Can lost cats return home?

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Table of Contents

Many cats simply tend to just disappear whenever they feel like it and often when you least expect them to.  Often, they can be away from the house for several days at a time and there are also times when they never come back.  Therefore, to give a straight answer to the question as to whether lost cats do return home is a little more complex and requires further analysis since many factors can be involved in the disappearance of your cat.  Of course, prevention is always better than cure.  So keep reading and follow our tips on how to keep your cat safe and sound so that he or she does not go missing in the first place.  When your cat goes missing for any length of time, follow your instincts and try to relate the incident to how your cat usually behaves.  This will inform the first leg of your search.


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This article addresses the likely reasons why your cat may have suddenly gone astray and those factors you need to consider that may likely be involved in your cat’s disappearance.  To begin, let us first discuss what drives cats to do the things they do.  In this respect, there are three primary behaviours to consider:

  • Territorial issues
  • Hunting behaviour
  • Reproductio
  • n issues

Hence, if your cat has disappeared or your cat often disappears for two to three days at a time, the reason can be attributed to one of these behaviours.

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Stories of missing cats

One hears many stories of how cats go missing and how some of these cats eventually make their way home.  A Persian cat breeder from Johannesburg told us some very interesting tales.  Once, one of the breeder’s male cats happened to break loose from one of the cages in the breeder’s cattery when it seems that this cat simply was not interested in partaking in any mating rituals whatsoever.  This cat seemingly jumped the wall of the breeder’s property and ended up three or four blocks away in the same suburb.  The cat was missing for at least six months and the breeder had given up all hope of ever finding his prize male stud when one day, a neighbour from a few streets away called the breeder saying that he had heard that there was a Persian cat breeder in the area and that a Persian cat had landed up in his yard.  The neighbour wanted to know if this cat belonged to the breeder.  Six months had gone by and although the breeder had eventually given up the ghost on this cat, the astute neighbour was on the ball and the breeder finally got his cat back.

Cats often go missing because they are interesting or unusual for other people to steal.  This is what happened to two of the author’s Persian cats.  Cooper, a black Persian with orange eyes was a popular cat in the neighbourhood.  One New Year’s Eve, there was a lot of noise in the street and the people across the road were having a party.  Many cars were parked in the street and Cooper was well known in the neighbourhood.  Cooper was taken that night and despite the author’s best efforts to find him, it was evident that he was not hiding, had not found his way into someone else’s house nor had he been found injured – he had been stolen.  A couple of months after his disappearance it was discovered that someone had seen Cooper being caught and driven away.

Princess Babalina, another one of the author’s Persians, was one of those cats that usually stayed in the house but would get cabin fever every now and then.  This is when she would disappear for an entire day at a time and come home looking very scraggly for a white Persian.  One day, Princess left the house to go and see what was happening in the neighbourhood but she never returned home.  One needs to bear in mind that some cats, such as full-blown pedigrees of certain breeds can be rather expensive and are often stolen to be resold to other owners.  Princess was a full pedigree Persian known as a Tortoiseshell Seal Point Persian.  Such cats are expensive to buy from any breeder.  Every effort was made to locate her in a wide radius of the neighbourhood but she was never found.  

Kiblet, the cat in the pictures of this article, is an extremely extraverted cat whose prime directive each morning is to finish her breakfast as fast as she can and rush off to galivant the neighbourhood.  Since she is renown for this type of behaviour her owners are not usually concerned when she disappears for a whole day at a time.  However, one day she went off on her travels and didn’t return home at her usual time.  Three days later she was still missing and by this time her owners were extremely worried.  Kiblet is spayed and shouldn’t be roaming as she does but as you will read further on this article, cats don’t always disappear due to their reproductive instincts but some cats can also be driven by their hunting instinct.  This, as was later discovered, was the reason for Kiblet’s time spent away from home.  Since, when she did finally return, for the next few days after that her owners were presented with a bird a day as Kiblet proudly deposited her ‘gifts’ on the carpet.  Was this her way of saying sorry for disappearing for such a long time or was she just showing off her excellent hunting skills?  I don’t suppose we will ever know!   

