Cats are comparatively new to domestication, and still governed by instinct. Your cat does not go missing for hours or a few days because she hates you. Usually, wandering is related to hunting and territorial instincts. Your cat wants to hunt and find new terrain. This could keep her away for days.
Your cat may lose track of her surroundings while hunting. She could have sought shelter in a neighbor’s garage and been locked inside. It’s possible that somebody else is feeding your cat. She will stay close to a food source, especially if lost. Question if your pet is in heat, too. She could be seeking a mate.
If you have not seen your cat in days, ask your neighbors to check their property. Put up missing posters in your neighborhood. Lay familiar scents around your home in case your pet is lost. Above all, remain calm. Your cat is extremely likely to return and act as though she was never away.
Why Do Cats Go Missing for Days at a Time?
Cats go missing from the home for various reasons. Explanations include:
- In heat
- Found a food source
It is important to understand why a cat is roaming. The majority of the time, it’s basic instinct. On rare occasions, there could be a psychological or physical problem. These concerns must be addressed.
Is My Cat Lost?
Cats are often lauded as having great homing instincts. It can be difficult to find modern scientific evidence of this though. The only research published is found in The Scientific Monthly from 1922 and Ethology in 1954. What we do know is this:
- Cats have an excellent sense of smell
- Cats memorize familiar routes that are considered important
This suggests a cat will always find her way home within a particular distance. She will memorize her route while wandering. She can also follow her nose to locate familiar scents.
If a cat is startled or frightened, she may bolt. She may follow prey into unfamiliar territory and lose her bearings. This is how cats get lost.
Eventually, a cat will find an anchoring sight or scent and follow it home. In the meantime, she will do what is necessary to survive. This involves finding alternative sources of food and water.
This is why a cat may be gone for several days. Survival instinct dictates that a cat stays where she is safe. A home that offers food and shelter will be considered a sanctuary.
Is My Cat Being Fed Elsewhere?
Cats will always remember a source of food. If a cat is being fed, she may be reluctant to venture too far. This is especially true if she has wandered far from home and got lost.
It has been claimed that a cat will live anywhere if fed. This is not true. As Cell explains, cats bond with their owners just as strongly as dogs. Felines are just governed by the will to survive. They will always remain close to a food source.
It can be frustrating to find somebody else feeding your cat. If you learn who is doing so, deter the behavior. If your cat is microchipped, she is considered your property by law.
Eventually, your cat will return. She needs to be reminded of her routine. Namely, that she is fed in your home at certain times. Once this schedule is re-established, your cat will lose interest in another home.
Is My Cat Trapped Somewhere?
During winter months, a wandering cat will seek shelter from the rain, snow, harsh winds or low temperatures. Cats often shelter in nearby garages and sheds. They also climb beneath and inside vehicles.
If a cat has not been seen for several days, ask your neighbors. The cat may have fallen asleep and been locked in somewhere.
Vehicles are a particular concern. Cats seek warmth from the engine of a car. Encourage the tapping of a bumper before starting a car. Your cat may be dozing inside in the hood.
Cats could also be trapped far from home. Your pet may even have climbed into a vehicle and taken an unplanned trip. This is why microchipping is critical. Any vet in any town can read a microchip and reunite you with your cat.
If you discover your cat has been trapped for 24 hours or longer, see a vet. This should be just a precaution but there are health risks. Hypothermia, dehydration, or the consumption of toxins are all possible.
Does My Cat Need Alone Time?
Cats can grow overstimulated. It is critical that a cat always has her own territory within the home. Ideally, this will be an otherwise empty room. Cats frequently need time alone.
If your home does provide solitude, cats will seek it elsewhere. This may take several days. Your cat will not return home until she considers herself ready. Overstimulation for cats usually arises from an excess of:
- Strong scents
Noise is the biggest trigger for a cat seeking time alone. Noise makes cats anxious and nervous. It can also be hazardous to a cat’s health. As Peripheral Auditory Mechanisms explains, excess noise can damage a cat’s hearing.
Always give your cat an escape route. Ensure she has somewhere to go where she will be left alone. If you have children, it’s particularly important that they respect this. An overstimulated cat will avoid your home.
Is My Cat in Heat?
Cats in heat will wander until they find a mate. Your cat will likely cry and wail until she is let out. This can be frustrating for cat owners. If this is the case, investigate spaying. Cats enter estrus multiple times per year.
Aside from begging to be let outside, a cat in estrus will display the following behaviors:
- Increased affection
- Spraying urine and other increased territoriality
- Rolling on the ground
- Raising hind legs and bottom
Once a cat in heat is outside, she will seek a mate. This could take minutes, hours or days. It depends on how long it takes to find an intact male. Once mating has concluded, your cat will lose interest. She will return home.
