If your cuddly feline fails to return home, you’re bound to panic. It’s possible that many questions float through your mind—did someone take him or her? The truth is, sometimes cats do leave home in search of a new one, but why?
Cats find new homes when one or more of their basic needs aren’t being met. Stress-causing events, such as a new person or animal in the house, or a move, can make a cat fear for its safety. When indoor cats get outside, however, they’re most likely hiding nearby.
By understanding what cats need to feel content, you can hopefully prevent yours from leaving to never return. Read on to learn more about why cats leave, what they need, and what to do if your cat disappears.
Why Do Cats Leave Their Homes?
Cats may leave home for a number of reasons, including feeling hungry, unsafe, attention-starved, or bored. Some cats might even leave because they don’t like the food you’re serving, and nearby neighbors might serve better food. Feline needs are similar to humans, but they express them differently.
To Be Fed
Cats also prefer warm food. In the wild, felines hunt and eat food immediately after the catch. Naturally, the food is warm. Refrigerated food doesn’t appeal to them because it isn’t their preferred temperature, and it also does not smell appealing.
If you’re feeding your cat cold food and she refuses to eat, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she is full. Instead, it’s likely that she prefers food that meets her standards.
Keep in mind that it’s possible to feed a cat the daily required amount of food and yet leave her feeling hungry. This is because cats are obligate carnivores, or animals required to eat protein. Cat foods that contain carbohydrates above what is in a mouse (5%) provide empty calories.
When shopping for cat food, avoid grain-free and keep plant-based proteins, such as pea protein, to a minimum.
Even if she is getting enough food from you, a neighbor might be feeding her. Some cats wander up to a mile away from the home, and if your cat is showing up at your neighbor’s house daily, the neighbor might conclude that the feline is not getting fed.
As a result, your neighbor may take the cat in. To prevent that, never let your cat outside without a collar and I.D. tag when you let her out, and consider getting her microchipped.
To Feel Safe
Like any animal, cats try to avoid danger. However, a cat does not necessarily perceive danger the way we do.
For example, cats view anything new or out of the ordinary as potentially dangerous. A cat will not be afraid of a dog it was raised with, but if you bring a new pooch into the house, watch out.
If they don’t get along immediately, you need to train them to do so by using the following steps:
- Keep the cat and dog separate. Have a “cat area” and “dog area” in your home to create a space they can call their own.
- Both dogs and cats rely heavily on scent, so begin a “scent exchange.” A simple way to do this is to alternate who gets a towel to sleep on. For example, one night the cat sleeps on towel A and the dog on towel B, then alternate.
- Start gradual exposure between them.
When both dog and cat stay calm in each other’s presence, they are ready to enjoy each other’s company.
Cats can also become anxious around new permanent residents, especially babies.
New Routines Make Them Nervous
Cats become anxious by changes in routines. Predictable routines lead to lower stress levels.
If there are no consistent routines, cats will become anxiety-ridden, which leads them to feel as though they are in danger.
If your cat acts grumpy, becomes aggressive, or exhibits attention-seeking behavior, give her time to adjust to the new routines. And provide her with quiet hiding places, place food and water away from busy areas of the house, and give her more attention if she craves it.
For more, watch this video entitled, Cat Stress: What You Need to Know.
Cats seem to need less attention than dogs, but that doesn’t mean they want to be ignored. In nature, cats don’t form the strong family bonds that dogs do. However, domesticated cats come to depend on their owners for companionship and expect you to give them some attention.
So carve out some time for some attention. And more is not necessarily better. Instead, give your kitty structured attention, such as two or three 5-minute play sessions a day for petting, cuddling, or whatever your cat likes.
If your cat feels completely ignored, she may begin looking for places where she will get attention.
Cats are curious creatures who love exploring and being entertained.
Although a cat might spend much of the day napping, it does need playtime. Kittens like to play up to an hour a day, while most adult cats are content with 30 minutes broken into several shorter sessions.
Since play in the wild is designed to teach cats how to hunt, their toys should simulate the behavior and size of their prey. For example, cats that prefer to spend the day watching birds might like the GoCat Da Bird from Amazon.com. It has a realistic feather attached to a long pole that will drive your kitty nuts.
