Why Do Cats Wander? - Cat Kingpin
why do cats wander

Why Do Cats Wander?

Have you noticed that sometimes you can’t find your cat in the backyard? Have they been missing for hours or even days but then show up perfectly fine?

Cats are notorious for wandering off from their home and owners. They have incredible navigation skills and a complex desire to fulfill their instinctual behaviors that actually may be one of the leading causes for why your cat is a wanderer.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • What do Cats do When Wandering?
  • Where do Cats Wander off to?
  • Should You be Concerned When Your Cat Wanders?
  • How Can You Stop Your Cat From Going Missing?

What do Cats do When Wandering?

All our domestic cats stem from the Middle Eastern Wildcat which was said to have domesticated over 12,000 years ago.

Through research it was concluded that all feline species tend to have two main forms of exploration: Active and Passive.

Active Exploration often involves the process of gathering new information of the cat’s near surroundings. You may see your cat climbing on trees, sniffing new objects, digging in the dirt, or going under bushes.

These all are a few examples of active exploration as the cat is moving through its environment while gathering information.

Passive Exploration is a little different but it simply means that a cat will remain in a stationary position simply gathering information from its surroundings. Think of this as a cat who is just sitting on a high tree branch visually examining its surroundings.

Fulfilling their predatory instinct may be another reason cats tend to wander. Often this involves staring at a close-by prey or sniffing them out, stalking, chasing them and then delivering the killing bite.

Beyond that, mating and reproductive seeking may be another reason why cats wander off. Male cats tend to seek out female counter-parts in heat or more territory in order to fulfil their reproductive desires. Females in heat wandering is why cats from the same litter can have different fathers.

Where do Cats Wander off to?

So, now that we know what cats tend to do when deciding to wander of we have to ask “Where do cats wander off to?”. Well a current ongoing study done by Cat Tracker suggests that cats only tend to travel around less than 12 acres away from their house.

Cat Tracker uses GPS tracking and cameras to determine where these cats go and most often cats were found to simply be “cheating on their owners” by visiting other homes where they received food or attention.

So, most often cats simply either visit other homes, seek out food, explore new territory or find places to hide or seek out cat mates. Cats can also have best buddies they play around with in the neighborhood, so they may simply also wander off to meet their fellow feline friends.

If you’re more curious to learn about where your cat wanders off to, then consider volunteering to be a part of the Cat Tracker project.

A great video by National Geographic summarizes the purpose and findings of this ongoing project:

Should you be Concerned When Your Cat Wanders?

As they say “Curiosity kills the Cat” a phrase particularly true for outdoor cats. Research shows that outdoor cats tend to have an increased risk of mortality based on location, climate and predatory behaviors.

In addition, cats are notorious hunters and due to the massive population of outdoor cats in the world there has been a significant impact on native wildlife. A Cat Tracker study done in New Zealand, for example, found out that outdoor cats contribute to major decline in native New Zealand Wildlife species as outdoor cats tend to hunt the native lizards and birds.

Other concerns involved were particular risk behaviors such as cats crossing streets, automobile collision, entering small spaces and getting stuck, an increased risk for disease and parasite infections, increased risk of injury by other cats and predation by coyotes or dogs.

How Can You Stop Your Cat from Going Missing?

Ideally, you need to prevent your cat from going outdoors too often, especially if you live in an area close to main streets or an area with a high population of predators. Personally, I recommend all cat owners microchip their cat should they wander of too far and go missing.

Owners can choose to encourage their cat’s instinctual behaviors through many different toys and activities.

Start by purchasing a cat tree for your cat.

Look for cat trees that are tall for them to climb and perch on, trees that have boxes for hiding and exploring and scratching posts.  Below are some of my favorites:

Encourage your cat’s hunting behavior by providing them with interactive toys. Below I’ve listed some awesome toys that have worked for me:

  • The Cat Dancer is a cheap and easy interactive toys that encourage predation in cats.
  • This laser pointer is a little more expensive but will encourage your cat to stalk its prey (laser light).
  • This treat ball allows cats to earn their food through play.

Providing mental stimulation and perhaps adopting a second cat for company are great ways you as an owner can prevent your cat from wandering off too far.

So, Why Do Cats Wander?

So, why do cats wander?

Well it’s simply because they like exploring, hunting and playing with other cats. Being an outdoor cat may in many cases be considered to be beneficial to their mental health as it allows them to fulfill their instinctive behavior.

However, keep in mind that many outdoor cats often do get lost, may contract disease or parasites, may be stolen, killed or may be picked up by the pound.

Thus, it’s important and highly recommended that owners keep their cats indoors or provide outdoor requirements through walks via leash training.  But remember, to keep them entertained indoors you should get them something like a cat tree, crinkly tunnel, or some cat toys.

Has your cat been wandering of too much? Not sure what to do still? Remember if you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment below and I will do my best to answer.

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Simran M.

I began my studies in zoology and realized I wanted to work more in the medical field and so I applied to the Veterinary program at Massey University in New Zealand and was accepted. Throughout my student life, I've worked as a veterinarian assistant in my hometown pet hospital. At present, I work intensively rotating to and from veterinary hospitals, dairy and sheep farms.

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