There is something of a mythos around the idea of cats roaming far and wide, not at all helped by Disney movies and Hollywood in general.
Maybe you picture cats venturing through neighborhoods, singing and fighting, and exploring. Or maybe you picture them heading out into the nearest green belt to #LiveTheirBestLife.
The reality though is that cats rarely roam very far from home – upwards of 1500-2000 feet for unfixed males and about half that or less for females. For neutered males, the orbit shrinks even more, perhaps a few hundred feet at best.
So, how far do neutered cats roam? Not very far at all – probably not much more than 650 feet and usually not even that far.
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Why Do Cats Roam?
My new cat is a three-year-old, fixed female who used to be a partly outdoor cat. We are nipping that to the bud now because we live in a neighborhood of jealous cats, big work trucks, foxes, and the occasional bear. She has managed to dash out a couple of times now, despite our best efforts, but fortunately has never gone farther than the neighbor’s driveaway.
Cats roam for several reasons. Male cats roam to find females; female cats roam to explore and find males.
Fixed male and female cats still like to orbit a territory and if they are allowed to go outside and explore, that will become part of their turf.
Some of them like to hunt birds or bugs, others enjoy lounging on the grass (my old cat used to loaf under our lilac bushes and half-heartedly whack ants).
They tend to be fairly territorial as well, leading to cat fights in backyards, often at a horrible hour for us humans. They might also be visiting other people, get scared by something in their usual space, or, sadly, get dumped by people and left to go at it alone (which rarely ends well for the cat unless they are rescued).
Unfixed cats are going to have a far greater drive to roam than fixed ones, including neutered cats. This is because they are being driven not only by curiosity or restlessness but also by a drive to procreate.
With neutered cats, a lot of that drops off because they don’t have the ability to mate with females anymore.
The Dangers of Letting A Cat Roam
Some people would claim that cat roaming is natural and that cats do better outdoors, but this is completely untrue. Roaming cats have a shorter lifespan than cats that are kept indoors – they are far more likely to be killed by wildlife, another cat, a car, or even a human.
They are more likely to pick up parasites or get ill and of course, they are more likely to get injured. And of course, outdoor cats can be preyed on by pretty much anything (some of the crows in my neighborhood could take on a cat if so inclined) or get stolen by someone.
Alternatives to Letting Your Cat Roam
So, if kitty cannot go outside to burn off energy and get fresh air, what should it do instead?
- Kitty catios! These are enclosures that are almost like balconies, letting cats get fresh air and look outside without coming to harm. It’s not roaming, but it does give them a change of scenery. They can be expensive though
- Make sure your cat has plenty of toys to play with. This provides exercise and mental stimulation which means they will hopefully feel less inclined to go outside.
- A fenced yard may not necessarily work because cats can jump really high! And of course, depending on what it’s made from, a cat may climb it as well. But some owners use an electric fence that gives a bit of a jolt when a cat crosses over a line.
- Discourage cats from using your ground as a litter box using rocks or by spreading scents they don’t like. This will also discourage your cat from leaving certain boundaries since they won’t like the smell of the area. For example, citrus or lavender are usually loathed by cats and make a good way to keep them in an area or out of an area.
- Cat trees with enough height to them can also give cats a way to look outside and many of them have little hidey holes in them too, or hanging toys (or both).
What to Do If My Cat Roams (and Doesn’t Come Home Soon After)
But no matter how careful you are, a truly determined cat will probably slip by you. What can you do to get kitty to come home before it gets hurt?
Trust me when I say that chasing your cat won’t work terribly well (they’re fast!) Instead, following your cat at a safe distance and luring it back with treats or toys may be helpful. But sometimes a cat bolts and you don’t realize it, or it bolts and vanishes. What then?
There are a few things you can do to lure your cat home (remember, they don’t tend to go far unless they get scared):
- Put out your cat’s litter box.
- Put out your cat’s food dish (though don’t put too much food in it or you may attract more than your cat!) Put in something smelly though like sardines to really attract their attention.
- If your cat has a favored blanket, put it out.
- Check nearby sheds and garages as cats will often hide in them and then get locked in
- Talk in your normal voice (maybe haul a friend over for a visit). Cats know your voice, but a scared or frantic tone can scare them off.
- Leave your garage door open a crack so your cat can come home on its own time.
- Make sure to have your cat tattooed and microchipped so that if it’s picked up by animal control, they can reconnect your pet back to you.
And of course, be patient. Some cats will roam for a day or two and many people have had their cats take up to a week to come home. The cat I had growing up got out once and didn’t come back for a day or two and another cat we had when I was really young was only with half the time.
Having your cat spayed or neutered is not only good for reducing the population of cats and improving their health, but it also limits their desire to roam, which means you don’t have to worry (as much) about it getting into trouble.
Neutered cats generally don’t roam as far as unfixed cats and you also won’t be contributing to pet overpopulation.
Does your cat go roaming on you? What’s the longest it’s been gone and what did you do to bring it home?
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.