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What you can do to stop your cat from disappearing

If you believe you are at risk of your cat going astray there are a number of measures that you can put in place to minimise the risk.

    • Buy a tracking collar for your cat to wear

Thanks to modern technology, cats can now be fitted with special tracking collars such as the Whistle GO & GO Explore – the Ultimate Health + Location Tracker for Pets .  This is one of the best systems recommended by Amazon today and can help you locate your cat within 1 inch by using the most accurate pet tracking device that features state-of-the-art RF-based (radio frequency based) technology.  A small investment in such a device can save you a lot of trouble in the long run. 

  • Keep the cat indoors

Keeping your cat indoors has many advantages.  Especially if you live in a dangerous area, your cat’s life expectancy will definitely be increased since indoor cats are protected from diseases that can be spread by other cats during cat fights and other forms of contact.  Keeping your cat indoors can also protect it from vicious dogs and accidents such as being hit by a car.

  • Sterilise the cat

Sterilising your cat will definitely prevent your cat from roaming and contribute towards keeping the cat population under control.

  • Have your cat microchipped

If your cat is predominantly an outdoor cat, microchipping might be the answer.  This will ensure that there is a greater chance of finding your cat as it can be tracked should someone find it wandering.

  • Look after your cat properly when you move house

When you move house do not let your cat out of the new home for at least two weeks so that the cat has a chance to adjust to its new surroundings and pick up the scent of the new home.  Once the cat does go out, make sure that your feeding schedule is such that you encourage the cat to return home for food.  Also check your neighbourhood carefully for other animals that could be a threat to your cat such as large dogs.  You can also help your cat to adjust to its new surroundings by keeping doors and windows closed, especially when visitors are coming in and out.

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How far do cats tend to wander?

Generally speaking, a cat will remain within a 1.5km radius of its home territory.  However, there are logical reasons behind your cat’s disappearance that could be attributed to one of the following causes:

  • Your cat has gone out to hunt. A supply of mice or other other types of prey may have enticed your cat to follow its natural hunting instincts.
  • If your cat is a male, it may be seeking out a female cat who is on heat. Alternatively, if your cat is female, she may be in season and is therefore out ‘calling’ for a male.
  • Your cat may have encountered another cat that has invaded their territory and is out defending the fort as it were. Cats are very territorial creatures and will go to extreme lengths to guard what they consider to be their turf.
  • It is possible that your cat is eating at a neighbour’s house.
  • Your cat may have been attacked by another animal such as a large bird or dog.
  • Your cat may have gone away to die.
  • Your cat may have eaten a poisoned rodent or been knocked over by a car.
  • It can happen that a lost cat is rescued and taken to a local vet or animal shelter.
  • If there is some form of disruption in your household such as a new person in the house, another pet has joined the family, you are doing building alterations or other changes are taking place that cause the home to become unstable such as moving house or you have in fact just moved into a new home.

Some interesting findings

Do cats have a homing instinct?

An experiment conducted by German researchers in 1954 produced some interesting findings.  In this experiment cats were placed inside a large maze.  Most of the cats found there way out of the maze at the point closest to the location of their home.  Theories posit that cats use a phenomenon known as magnetic geolocation which works on the basis that cats are sensitive to the earth’s geomagnetic fields which guides them with distance and direction.  Other theories that cats use olfactory cues to find their way.  However, when they attached magnets to the cats these disrupted their homing abilities, adding more substance to the findings of the study.

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An experiment in psi trailing

The term psi trailing was coined by Dr Joseph Rhine of Duke University and is concerned with the ability of an animal to find their owner when the owner has moved.  The concept of Bell’s Theorem, introduced by veterinarian Dr Myrna Milani, works on the basis that pets and their owners share a connection at a material level.  Bell’s Theorem is concerned with the spin and pairing of electrons.  It poses that when one electron is separated from another electron, the electron with which it is paired changes its direction and since all mammals are made up of atoms, that the bond between humans and animals goes much deeper than we realise.

