The slung-open mouth naps, roaring purrs, energetic laser hunts, and slightly-mischievous destruction remind you again and again why you’re a self-proclaimed “cat lady.” But when you peer outside, you discover a very different scene: A cat colony invading your yard! The porch sunbathing and wrestling matches are next-level cute, but why did they choose your house?
When cats hang around your house, it’s because your property meets their needs. Cats may hide beneath a deck to shelter from the elements, snack on food scraps or rodents in the yard, or be in search of their old homes and owners. A friendly kitty might detect a fellow cat in the house, too!
A clowder taking shelter under your shed, or even a solo kitty pawing at your front door, can feel like a bad omen. But superstitions aside, those explorative and social felines are typically following innocent instincts. To learn what it means when cats hang around your house, read on!
The Ancient Egyptians once believed that cats were divine critters deserving of goddess-like worship. Early American folklore suggested that shoving a cat through a window (instead of the front door) would stop the cat from escaping later after purchasing a new home. Others insist that a sneezing kitty signals “good luck” on the horizon.
Random cats wandering your lawn or meowing just outside your window can get those superstitious senses tingling. Here are some widely-held cat superstitions worldwide:
- If a cat is crying outside an ill person’s home, it sends the message that death is near.
- A cat that saunters toward your front door is good luck (though a black cat doing the same supposedly brings misfortune).
- Cats can predict when a storm’s brewing.
- White cats guide luck, tranquility, or fortune your way.
- Black cats can ward off evil and sickness.
As riveting as this folklore can be, only one of these has scientific-backing: The feline-weather connection (we’ll explain more later). Rest assured, that cat meowing outside at midnight isn’t warning you that you’ll die soon — he might just be hungry, playful, bored, or even sick himself.
That creepy kitty cluster near the garage drives your mind to the worst-case scenario: Bad luck. The video below shows why black cats, in particular, are the most widely-known superstition.
Why Cats Hang Around Your House
Those cats lounging on your air conditioning unit or napping on your patio Adirondack chair aren’t there to haunt you or convince you to play the lottery. A cat chooses your house as a retreat when your property has something to offer or meets its basic needs, like:
Hunger & Thirst
Cats are stereotypically picky eaters and often prefer to graze instead of scarfing down ¼ cup of kibble at dinner. But the average cat needs up to 35 calories/pound to keep that rumbling belly silent and at a healthy weight. Under-fed cats (or even kitties with appetites in overdrive) rely on their hunting instincts to fill in the gaps.
Scan your property, where the cats tend to gather, and what they do. You’ll likely discover the following that attracts hungry or thirsty kitties:
- Bird nests, a bird feeder, a bird fountain, fish pond, or rodent holes in your yard/foundation (a perfect hunting zone full of unsuspecting prey)
- Stuffed trash bags with fresh food scraps
- A bare food or water bowl leftover from your dog or cat
- A flowing waterfall, rain-filled bucket, or a fresh puddle (for drinking water)
If a strange cat knocks at your door and your response is preparing a pate dinner, these cats hang out at your house because you’re a free (and reliable) food source!
Safety & Security
Cats may be instinctually solitary creatures and survive just fine in the wilderness, but that doesn’t mean they’re entirely self-reliant. In particular, stray cats are new to daily predator encounters and territorial tomcats protecting their hunting grounds.
The cats hanging around your home selected the property for a reason: It feels safe! Maybe you have a fenced-in yard that raccoons can’t squeeze through, a tall tree that cats can scale to escape menacing feral cats, or a roof over their head during a ground-shaking storm.
Stray cat miles from home might see your home as the perfect refuge and may even scratch or meow at the door to ask for help (“rescue me”). That solo cat begging for attention might be the next kitty to “adopt” you!
Shelter & Warmth
Feral and stray cats can survive extreme weather conditions like hurricanes, blizzards, winds, and heatwaves. But rarely do they spruce together a leafy bed before napping outdoors in the elements — they often fall back on human-made structures for shelter and warmth!
That colony meeting behind the shed or in the barn is no coincidence. Cats will retreat to your property en masse to (or for):
- Hide from precipitation under the deck, overhang, garage, shed, or trampoline
- Warmth (a garage or basement might be 20° warmer than the winter weather)
- Avoid a looming storm (cats can detect atmospheric pressure changes that signal a thunderstorm or earthquake on the way)
- Find a comfy or private place to nap away from predators
Cats prefer temperatures around 70° and despise wet fur and paws. If the cats roll in just before (or during) gloomy, hot/cold, or wet conditions, they’re craving shelter!
Affection & Socialization
Cats who lurk on the patio or sit at the back door aren’t necessarily taunting you and your family. Energetic and uber-social cats can become bored wandering the same ¼-mile radius every afternoon, seeking some entertainment along the way.
The most innocent explanation for those hovering kitties also tugs at the heartstrings: They just want a friend! A cat might rub against your leg and purr as you lounge on the hammock, tap on your cat’s favorite window as an impromptu play session invite, or yowl outside to look for a mate (particularly if the cat isn’t fixed).
Caution: Though these cats purr and beg for belly rubs, that doesn’t always indicate that they’re friendly with other cats. Locate the cat’s owner and ask about neuter/spay, FeLV, and FIV status before allowing those play dates to continue.
How To Tell if a Cat Is Stray, Feral, or Roaming
That makeshift cat colony in your backyard might convince you that you’re dealing with the unpredictable feral cat community. But how can you tell if those kitties are entirely wild, stranded far from home, or merely the neighborhood cats hosting a daily get-together?
- The best-case scenario (roaming): Outdoor cats may live across the street or in a nearby neighborhood, landing at your house because of one of the reasons above. These kitties are approachable, rub against you, return home before dusk, and are well-groomed.
- The heart-wrenching scenario (stray): Cats who’ve wandered off the beaten path may be anxious and struggle away from their caretaker. Stray cats will look unkempt, be underweight, and venture near strangers. These cats often join colonies with other local strays.
- The worst-case scenario (feral): Feral cats were either always wild or left home many years ago. These cats keep their distance from humans, rarely vocalize (except to hiss), avoid daylight, and brawl with competing cats. If they’re hanging around your home, they’re not feral.
That pint-sized calico scratching at the door might be a neighborhood cat asking your cat to romp around in the yard. Or, he could also be a semi-feral kitty craving a juicy tuna dinner.
Those hungry whimpers and drenched fur encourage you to rescue this “homeless” cat when he begs for help. But in some states, caring for feral/stray cats is either illegal or makes you their de-facto owner — they’re yours now!
Tips: Check the cats for collars, ask the neighbors if they know who these kitties belong to, or call animal control to capture the cats.
- The Free Dictionary: A clowder of cats: 30 fancy names for animal groups
- Animal Legal & Historical Center: Detailed Discussion of Feral Cat Legal Issues
- Alley Cat Allies: Feral and Stray Cats—An Important Difference
- Fetch by WebMD: Mistakes People Make Feeding Cats
- The Old Farmer’s Almanac: Can Cats Predict Weather Changes?
- International Cat Care: Neutering your cat