Has your cat run away from home? Whether this is the first time your indoor cat has run away, your indoor/outdoor cat has been gone longer than usual, or your cat has developed a new habit of bolting out the door at every opportunity, you can’t help but worry about what might happen to them out there in the big bad world.
Cats running away is actually pretty common. According to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, 15% of cat owners will lose their cat at some point within any given 5-year span. If your cat is running away habitually, there are ways that you can stop it.
Figuring out the cause is the first step in putting a stop to the behavior. Here are some of the top reasons that cats run away from home and what you can do to stop it, with comments from Janet Cutler, Ph.D., one of our Certified Cat Behaviorists at Cat-World.com.
Top reasons cats run away from home, according to our cat behaviorist
There are many reasons that your cat might run away from home, but it is often accidental. Dr. Cutler explains, “Cats could get out accidentally and begin exploring or chasing something and get lost.” These cats usually find their way home without difficulty, but they could also develop a sense of adventure that makes them run away more often.
Cats could also run away from home because there is something is wrong. Since your cat can’t talk to you, you’ll need to look at other behavioral cues and new habits that could indicate a deeper issue.
Curiosity killed the cat
Your cat might get out by accident the first time, but if they are developing a habit of it the problem could be pure curiosity. There’s a reason that this curious nature is a feline stereotype. If your cat has developed a taste for adventure, they might continue to run away from home on a mission to explore their surroundings.
Never fear, cats on a mission of exploration usually return home on their own. After supper and a nice long sleep, they’ll be ready to hit the trails again.
Spooked cats disappear
Cats that are afraid will hide, and if they feel as though they can’t get away from whatever is causing them distress they will bolt given the first opportunity.
“Fear is likely one of the most common reasons that a cat would run away
from home,” Dr. Cutler explains. “A scary noise or something happens that frightens them and they try to escape that situation. Unfortunately, you often hear about cats that have
run away from home during holiday fireworks, as the noise could make them panic and they run out through an open door or window.”
In fact, according to the American Kennel Club more pets go missing between July 4th and July 6th each summer than any other time of the year.
Fearful or otherwise stressed or depressed cats usually don’t go far. They are ultimately looking for a place of safety, and the unfamiliar outdoors doesn’t feel safe. If you think your cat has bolted because something frightened them, scour your own property and immediate neighbors extensively before expanding your search.
Escape from Manhattan – Getting away from other animals
Your home is your indoor cat’s island, and they rely on its familiarity and safety. When you bring a new animal into the home it can cause your cat distress for more than one reason.
Dr. Cutler says, “Cats might also run away in an attempt to escape from other animals in the home. If they fight with or are fearful of another cat, dog, or other animal in the home, they could try to get away from that animal.”
If the intruding animal will only be visiting your home for a few minutes or hours, you really don’t need to worry about anything. Your cat will probably come back on their own when the offending creature is gone.
Cats in Heat and Toms that answer
One of the most common reasons for cats to run away from home is in search of a mate. The mating instincts of unneutered cats and female cats in heat are very strong indeed.
“Cats can also run away from home to mate. If your cat has not been spayed and goes into heat, or you have an intact male with females in heat in your area, they could try to escape to find a mating partner.”
The best way to prevent an indoor cat from running away, for this reason, is to have them spayed or neutered as kittens before the wanderlust takes hold. According to the ASPCA, you can have your cat fixed as early as 2 to 5 months of age.
Retreating to heal or pass on
If your cat is very ill or dying, they might run away from home to find a quiet place in which to retire. Cats hide from predators when sick or injured due to natural instincts carried over from their wild cat ancestors.
If you think that your cat might have run away because they need medical attention, look around your home and neighborhood for quiet, comfortable, out of the way places. Watch for other symptoms and signs that your cat might be deathly ill.
Other reasons cats run away from home
Most of the reasons that cats run away from home boil down to their baser wild-cat instincts passed down through the generations. When startled, frightened, distressed, or in another unfamiliar or scary situation, those instincts kick into overdrive.
Here are a few other reasons your cat might run away from home.