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How do I lure a lost cat back home?

No doubt, as a cat owner, you are more than likely acutely aware of your cat’s day to day habits and routine.  When you allow them to leave the house you have a fairly good idea of when they are likely to return home.  But, when your cat does not come home as you expect it to, this can cause worry and panic.

Putting up posters in your area and using social media will also help to locate your cat.  Use neighbourhood chat forums on social media platforms such as WhatsApp to get the word out and send pictures of your cat to all your neighbours.

It may seem obvious, but,  not only dogs wear collars nowadays.  So, giving your cat a collar to wear with a disk with the cat’s name, your name and your telephone number can save you a great deal of hassle.  Should any of your neighbours spy the cat, a quick glance at the disk and a phone all could mean that your cat can be home again in no time.

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How long does it take a lost cat to return home?

Cats that go missing usually return home or are found within 24 hours.  Once you realise that your cat has been gone for an extended period of time, start your search by first checking with your neighbours.  Check in outbuildings, garages and other people’s houses.  If your cat has landed up at one of your neighbour’s houses, they will usually put the word out that they have found a stray cat. 

Remember that the sooner you start your search, the greater your chances of finding your missing cat.

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Cats sometimes go missing because they are naturally curious

Cats are naturally curious and they like to roam.  It is not to say that they go far but because they are inquisitive creatures, they can sometimes lead themselves astray.  For instance, if they spy an open door, they simply cannot resist poking their nose where it doesn’t belong to see what is inside.  Then, someone shuts the door and the cat is trapped inside a strange place until it is discovered. 

The most common ways that your cat can go missing

There are many ways that your cat can go missing.  It is wise to keep this in mind should you find yourself in the unfortunate position of a worried cat owner who has lost a cat. 

  • Cats who have become sick or injured may hide

If your cat is an outdoor cat it is automatically at risk from being injured by other animals, fast moving cars, ingesting poison from other infected animals such as rodents who have consumed rat poison etc.   If a cat has become sick or injured its natural instinct is to become silent and hide.  This is its primary defence mechanism against predators.  Some cats might even crawl into a familiar place such as under a deck or stoep and may even die that way.   

  • A cat may not be able to get home because it has become trapped

Since, as we have seen, cats have a tendency to be curious, they can often crawl through open windows or go through open doors.  When the buildings become secured the cat becomes trapped and cannot get home.  They can also climb poles, climb onto the roofs of houses and tall trees where they can be too afraid to come down.  Should this happen, unless the cat can find a way to free itself, it will need rescuing.

  • A cat who has been chased can become displaced

If a cat is chased for any reason it will not run too far away.  However, it will look for somewhere to escape to such as in a high place or underneath something.  If the cat is forced to run to a place that is unfamiliar, its first instinct may be to hide in silence.  Certain cats will move once the threat has gone and make their way home while others will not do so.  This can be the reason why some cats are eventually found in an area only a few blocks from where they first went missing.

  • Cats are transported in strange vehicles

Curious cats that fall into the habit of climbing into open vehicles or other types of containers may face the risk of being transported away from the area that they live in.  These cats have been known to be driven right out of town and even far across the country in vehicles such as moving trucks, construction vehicles and service vehicles.

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What percentage of lost cats come home?

The findings of the First National Lost Pet Survey conducted in 2012 reveal that 75% of lost cats were eventually returned to their homes and only 2% of these cats were found at animal shelters. 

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Helen Fenton, Content Director

Hazel Buckley
Hazel Buckley

About Hazel Buckley
Hazel is an animal enthusiast and educator who grew up on a farm which her parents owned in Ingogo, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.  The farm was situated right under the Majuba Mountains - the site where the Anglo-Boer War was fought. 

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that the information published on this website is accurate, the author and owners of this website take no responsibility  for any loss or damage suffered as a result of relience upon the information contained therein.  Furthermore the bulk of the information is derived from information in 2018 and use therefore is at your on risk. In addition you should consult professional advice if required.