Why Do Cats Run Away From Home?

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Urgent message: Missing cat, seeking assistance from the community to locate a beloved feline companion.

As a devoted pet parent, the thought of your cat running away from home is terrifying. There are many reasons that this might happen and things that you can do to make this worrying ordeal much less likely.

Let’s explore the most common reasons why your cat might go missing and what you should do if this happens.

1. Your Cat Is Looking for a Mate

If you own a tom cat that has not been castrated, he is likely to get a little frisky and set out in search of a female cat. It is suggested that male cats are likely to have much larger territories than females and their neutered counterparts.

Entire males are certainly feistier when it comes to getting into scraps with other cats, particularly if their territories overlap. Hunting out a potential mate and moving away from other aggressive cats might lead your cat onto pastures new, motivating him to leave home.

Sometimes hormones and feline instincts win out no matter how much they love being snuggled up at home with you. To reduce the risk of roaming and hopefully keep any fighting at bay, it is recommended that you speak to your vet about whether to neuter your cat. It is a quick and straightforward procedure that might save you a lot of heartaches.

2. Your Cat Is Young, Adventurous, and in Search of Prey

Most cats have a natural curiosity, and some cats love to hunt or even just chase prey species.  If your cat’s territory is close to woodland or other prime hunting environments, and they have a strong hunting instinct, then they may be lured to explore further afield.

Some cats can survive for long periods on the prey that they hunt.  GPS trackers have shown that younger cats are more likely to have larger territories and are more likely to roam.

3. Something Has Spooked Your Cat

Exploring the instinctive hunting behavior of cats, uncovering the evolutionary reasons behind their tendencies.

Some cats will be afraid if there is a new cat in the home, particularly if they are being bullied.

Cats are super-sensitive little beings. All sorts of things can frighten them. Perhaps there has been a storm or some fireworks nearby? Of course, your cat is not running from home, but trying to move away from whatever is frightening them, often to somewhere they can hide until the danger passes.

Some cats will be afraid if there is a new, confident cat in the neighborhood, particularly if they are being bullied. Or your female cat might be getting harassed by the local tom cat. Check your cat for any scratches or signs of fighting and make sure that no neighborhood cats have access to your home.

If you know there is a storm brewing, or a national holiday coming up, consider keeping your cat shut in with the drapes pulled and music on. If you have a very nervous cat, consider speaking to your veterinarian about calming pheromones and medications that might help.

4. Changes at Home Are Causing Your Cat Stress

It is all too common that cats will leave home after a significant change in the home, for example: moving home, building works, family coming to stay, or the arrival of a new baby. Even smaller changes such as moving furniture, having a dinner party, or a new scent in the environment can be enough to stress him out and make him flee.

If you have a cat that is sensitive to change, it is important to plan for this whenever there is likely to be any upheaval in the home. Often setting him up a safe space in a quiet area of the home will suffice until the disruption has cleared.

5. Your Cat Has Got Lost, Trapped, or Become Injured

It’s upsetting to think that your cat may have got lost or hurt. Cats will become lost if they have unexpectedly traveled in a vehicle, got spooked and moved beyond their territory, succumb to illness, or are elderly and become easily confused. In warmer months, cats can become shut in outbuildings and garages or trapped in a crawl space if there is a sudden change in the weather.

This is particularly worrying when people are away on holiday, and an outbuilding is locked for some time. A simple rule is to always check your outhouse before shutting up for the night and that there are no unexpected passengers before you embark on any car journey!

Depending on your region, predators such as snakes, coyotes, cougars, and birds of prey may also pose a real risk to your cat. Thankfully, if your cat is found with an injury, most people understand that your cat is a much-loved pet and will take him straight to a veterinarian.

6. The Neighbors Are Feeding Your Cat

Feeding time for a cat, showcasing the importance of nourishing meals in feline care.

A simple solution is to write a message on your cat’s collar or make a temporary paper collar.

You love your cat dearly, but if he is a sociable soul, then so might your neighbors. It is common for cats to visit other households, and people often think it’s kind to feed them; don’t forget, some cats are experts at begging for food!

Unfortunately, this can cause all sorts of problems and may eventually lead to your cat leaving home. Perhaps they get prawns every day at their new abode, or the neighbors are home all day to give your cat non-stop affection? You can see how your cat might be tempted by the change of environment, but it does not mean that it is in their best interests in the long term.