A place to give birth
Cats want a soft, comfortable, quiet, and very private place to give birth. If they can’t find a suitable place within your home, they may run away to find one. Rest assured that your cat won’t go far. They need to be able to return home for food in order to care for the kittens. They may even stay on your property.
Addicted to the hunt
Has your cat enjoyed pouncing sun beams, chasing crickets, or catching mice? Once they become addicted to the hunt, they will be more likely to give into those instincts when they see something as prey from within a barely opened window. Remember that cats can get through much smaller spaces than might seem possible.
Once your cat’s prey drive kicks in, you really don’t want to get in their way. Close everything up and hope for the best. If they take off, you can be sure they will be back, possibly with a trophy to lay at your feet.
Rival neighborhood cats trigger territorial instinct
Does your cat sit at the window at all hours? If you have cats in the neighborhood that are strays or otherwise outdoor cats, they might trek across your yard because your cat has never marked the area. After a time, especially if not neutered, your cat’s territorial instincts will take over and they will start looking for opportunities to get outside and mark their territory.
There is really no harm in this, and they will come back in. Once the area has been marked, other cats will likely steer clear. It is amazing the different messages that urine marking can convey to neighborhood cats.
The bigamist cat
Did you think that you were in a monogamous relationship with your cat? They could have another family on the side to which they disappear when you think they have run away.
Your cat, curious at the world outside takes advantage of an open door to explore. They wander down the block and are picked up by a teenage girl. She cuddles them and offers them milk and treats. Her parents agree to let her keep the cat until she finds its home. Of course, she wants to keep them, so she doesn’t really try to find who the cat belongs to.
Days go by, maybe even a couple of weeks. One day your cat thinks, “I miss my owners.” Or, perhaps, simply, “I miss my soft bed that I love.” So they find their escape and return home.
But one day they are bored, and no one seems to be paying attention to them. So the cat sneaks out once more and returns to his other family. Going back and forth, he is always well fed and well-cared for. Since he is always well, neither family usually makes an issue of it, never knowing the other household even exists.
The obsession with cat memes and videos makes it clear that most people love cats and think they are adorable. If your cat runs away and comes across someone that they like and caters to them, it is possible that they could willingly go with them.
What dangers could your cat face when they run away? What can go wrong?
There are risks for any cat that explores the unknown, but the risks are much higher for indoor cats unfamiliar with the sounds and sights of the great outdoors.
Dr. Cutler warns cat owners that strictly indoor cats have no business being outdoors alone. “Most of our domestic cats that aren’t used to being outside, don’t know how to avoid the dangers that come with being outside the home. One of the biggest risks is vehicles on the road, and cats not knowing or understanding what the sound of oncoming traffic can mean.”
Indoor cats also don’t know how to protect themselves from predators. Taking care of themselves in general, including finding food and water, could be impossible for them on their own.
Here are some reasons Dr. Cutler urges you to find your missing indoor cat as quickly as possible.
“Cats are also at risk of predation, especially with coyotes becoming more common in many urban areas. Some dogs could also chase cats and injure them. Many cats will instinctively try to get to a safe area, either up somewhere high or in an enclosed space. However, they are used to getting fed their meals and may struggle to find food for themselves.”
What to do if your cat runs away from home
If your cat runs away from home, assume first that they are somewhere nearby. Start by searching even the most unlikely areas of your home, then branch out to the yard and any outbuildings. If they don’t turn up, hit the immediate neighbors and branch out from there.
Cats can sometimes travel quite far, so it is important to act quickly and spread the word as fast as possible. Flyers to hand out while canvasing the neighborhood should also be shrunk and posted to your personal social media and any local or neighborhood social media groups to which you might belong.
Still having no luck? Start calling animal control, local animal shelters, and animal hospitals to describe your cat and see if they can be located. Many of these organizations now have multiple digital ways to check for your cat by picture as well. If your cat is locally licensed or microchipped, let them know this important detail and all of the information tied to the chip.
