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Can Cats Find Their Way Home If Lost? What You Need To Know!

Elizabeth Gray

No one ever wants to think about the possibility that their beloved cat will end up lost. But unfortunately, accidents happen and doors are left open, be it by children, plumbers, or perhaps you on a particularly busy day full of distractions. If the worst should happen, can cats find their way home if lost? Many cats do have an uncanny ability to navigate home even from many miles away. However, not all cats will be able to and the dangers they will encounter are many.

In this article, we’ll talk about how some cats are able to find their way home, reasons why they might not be able to, and how you can avoid finding yourself in the situation of having a lost cat.divider-cat

How Do We Know That Cats Find Their Way Home?

Besides word-of-mouth tales of cats finding their way home, two actual scientific studies confirmed this ability.

The original study, published in 1922, tested the ability of a mother cat to find her way back to her kittens. The author of the study discovered that the mother found her way back to her babies seven separate times over distances from 1-4 miles away.

Another study, from 1954, involved German scientists who tested cats’ abilities to find their way through a maze to their original (home) location. The majority of the cats successfully found their way back to the correct spot.

Surprisingly, not much research has been conducted on this topic in the last half-century.

Cat and Chicken
Image Credit: Irina Kozorog, Shutterstock

How Do Cats Find Their Way Home?

The reasons behind a cat’s uncanny ability to find its way home aren’t fully understood. It’s thought that cats possess a homing instinct, a way to tell directions in ways other than the use of their physical senses. Unlike with other animals, such as homing pigeons, scientists don’t know exactly how cats are able to navigate.

Cats also have a very strong sense of smell and connection to their home territory, thanks to their love of scent marking. Scent may play a role in how cats are able to find their way home from short distances but not necessarily longer ones.

Hopefully, future research will bring more insight into this fantastic homing ability of our feline friends.

Why Not All Cats Will Make It Home

Unfortunately, despite cats’ strong abilities to find their way home, not every lost cat will make it there.

Cats who are outdoors for any reason are in danger from many different sources. Poison, cars, dogs and other large predators, humans with guns, and even other cats can pose a threat to a cat who’s trying to find its way home.

In addition, exclusively indoor cats who suddenly find themselves outside may not have the same strong instincts that guide other cats back home. These cats could become confused and scared and become even more lost.

How To Keep Your Cat From Getting Lost

persian cat in grass
Image Credit: Cattrall, shutterstock

To avoid the danger of getting lost, you should take some steps to keep your cat safe.

First, you should keep your cat indoors and teach all family members to pay attention and not leave doors and windows open as escape routes.

All cats, even indoor cats, should be microchipped and wear a collar with identification tags. Make sure the collar is safe for cats, such as a breakaway collar that will snap open if it snags on something. Make sure your cat’s microchip is registered and that you keep your contact information current.

Many cats become lost when they move to a new house with their family. If your cat normally spends time outside, wait at least a month after you move before letting them outside to ensure they reorient themselves to their new home base.

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Conclusion

Just because your cat can find their way home doesn’t mean you want them to try it. The safest place for your cat is indoors and you should do your best to keep them there. Because accidents can happen even to the most cautious of cat owners, be proactive by making sure your cat is easily identifiable if they do become lost.

Stories of pets traveling long distances back to their families are heart-warming but the reality is most lost pets don’t make it home, especially cats. Being prepared and careful can save you a lot of heartbreak.


Featured Image Credit: Jenny Margarette, Shutterstock

Elizabeth Gray

Elizabeth Gray is a lifelong lover of all creatures great and small. She got her first cat at 5 years old and at 14, she started working for her local veterinarian. Elizabeth spent more than 20 years working as a veterinary nurse before stepping away to become a stay-at-home parent to her daughter. Now, she is excited to share her hard-earned knowledge (literally--she has scars) with our readers. Elizabeth lives in Iowa with her family, including her two fur kids, Linnard, a husky mix and Algernon, the worldʻs most patient cat. When not writing, she enjoys reading, watching all sports but especially soccer, and spending time outdoors with her family.