Can Indoor Cats Find Their Way Home? : Interesting Facts

Indoor cats, if gone missing, often make their way back home sooner or later. Usually, when your cat gets missing, she does not lose connection tens of miles away from home. She gets lost somewhere in the environs, that is why she comes back soon very often.

You must have gone through the hilarious story of a man who wanted to get rid of his naughty cat, he tried many a times, packed her in a sack and left her on the pathways way far from the house, but always got disappointed as she used to make home, even before the man himself. He was absolutely furious.

cat goes home

One day he decided to make tens of miles. After he was done leaving her alone in the wilderness, he came to realize he had forgotten the trajectory leading back to home. Then he had to phone his wife, “Hello! Catty should be home !! Send her back, she wants to guide me back as well! I cannot trace the way back.”

Are you still wondering “Can indoor cats find their way home?  Making the way back from a very far off place might not be confirmed by accepted theories, though japes talk about wild possibilities; nevertheless, they are for educational purposes.

We know cats go missing and get back often, so we are going to focus on some possible reasons underlying their ability to find their way home. You may have a fair idea whether “Yes” is the answer to your personalized question Can indoor cats find their way home?  or a “No”.

Some Basic Understandings

Many studies done on cats assert with authority that when outside, their behaviour changes fundamentally. They start denying recognizing faces, being attentive on calling their names.

A better analogy to understand this concept is Airplane Mode on Your Mobile Phones; airplane mode is switched on, the functionality of the phone changes drastically. When cats are lost outside, they are simply on flight mode.

cat finding path

Instinctive qualities and abilities i.e. recognizing certain smells, hating and liking them, being attentive to certain sounds, attraction towards favourite toys etc. remain unchanged. 

The roots of these capabilities lie in their thousands of years of history, instead of any individual idiosyncrasies.  

cat travel home history

There are different scientific reasons behind certain animals being able to track their destinations.

Birds take lead from Sun and other Stars, pigeons locate trajectories by taking help from low-frequency sound waves, Deer utilize the magnetic field of the earth.

Well, to assert with authority, what possibly leads cats to find their way back home is not viable.

No Scientific study has yet claimed 100% reliability in their findings. So, there exist a various point of views, various theories, some of which gained more popularity than others.

Sense of Smell and Memory

cat smell the path

Simplistic reasons are also quoted i.e. amazingly sharp and everlasting Sense of Smell of cats is said to be the reason.

Sound memory complements it. So, if Sense of Smell is the reason, then what would be the perfect example when a cats get strayed and uses her sense of smell and brilliant memory to locate the destination?

A scenario could be: as it is very common that cats often try to visit their previous homes, especially when it has just been a while that they have shifted.

So, she might be spending her time near that old house after escaping your captivity.  She could be enjoying her old territories.

She must be familiar with the smells of roads, parks, meat shops etc.  Nevertheless, she has a sense of smell as much as 14 times sharper than that of humans.

When she decides to get back (to new house), these smells aid her, and she is intelligent enough to take leads.

Is it the 6th Sense that cat use to find home?

In addition to that, “God gifted sense to find the way home.” Is also quoted. Yes, the assertion is: the capability to find direction is just another natural sense and not just an ability built on FIVE senses.

According to the believers, As you do not crave to know how a cat could be able to smell as long as you can see a nose on her face, just like that, her tracking directions is just one of the natural senses that she possesses.

Sure, we will delve much more in-depth and find something concrete, something scientific.

Some evidence is also quoted to consolidate such theories.

For example, research was conducted, in which some cats were set free in a maze which had many exits. Cats were to find their exit. Cats were able to find, very soon, those exist which were closest to their own temporary shelters.

Emotional intensity resulting from attachment may also be the underlying booster for the results.

cat 6th sense to find home

For example, in a research where mother cats were dropped about 4 miles away from their kittens, seven out of ten mother cats were able to get back to their kittens.

Whereas, the number of successful kittens (they didn’t have to get back to their mother cats) who found their way back were lesser than five. So the role of emotional boosters is worthy as well.