If a cat in estrus returns home, look for behavioral changes that suggest pregnancy. This can be difficult. Pregnant cats behave similarly to those in heat. Cats do experience, “morning sickness” though. Look out for any signs of vomiting.
The most obvious signs of feline pregnancy are physical. Look for changes in your cat’s nipples. If they are swollen and dark in shade, your pet is likely pregnant. This is known as pinking up. Your cat’s belly will soon swell as her embryos grow.
Is My Cat Sick or Dying?
Cats prefer to be alone with sick. This is a survival mechanism. Cats do not want anybody to notice they are unwell. It’s considered a sign of weakness. As cats are territorial and hierarchal, a sick cat risks being usurped.
Be vigilant about looking out for signs of sickness in your pet. Do not wait for her to approach you. This is unlikely to happen. Watch for these signs and see a vet if you notice them.
- Loss of appetite and associated anorexia
- Limited mobility
- Reluctance to use the litter tray
- Uncharacteristic aggression
- Hissing and whimpering when handled
It’s also possible that your cat is reaching the end of her lifespan. Dying is the ultimate example of vulnerability. Cats often retreat and find a quiet space to take their final breaths. They wish to pass on in peace.
Make your pet as comfortable as you can. Just remember that cats are governed by instinct. This is increasingly important toward the end of her life. If she wants to be alone, respect this, as hard as it may be.
How Far Do Cats Roam from Home?
According to Australasian Science, cats can wander up to 30 km a week. That’s over 18 miles.
This does not mean that your cat will walk 18 miles from your home, though. The Journal of Wildlife Management claims that most cats remain within 200 meters. How far a cat roams depends on these factors:
- Prey drive
- Bond with owners
- A desire for territory
- Personal confidence
A cat with a high prey drive will typically wander further. These cats will stalk birds, mice, and other small animals. This creates a form of tunnel vision. The cat will lose track of her surroundings. Her prey is the only thing that matters.
It could be some time before a cat manages to pounce. By the time this happens, she could be far from home. This can be disorientating. The cat will need to find a familiar sight or scent.
A confident cat will also wander further. If your cat is not nervous by nature, she will regularly seek to claim new territory. A confident cat will also be less afraid of predators and busy roads. This fearlessness can be dangerous.
The bond a cat shares with her owners will also play a part in wandering. It will not necessarily prevent a cat from roaming. Wanderlust comes naturally to cats. Your pet will wish to remain close to you, though.
Routine plays a part in this. Cats notice patterns, such as children exiting their school at a particular time. This is how cats tell time. If a bonded cat expects you home soon time, they’ll stay close.
Do Neutered Cats Wander Off?
Spaying and neutering will not impact a cat’s hunting instincts. This means that your cat may still roam. She will likely stay closer to home, though. You can temper her hunting instincts further with play.
A cat that has been spayed or neutered with have no desire to mate. This immediately removes a reason to go outside. Fixed cats are also less territorial. This makes your pet unlikely to wander too far in the search of new domains.
Spaying and neutering have a range of additional benefits. Spayed females are less likely to develop mammary cancer or UTIs. Fixed cats are considerably calmer and less aggressive. You will not have unwanted pregnancies to contend with.
Clinical Techniques in Small Animal Practice explains that fixing cats young poses no significant risk. If you do not plan to breed your cat, spaying or neutering ASAP is advisable.
How to Stop Cats Wandering
Roaming is a natural instinct for most cats. You may prefer to keep your cat indoors. You can adopt a number of techniques to make this more palatable for your pet. Aside from spaying or neutering, these include:
- A comfortable home environment
- An established and reliable routine
- Regular play to mimic hunting
You need to convince your cat that home is the best place for her. Achieve this by meeting all her needs. Ensure your cat has privacy when needed, and attention when requested. Good food and a clean litter tray are also essential.
If you get your cat into a schedule, she’ll be comfortable. Cats live for routine. Help your cat understand that she will be fed, petted, and played with at particular times. This encourages her to stay home. She will not want to miss out.
Never underestimate the importance of play. Even the most docile house cat retains her predatory instinct. If she cannot hunt, she will grow progressively more frustrated.
Most cat toys mimic the experience of hunting in some way. Actively play with your cat twice a day, twenty minutes each time. This must be dedicated, undisputed one-on-one attention.
These playtimes will sate your cat’s hunting instincts. This will make her happier to stay home. Hunting games also leave a cat exhausted. Your pet will be too tired to roam, even if she wanted to.