When your cat grabs a toy, wrestles it to the ground, and kicks it with its hind feet, it mimics instinctive behavior.
For that reason, most cats like a toy like the Kong Kickeroo from Amazon.com. It comes complete with crinkle paper and a catnip smell, which means that your cat will play with this toy again and again.
Finally, don’t make your cat miserable by never letting it “win.” Instead, make it work, but let it catch the prey.
For more, watch the following video entitled, Top 7 Signs Your Cat Loves You (A Vet’s Perspective):
What Can You Do To Keep Cat From Leaving?
To keep your cat from leaving, ensure that your furry friend has plenty of food, is getting enough attention and entertainment, and feels safe. A cat that feels hungry, bored, or stressed may leave the home in search of a better environment.
Be on the lookout for stress-related behavior. For example, changes in routine or the addition of new family members, such as people or pets, will cause stress, so take steps to ensure the introductions are done slowly and carefully monitored.
A move can be highly stressful for a cat, and some cats try to find their old homes. Cats with outdoor access often turn up missing, usually because they want to return to familiar territory.
After you move, keep a cat indoors for a minimum of two weeks. Then, when you finally decide to let it roam around outside, do so shortly before feeding time, so your cat has a reason to return.
What if an Indoor Cat Goes Missing?
If an indoor-only cat gets outside and goes missing, it’s likely not far from home. Although outdoors may seem like an exciting place for some felines, indoor cats are more likely to feel threatened and stressed when outdoors. Chances are, it’s hiding nearby.
Indoor-only cats often panic once they are outdoors and go into flight mode and find a secluded place to hide. In some cats, especially timid ones, the hiding instinct is so strong that they even hide from their owners.
So if your cat escapes outside, do not assume she has gone missing. Instead, search 3 to 5 houses in each direction from where the cat escaped. Cats can travel up to a mile a day, but an indoor cat will prefer to stay hidden.
These additional guidelines can help you in your search:
- Before heading outside, check to see whether your cat is in an unusual spot in the house, say behind a refrigerator, behind books, inside box springs, or mattresses.
- Leave out food, water, and some belongings that have the cat’s scent. Cats use scents to hunt, eat, and find their way.
- Search in the early evening or at night when cats are most likely to be out. Cats are nocturnal, so they are more active around this time.
- Hang flyers around the neighborhood. Flyers with color photos are more likely to be seen, especially when they have a large, clear picture of your pet.
- Visit local animal shelters. While there, ask if they post pictures of all animals that they take in.
And don’t give up — cats will sometimes be found weeks or months later.
Watch the following video about how to Find a Lost Cat if you want to learn more:
What Should I Do if Someone Steals My Cat?
It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally someone will steal a cat. Thieves are more likely to steal a purebred cat so they can resell it for profit. It can happen that someone will steal a cat in hopes of getting a monetary reward, but that is rare.
If someone steals your cat, report it to the police. Pets are considered property, so taking someone’s cat is considered theft. While police won’t spend time searching for your feline, a police report leaves a paper trail and makes it easier to get the cat home once you discover who has stolen it.
Having medical records, adoption papers, and proof of registration are helpful, but your cat’s microchip is the most reliable way to prove the cat belongs to you.
Remember, though, that a microchip does not have GPS capabilities. So if someone finds your cat and takes it to an animal clinic or shelter, the facility can contact you.
To track your cat, you need to purchase an animal tracker.
If a cat gets its needs met through you, the chances of it leaving to find a new home are small. Keep an eye out for neighbors feeding your pet food, and if that happens, speak to them and point out that you limit your cat’s calories.
Finally, the debate about whether a cat should be an indoor or outdoor pet is a separate topic.
However, it is worth noting that an inside-only cat will be more likely to have its basic needs met in the house and less likely to have a harmful or deadly accident.
- Scientific American: The Inner Lives of Cats
- Cats International: The Cat’s Sense of Taste
- ASPCA: Why Can’t My Cat Be Vegan?
- Be Chewy: When Can I Let My Pets Loose Together?
- Vets4Pets: How A Change in Routine Affects Our Cats
- The Anti-Cruelty Society: Attention Seeking in Cats
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.