You may want to assess the emotional levels of your cat so to get an idea about her abilities to track the way back home if she has to.

There are some more specific theories as well that address the question “can indoor cats find their way home?”  Let’s have a look.

They like to live in their comfort zones

Being territorial is an instinctive tendency of cats. Scratching the furniture, fixing lunch corners etc. are her ways to mark her personal Territory.

The irony here is, she doesn’t forget to be territorial even outside the house, even along with the ways.

Cats that live in densely populated areas, where other cats also reside in the neighbourhood, hardly run away outside the street. Limited Territory is the reason.  

Every cat in the area has marked its Territory in her neighbourhood, and they are all very possessive about their territories.   

Whereas cats that live in the relatively calmer locality, mark their Territory every here and there, even along the road sides, street corners, so talking in their own terms, they own much area outside the home as well, and so is where increase the chances that they would stray farther than normal. 

There is another theory with a taste of physics

earth magnetic pole

This school of thought says, as there exists some traces of iron in cats’ ears and skin (that’s true), cats take the lead from earth’s magnetic field and can distinguish between two opposite directions- North and South.

The same way that Deer do. Means, the IRON found in their body acts as a natural compass (direction locator) and guides them through.

We can draw some common sense based explanation of that, Suppose a cat visiting market with her pet parent, missed her connection and got strayed.  Now if The Iron was supposed to lead her back home, how would it have played?

Well, the cat must be receiving signals from earth’s magnetic field over the years whenever she visited markets and parks etc.

cat find home

She must be familiar with the signals she gets when she is on a particular roadside, back to home.

Now, when she is strayed, she goes to an arbitrary path, if the signal is similar to the one she has been receiving over the years, she is on the right path. Otherwise, she just takes the opposite direction.

Familiarized sideways, buildings also help her.

Would you like to check our recommendation for best cat carriers? If so, check this article.

Final Thoughts

After looking up to the reasons, let’s conclude on why you shouldn’t be anxious too much about her being hungry when she is outside for a long time.  She must be hunting a mouse, could be hiding herself in storm drains’ dark and restricted corners. She could also be exploring unknown places.

Also remember, not every time they get back.

Therefore, taking some precautions can be safe.

You can ensure their safety by hanging a bell in their necks, or adorning them with any identification tag.  Should they go missing, it will be easy locating them.

How long do cats go missing for?

Usually, it is around 4, 5 days. Until then, you do not need to worry about your cat. She will find her way to the home. However, even after one week of time, it does not return the home, then might need to check the surrounding.  

How do I get my cat to come home?

There is a pretty good HACK available for this purpose. What you need to do is, putting food and water outside where your cat escapes or a close hiding spot. When putting foods, try to keep strong smelling food items. The most important thing is your cat’s litter box. You have to keep that outside too. It has a high scent that your cat can find. This method has been approved by PetMD and several Reddit cat lovers.

How do you find a lost indoor cat?

First, you need to search your home systematically. Then keep some strong smelling foods and litter box outside. You can go for the near by area search. The best time is early in the morning, where others sleep (around 3 a. m. ). Check the trees on your property. You can always ask from the nearby houses by showing your cats picture. If everything fails, print some posters and make notes for your local area newspaper.

What percentage of lost cats come home?

75 % of cats reported lost were returned safely to their homes according to the research done by ASPCA. The research conducted by using a survey of 1,015 pet households and the findings of its five-year effort are published in the June 2012 issue of the journal Animals.

How long can a cat be missing and still come home?

It is around Five Days. If your cat has gone longer than a week, you might need to start a search. However, you do not need to worry too much. Cats tend to leave their house for a few weeks and return safely.


Piyumi Buddhini

Piyumi Buddhini is a graduate in electronics and IT field. Currently working as, a temporary demonstrator in Wayamba University of Sri Lanka. She is a well-experienced pet lover who raised more than 14 cats. Not only cats but doggies are her best pals too. Right now, she has 4 cats. 3 of them are kitties and the other one, the mother cat came from the street.  Mostly, she spends her free time at home with her kitties.  Other than her love for cats, she enjoys hiking and photography as hobbies.

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