How Do Cats Find Their Way Home Over a Long Distance?

By Phil / July 4, 2020
How Do Cats Find Their Way Home Over a Long Distance

Ever wondered, how do cats find their way home over a long distance?

I’m sure, like me, you’ve heard some of the stories over the years about cats finding their way back home over hundreds of miles.

Do cats have some kind of homing instinct? Is it a supernatural power that we can’t understand?

Scientists want to know these answers too. There have actually been some studies and experiments in cats’ remarkable ability to return home.

Here’s some interesting insight into this phenomenon:

Can Cats Find Their Way Home From Far Away?

There is no doubt that cats can find their way back home from many miles away. It’s been well documented a number of times.

One of the more recent accounts is this story in Science.Time.com. It details how a cat traveled more than 200 miles home after being lost while on a trip with its owners.

The problem is that just how cats are able to do is mystifies scientists. Do cats have some kind of GPS system built-in, a natural homing instinct like some birds have?

There was an interesting study carried out called “Homing Powers of the Cat” too. This study dates all the way back to 1922, so it’s clear that people were noticing cats returning almost 100 years ago!

A professor called Frances Herrick separated a mother cat from her kittens a number of times. Each time taking her between 1-4 miles away and leaving her.

She found her way back to her kittens every time!

How Do Cats Find Their Way Home Over a Long Distance?

How Do Cats Find Their Way Home Over a Long Distance with Homing Device

Well, the problem is, scientists and animal behavioral experts just don’t really know for sure how cats do it.

We do know that cats mark their territory and other locations by leaving their scent on objects.

They do this by rubbing their scent glands located on their cheeks, under their chin, and some other areas on their bodies. As well as spraying urine.

This helps cats “communicate” with each other, but only in a relatively small radius. And only in areas where they’ve been before.

This doesn’t explain how a cat can be dropped miles, even hundreds of miles away from their homes, and find their way back.

The best guess scientists can make is that cats are using the earth’s magnetic fields. Something several mammals are believed to be able to do.

What this means is, cats just have a natural “feel” for which direction their home is based on the feel of magnetic fields. Thus enabling them to head in that direction.

How Far Do Cats Roam From Their House?

According to GoCompare, male cats will roam further afield than female cats. A male will typically roam up to 200 meters from their home.

That’s really not far at all. It rings true to me, of all the cats I’ve had over the years, I don’t recall seeing any evidence they strayed further than our block of homes.

I can’t be sure though, I bet there’s a lot that goes on during the day that we’re not aware of!

How Far Can a Cat Travel to Find Their Way Home?

No one knows the answer to this question, and it’s not something that is going to be easy to test.

The longest distance I could find was the cat that traveled around 200 miles as I mentioned earlier. Here is a video clip of the news story covering this amazing feat:

I’ve heard numerous stories about cats traveling 4, 6, and anything up to 10 miles to make their way back home.

Not just home either, sometimes after someone moves home a cat will make their way back to the old home.

Will Your Cat Come Home When Let Out for The First Time?

This is one of the most anxious moments in any cat owner’s life.

It’s normal to stress over whether or not your cat will get lost. If they’ll come back before dark – or at all.

As long as you properly prepare them to return, you shouldn’t have a problem. I’ve never had a cat come not back, although I’ve missed them for a night here and there.

The best advice I can offer is:

  • Make sure your cat already responds to the sound of food (and let them out before they eat)
  • Try and confine them to your yard at first to let them get familiar with the smells and sights of the outdoors
  • Get them microchipped, just in case the worst happens and they get lost
  • Make sure they have easy access back indoors at all times

It’s going to take a little trust on your part, but don’t panic or stress. I’m sure they’ll come running back when they hear the familiar sound of their kibble being shaken in their food container.

RelatedHere’s how to feel if a cat has a microchip.

In Summary

On one hand, I wish there was a scientific understanding of just exactly how cats are able to find their ways home when dropped off somewhere hundreds of miles away.

On the other hand, I love that it adds to the overall mystery that already surrounds so many things about feline behavior.

If you’ve lost a cat, never give up hope. There is always a chance they will find their way home.

Plus, if they’re microchipped they are very likely going to be picked up at some point.

Related Questions

Can a Cat Find Its Way Home 6 Miles Away?

It’s happened before, so there is certainly a chance a cat will find their way home from 6 miles out. It’s not something you want to try though, cats can get distracted, confused, or stop somewhere they find food and shelter.

Can a Cat Find Its Way Home 20 Miles Away?

It’s possible, yes. There have been accounts of cats finding their way home up to 200 miles. The further away they are, the less likely it is though.

Do Cats Remember Where They Live?

Yes, cats remember where they live and where they used to live. They mark all around their territory with their own scent. We can’t smell it, but their powerful sense of smell enables them to tell which cats live where.

Resources

Image credits – Photos by Georgy Rudakov on Unsplash

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