How Do Cats Find Their Way Home?

Many of us, cat owners, start to worry when our cat has been gone for a few hours. Is my cat okay? Is she lost? Did something happen? These are common thoughts to plague our minds.

Well, as it turns out, cats are pretty well equipped to find their way home, and you probably shouldn’t worry too much. We have all heard the fantastic stories of cats walking back home from across the country to be reunited with their families after months or even years.

How much of that is accurate, and how do cats find their way back home?

Cats possess some extraordinary navigational skills. They rely on their senses, such as a great sense of smell, exceptional hearing, and superior vision. Apart from that, cats are intelligent and have good spatial awareness.

Do cats really find their way home?

Apart from the stories about cats finding their way home against all odds, fact is that most lost cats are not so lucky.

Because we hear of those cases quite regularly, it leads to confirmation bias, and we might think that all cats possess this wonderful gift.

However, a 2017 study shows that about two-thirds of missing cats are never found by their owners. So, despite their excellent navigational skills, most cats do not find their way back home.

How do cats find their way home?

As mentioned, cats can depend on an array of great senses to navigate. Together with their intellect, the odds are in their favor. So, how do they do it?

Cats smell their way home

People think that dogs are the only ones with a superior sense of smell. Although cats do come in second, their smell is still about 14 times better than a human. They can pick up the faintest scents that might give them a clue on their journey with their sensitive noses.

Cats are known to mark their territory by rubbing their pheromone glands against objects to leave their unique scent.

With their keen sense of smell, they can pick up cues that other cats may be nearby or that they are close to familiar territory.

Intelligence helps cats to find their way

Although it might not seem that way sometimes, cats are actually very intelligent. They use their big brains to interpret what their senses tell them and to narrow down their options, and make a plan.

Also, cats are not one to easily panic when lost. They keep calm and are usually perfectly able to keep themselves alive by catching small prey or begging humans for food.

Cats have an excellent spatial awareness that helps them to navigate

If you ever witnessed a cat taking an obstacle course, you know that they are very agile and aware of their surroundings.

They navigate easily through narrow bushes and remember their path for the next time. This proves that cats have excellent spatial awareness and the ability to plan out the most efficient route.

Cats navigate by recognizing landmarks

When you ask for directions, people will undoubtedly say something like: “go left at the large church and right at the restaurant”.

Cats navigate in the same way. Although they don’t know the difference between a restaurant and a church, they recognize specific landmarks like large buildings, towers and natural landmarks like trees, rivers, and hills.

These help them find their way, and this, combined with their excellent sense of smell, will help put the pieces of the puzzle together and create a sort of map in their mind.

How to prevent your cat from getting lost

As always, it’s better to prevent than to cure. Even though cats might be good navigators, there is a lot you can do to prevent your cat from getting lost.

Keep your cat indoors

This might seem like an easy solution, but it’s probably the most challenging thing. I’ve owned many cats, and if a cat wants to get out, it will find a way. It will wait for that split-second opportunity to race outside.

Neuter your cat

Neutering your cat is a very effective way to keep them closer to home and mute their drive to explore. By neutering, you reduce your cat’s sex drive, which will also reduce their need to go outside to find a mating partner.

Give your cat a GPS Tracker

Cat Trackers are a great tool to help you locate your cat at any time. They usually come with a phone app to monitor their location whenever you need to know where they’re at.

This is a great help. Apart from the peace of mind that it gives you, you can always find your cat if she gets lost.

Microchip your cat

This is not really a preventive measure, but I would say a necessary precaution for any pet.

When micro-chipped, anyone with a specialized reader like a vet, shelter, or other cat charity can read the identification code embedded in the microchip. This code is linked to your address so that your lost cat can be brought back to you when found.

Provide a loving home

A common reason why cats decide to leave is not that they are lost but because they don’t have a good home.

Cats are low maintenance, but they do need some necessities such as good and healthy food at regular times, the ability to exercise, a safe and warm place to sleep, healthcare, and -most important of all, lots of love and attention from their owners.