If you are worried that your cat is eating out every night, or they have a specific medical condition that makes them super-hungry, or they require a special diet, you should alert your neighbors to this. A simple solution is to write a message on your cat’s collar or make a temporary paper collar. Or even better, stop by and have a friendly chat with them in person.

7. A Kind Samaritan Has Mistakenly ‘Rescued’ Your Cat

Cat-loving citizens will often be concerned if they see an elderly, frail cat wandering the streets or a young kitten playing on the road where there are vehicles. Some will believe that the safest option for that pet is to be taken to the pound or a local veterinary clinic as the cat might be a stray, lost, or unwell. In some cases, animal control will pick up pets that appear to be stray.

Sadly, some of these cats never reunite with their owners despite the best intentions of the passer-by. Ensuring your cat is microchipped is the single most important step you can take to give your missing cat the best chance of being reunited with you.

Also Read: Why Does My Cat Run Away From Me?

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I stop my cat from running away from home?

Outdoor cats are at a much higher risk of running away than indoor cats, although escaping may be a real risk for the latter. If you are not planning to convert your cat to a house cat (and let’s be honest, that doesn’t suit some cats), here are some simple tips to help keep your cat closer to home.

Ensure your cat is microchipped and your details are up to date. Consider fitting your cat with a GPS tracker; this is a good option for cats that have a history of roaming. How about introducing a curfew? Keeping them indoors after dark can avoid all sorts of mishaps.

If your cat has a favorite treat, try shaking it in a can whilst calling their name to entice them home each night; but make sure they get their reward! And of course, make their home as calm, inviting, and cat-friendly as possible so that it becomes their safe space and the place they love the most.

What should I do if I move house?

Allowing your cat to settle in a new home for several weeks after a house move is advisable and a period indoors may be required. Walking your cat on a leash and harness during this time can provide some valuable outdoor time for acclimatization and stimulation.

You can gradually increase the time spent outside until they are more familiar with their surroundings.  Focus on enriching their indoor space with new toys, places to hide, scratch posts, and snuggly blankets.

Do cats come home after they run away?

The good news is that many cats will return home after running away. Even injured cats often manage to make their way home despite all odds. Cats appear to have exceptional homing instincts and those living in more rural areas can have substantial territories.

But, if your cat has gone missing for more than 24 hours, or sooner if they have a very regular daily routine, it is important to be proactive in trying to find them as soon as possible. Your cat may not be as far away as you think, but without actively seeking them out, you may be less likely to be reunited.

What should I do if I think my cat has run away?

It’s hard not to feel helpless if your cat has run away, but thankfully there are lots of things that you as a pet parent can do to help your cat if they have gone missing:

  1. Inform the microchip company that your cat is missing
  2. Call the local vet clinics, local shelters, and the local pound
  3. Put up lost cat posters or post flyers in the neighborhood
  4. Put a message on local groups and lost and found pet groups on social media - include a photo of your cat
  5. Go out looking in all of his favorite places
  6. Ask your neighbors to check their outbuildings and vehicles

How likely is it that my cat will come home?

We are incredibly lucky, thanks to the development of microchips and social media, that a huge number of lost cats are reunited with their families. Even after extended periods and traveling long distances, some cats still make it home.

But taking measures to reduce the chance of your cat running away and acting quickly when he is missing will have a huge impact on whether your kitty makes it home safely to you.

View Sources
Cats.com uses high-quality, credible sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the claims in our articles. This content is regularly reviewed and updated for accuracy. Visit our About Us page to learn about our standards and meet our veterinary review board.
  1. Cafazzo S, Bonanni R, Natoli E. (2019). Neutering Effects on Social Behaviour of Urban Unowned Free-Roaming Domestic Cats. Animals (Basel), 9(12),1105. Retrieved July 27, 2022.

  2. Jensen HA, Meilby H, Nielsen SS, Sandøe P. (2022) Movement Patterns of Roaming Companion Cats in Denmark-A Study Based on GPS Tracking. Animals (Basel),12(14),1748. Retrieved July 27, 2022.

  3. Loyd KA, Hernandez SM, Abernathy KJ, Shock BC, Marshall GJ. (2013). Risk behaviours exhibited by free-roaming cats in a suburban US town. Veterinary Record, 173(12),295. Retrieved July 27, 2022.

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About Dr. Rosalind Wright

Dr. Wright currently has a role at a veterinary hospital. She developed a strong interest in small animal emergency and critical care medicine. She enjoys writing for vets, particularly on cat behavior and nutrition, and leads a local team for the charity StreetVet.

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