Tips to keep your cat from running away
There are a lot of ways that you can try to keep your cat indoors. You can get locking cat doors that allow them to move from room to room or outdoors only at specific times. You can also resort to typical tactics like shutting them in a room when the door or windows must be open without screens and distracting them when people are coming in with groceries.
Here are a few other tips to keep your cat from running away.
Spay or neuter your cat by 6 months of age to tame wanderlust
Neutering your cat tames their craving for the outdoors, and makes it less likely that they will try to find a mate. Spaying a female cat before they are 6 months old prevents them from going into heat, which is a big reason that many female cats escape the home and run away.
Close your cat in a room when repairmen are around
Your cat could become frightened by the strange people in their home, or by the tools they use and the noise they make while carrying out their work. If you don’t want them to bolt in fear, close them up in a room until the repairmen are done.
Cat behaviorist Dr. Cutler has more tips on keeping your cat from running away from home:
“If you have a cat who tries to get outside a lot (and they are an indoor cat), providing a safe outlet for that can be helpful. You can create a catio, which is an enclosed outdoor space for them or train them to go out while supervised on leash.
If there is a lot of conflict between pets in your home, getting some help from a behavior consultant or behaviorist can help to make your cat feel safer and more comfortable in your home.
Finally, providing mental stimulation for your cat, in the form of playing with them, food toys or puzzles, and training, can help to keep them from looking for things to get into, or ways to get out of the house.”
Acclimate your cat to their new surroundings
If you move, or if you have adopted an adult cat, they may be curious about their surroundings and want to venture away from home. Some cats will try to return to the comfort of the place they lived before, not realizing that the comfort comes from the people and things in the home, not where it is located.
Getting your cat used to their surroundings by bringing them outside in your arms or on a leash can help them learn some exterior boundaries and keep them at home even if they do get out.
Don’t forget to keep their microchip updated
If you don’t already have your cat microchipped, you should do so as soon as possible. Even if your cat has never run away and they are strictly an indoor cat, you should have them microchipped just in case.
Unfortunately, many people fail to keep the registration on the microchip updated. If your phone number changes or you move, you need to make sure you change the information as soon as possible. That way if your cat does get out, you’ll be sure that they are returned home.
FAQ – Other frequently asked questions about cats running away
Here are some other things you might want to know about losing your cat and how to get it to come home.
Do cats come home after they run away?
Most cats return home on their own within a few hours or days. In fact, a study by the NCBI found that a third of lost cats are returned home within one week.
How do missing cats find their way back home?
Most cats do return home on their own. Cats have a homing instinct that helps them find their way back to their owners and their territory. Even if your cat needs help coming home, most of them find their way home by a means other than animal control, shelters, or animal hospitals. However, of those missing cats in the custody of such entities, 38.5% of them are chipped. By contrast, only 1.8% of non-chipped cats are returned to their owners.
How far away from home do cats go?
According to the study by NCBI, 75% of cats that are returned home are found within a 500 mile radius of the point at which they were lost. That’s a very wide area, and the faster you find them the less distance they have time to travel. If your cat is picked up by a well-meaning passerby and taken home, the cat could travel even further.
The key is to start looking for your cat as quickly as possible and have as many people helping you as you can get.
What are some reasons a cat will run away and never return?
It does happen that cats run away and never try to come back. This could happen for a number of reasons, such as:
- Neglect or abuse – You may not even be aware that it is happening if you are not always home, but your cat will only tolerate so much before they give up and disappear.
- Picked up by someone and claimed – This is a very likely reason for cats to never return home. People love cats, and someone who is lonely might latch onto a found cat without concern for who the cat actually belongs.
- A transported cat tries to return home – If “home” is far away, the chances are good that whoever now resides in that home might take in the cat for their own. If they are treated well, the cat may never want to make the trek back to its previous owners.
Unfortunately, many cats meet untimely ends without their owners ever knowing what happened to them. Millions of cats are hit and seriously injured or killed by motorists each year, and if you have an indoor cat they don’t know about these large, loud, and fatal contraptions. Keep that and other hazards already mentioned in mind when you consider urgency for finding your lost cat.