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Why do cats run away from home?

Why do cats run away from home?
There can be many different reasons why a cat runs away from home—here are some of the causes and solutions if you lose your feline friend
As a pet parent, it can be worrying when your cat doesn’t come home from their daily adventures. Equally scary is your indoor cat escaping and running away from home. Luckily though, most cats have a strong homing instinct that guides them back home.
Discover more about the top reasons cats run away, plus what to do if your cat goes missing.    

Why do cats run away from home?

Most cats don’t purposefully run away from home, after all, why would they leave the comforts of regular food and cuddles? But they do have strong instincts, and these are usually the reason behind your cat going missing. While this behaviour is normal, most owners would prefer that their cat stayed close to home. 
"Most cats don’t purposefully run away, but they do have strong instincts and these are usually the reason behind them going missing"
While there is plenty you can do to encourage your cat to spend more time at home, the first step is working out why they might be running away.

The top 8 reasons cats run away


Sometimes cats run away to find a mate. Credit: Dusadeephan Phajee
  • Mating instincts
If your male cat is unneutered, he may roam far from home looking for a mate. This can also lead to fights and injuries. If your unspayed female cat ends up pregnant, she may run away from home as she looks for somewhere quiet to give birth. 
  • Territory 
Outdoor cats usually claim a specific territory around their home and defend this from other cats. If there aren’t any cats nearby, they may go exploring to expand their territory. This means they might be away from home for longer and may get lost or injured on their travels. 
  • Hunting
Even though your cat might love to be pampered, they’re still an instinctive hunter and sometimes can’t resist the urge to stalk and pounce. Providing lots of toys and playtime can help your cat fulfil the need to hunt, without taking on your local wildlife!
  • Fear
From fireworks to being chased by a neighbour’s dog, plenty of things can trigger your cat's flight response. While some may run and hide close to home, others might end up running farther away and end up outside their familiar territory. 
  • Stress
Cats can easily get stressed by changes to their usual routine. From bringing home a new baby to redecorating your house, there are lots of things that can make your cat feel anxious. If there isn’t anywhere quiet to hide out at home, they might look elsewhere.  
  • Making friends
Cats often love to explore the neighbourhood and see if anyone else is up for offering them any food or treats! They might even start visiting other people’s houses regularly. Make sure your cat is microchipped and wearing a collar so they’re not mistaken for a stray.
  • Curiosity
Some cats love to nap in a sunny spot all day, while others want to be out and about exploring. Curiosity can lead to your cat wandering far from home so they might be gone longer than you expect, get shut in someone’s garage, or even hop into an open car!
  • Illness
If your cat is sick, they’ll instinctively look for somewhere quiet where they can hide away alone. If they can’t find anywhere in your house or garden then unfortunately they might look further afield.

Can cats find their way back home?


Curious cats missing for some time can often find their way home. Credit: rustycanuck
If your cat goes missing, the good news is that they’re usually very adept at finding their way back home. Sometimes they might simply be exploring their territory and although they might be gone longer than you expect, they’ll easily find their way home when they’re ready. 
"Sometimes they might be exploring their territory and although they might be gone longer than you expect, they’ll find their way home"
If they do stray further afield, they’ll use their instincts to guide them home. We still don’t fully understand how a cat's homing instinct works, scientists think it’s linked to their internal clocks, the earth’s magnetic field, scents, and the angle of the sun. Research shows that cats with regular access to the outdoors have a much better homing instinct compared to indoor cats.
If your cat does run away and is gone for a long time, the risks of them either getting injured or picked up as a stray increase. 

Finding a missing cat


Putting up missing cat posters in your local area could work if they're with someone else. Credit: StockSeller_ukr
Most cats that run away are found within four miles of home, so it’s best to focus your search efforts on this area. Some ideas to try include:
  • Putting up posters and fliers.
  • Asking neighbours to check sheds or garages.
  • Posting your cat’s details in local social media groups and with national lost pet databases like Animal Search UK and Petlog.   
  • Leaving their bedding or something with your scent on outside.
  • Calling them at dawn or dusk when they’re likely to be more active.

Keeping your cat safe

Adding a GPS tracker to your cat's collar is a good idea. Credit: Nils Jacobi

To avoid the worry of a missing cat, it’s best to be proactive. Consider any reasons your cat might run away. Are they unneutered? Have they been stressed? Taking action by addressing underlying reasons can encourage your cat to stay closer to home.
"Are they unneutered? Have they been stressed? Taking action by addressing underlying reasons can encourage your cat to stay closer"
For tailored advice, speak to your vet or a qualified animal behaviourist
To reduce the chance of your cat going missing:
  • Make sure they have a microchip (and keep your contact details up to date!).
  • Add an ID tag to their collar.
  • Add a GPS tracker to their collar.
  • Transition to keeping your cat indoors.
Banner credit: Asphotowed
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