape.

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 a 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. This could be due to the distraction of a potential mate, prey animals, beguiling smells or whatever piques their interest. This is why many cats try to escape, trying to exercise their hunting skills, trying to mate or simply to indulge in natural curiosity.

In general, although not only, 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].

It is also important to consider the character of the individual cat. Some cats are naturally more good-natured, docile, timid or calm. This means they may be more content in an indoor situation and have less desire to escape. Others are more energetic and adventurous, demonstrating a greater disposition to going outside.

Do Cats Come Back When They Run Away? - Why do cats escape?

Do lost cats come home?

Unfortunately, there is no absolute answer to this question. No one is able to foresee if a cat is going to return home after becoming lost. Although felines have great intelligence and highly developed senses which help them to identify stimuli in their environment and orient themselves within it, there is no guarantee they will return. This is why is is so important to keep indoor cats safe and cover up any possible escape routes from the home.

Do cats know how to return home?

However, 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. These include the aforementioned sterilization, but also preventative medicine in the form of vaccinations, rewarding them when they do come home and implanting a tracking chip. This latter one 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.

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.

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.
Do Cats Come Back When They Run Away? - How to prevent my cat from escaping

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.

  1. Hart B.L, Barrett R.E.; Effects of castration on fighting, roaming, and urine spraying in adult male cats, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association [01 Aug 1973, 163(3):290-292]
  • Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat3: Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat - Per Gary M. Landsberg, Wayne L. Hunthausen, Lowell J. Ackerman

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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.
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
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
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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