Facts about the animal kingdom

Why Do Cats Disappear for Days at a Time?

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. March 10, 2021
Why Do Cats Disappear for Days at a Time?

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If we have a cat in the family, it is likely we love nature and have a respect for living beings. We might not think about it too much, but our cat likely feels the same. While many housecats are happy to remain indoors where it is safe, those with experience of the outside world have their curiosity piqued. They may want to explore a little and, where it is safe to do so, we are often better of to let them. However, some cats may cause worry by not returning for a day or more.

While a cat can become lost, many will return, leaving us to wonder why do cats disappear for days at a time? AnimalWised answers this question and helps us to better understand what cats get up to when they leave the house.

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Reasons why cats disappear for days

Due to the complex behaviors of cats, nothing happens by chance. Cats have a direct relationship with their environment, one which is often much closer than we humans can boast. Their nature also makes them curious creatures, leading them to investigate anything which catches their eye. This can be part of their hunting instinct, but it is also simply a case of how they like to fill their time.

The process of domestication has meant that cats have their basic needs met in terms of survival. However, it doesn't mean they won't go out into the world to wander and look for misadventure. Some of the reasons a cat might go out for days on end, include:

They are in heat

When a female is unsterilized, they will go into their estrus cycle, something we refer to as ‘going into heat’. During this periods, their hormones cause them to give off signals to males that they are fertile and ready to mate. Male cats don't physically go into heat, but when they reach sexual maturity, they will have the desire to mate with a female. When they smell the pheromones of a female in heat, it creates a strong drive.

While females generally make signals to call out to local males, they may leave their home if none are forth coming. When males reach sexual maturity, they will look for a female. This can have them wandering the neighborhood for ages, especially if rivals are about. The result can be leaving for days at a time.

The cat got lost

Cats have scent glands which allow them to leave their own scent in an area. This not only helps other cats to know whose territory they are in, it helps them to return from their wandering. There is a general area which a cat will consider their territory. While they should know it well, there are reasons they can get lost.

The cat may take time to come find their way back. This can take days and may be hindered if there are people nearby who feed them. In this case, the cat has their needs met and won't necessarily be in a rush to get home. Another possibility is if an indoor cat gets outside. Since they are not used to being inside, they can become overstimulated and get lost rather easily. Hopefully they will be able to return after a couple of days.

If your cat has not returned for days and you think they may be lost, take a look at our guide on what you can do to find them.

The cat is sick

Unfortunately, cats are very good at hiding their ailments. We say unfortunately because this can make detection of disease difficult. If the cat has contracted an illness, it can make them feel confused and disorientated. When they have access to the outside, they may go further than normal to find some solution to their problem, a problem we didn't even know existed.

The cat's illness may clear up itself after a few days. It is also possible the cat will have exhausted their possibilities, so they come back as it is all they have left to do. Either way, it can explain why cats disappear for days at a time.

The cat is dying

When a cat is sufficiently ill, it is possible they are coming to the end of their life. There are various reasons for this to be the case. Older cats may be dying of natural causes as their body starts to shut down, younger cats may have been in an accident and cats of any age may have contracted a deadly disease. Many animals before they die move away from the rest of their family. This is because they are looking for somewhere peaceful to spend their last moments. Always observe for signs your cat may be dying in case intervention is possible.

The cat is exploring

Finally, cats may not come home for days because they have too much to explore. This can happen especially with adult cats that have just arrived at a home. They may have previously been able to explore around their previous property, so a new place can be confusing for them. Also, if a cat becomes bored at home, they will need to find adventure somewhere. This can result in them wandering for long periods.

You shouldn't let a new cat go outdoors immediately. You will want them to spend a few weeks getting used to their new place so they can associate it with being home. If not, it is possible the cat will run away because they are trying to get back to their previous home, likely getting lost in the process.

They are stressed at home

Although we may not think they have much reason to do so, cats may disappear for days because living at home has become stressful. There are many reasons why cats are stressed, often they have to do with changes in the home. Whether it is the arrival of a new pet, new baby or anything else which disrupts their peace, they may go for days at a time so they can get some peace.

For them, outside can seem like a more secure place than the home. It is important we prevent this from happening, something we explain further in the next section.

Why Do Cats Disappear for Days at a Time? -

How to prevent your cat disappearing for days

When a cat is wandering outside for more than a few hours at a time, it can cause great anxiety in their guardians. We mat fear they have become lost, got in an accident or something else bad has happened to them. For this reason, it is best to encourage the cat to come back promptly. Here is what you can do:

  • Provide for them: obviously we will need to provide our cat's basic needs, but we should ensure we are meeting their requirements. What a cat should eat will depend on various factors related to their individual situation. This depends on age, health and other factors. If we don't give them the right nutrition, they may go away somewhere else to get it.

  • Stimulate them: since cats will leave if they are bored, we can prevent them leaving for days by reducing this boredom. Play with them for at least 10 minutes a few times per day, provide them with toys and intelligence games, and generally keep them company.

  • Enrich their environment: by providing sufficient environmental enrichment for cats, they will not see the outside environment as being that interesting. Scratching trees, wall mounts and even playmates can help to prevent them leaving for long periods.

  • Neuter them: castrating or spaying a cat provides many benefits, one of the most important being that it reduces straying behavior. Cats will only seek a mate if their hormones tell them to, something avoided by sterilization. It can also improve their general health and reduce other behavioral problems.
  • Keep them indoors: if you have a new kitten or adopt an adult housecat, it is best you don't give them the opportunity to go outdoors. They may not be well-equipped to deal with the outside environment, so we should keep them at home. However, if we have a cat which has already been outside, it can cause them upset if we try to keep them indoors against their will.

If you have an indoor cat, but they keep trying to get out, it could be a sign there is a problem. Take a look at our article on why your cat keeps trying to escape to know more.

If you want to read similar articles to Why Do Cats Disappear for Days at a Time?, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

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Why Do Cats Disappear for Days at a Time?