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Science of roaming cats

The image of the housecat out on the prowl has probably been with us since humans first domesticated cats. Let’s face it, no matter how much our housecats love us and rely on the care we provide, some still prefer to spend at least some time outdoors while others are content to observe the world from the comfort of a window seat.

Here we’ll take a look at the roaming behavior of domestic cats and offer some tips on keeping your wandering feline safe.

Wanderers vs. Happy Homebodies

Why do some cats roam, while others seem content to stay where life is cozy? It seems to depend on their drives and instincts. Cats are natural hunters, and even the most pampered housecat has the genetic imprint of a lion lurking within. A well-fed domestic cat will sometimes bring home a mouse or a bird it has caught, simply because cats are predators by nature.

Another factor is where and how a cat was raised. Cats that grew up feral or as outdoor cats may be more “street savvy” and actually enjoy exploring their domain. This is not without reason: By prowling its territory, a cat can gain valuable sensory information about new food sources, other cats in the area (such as competing toms), and potential threats or changes in the immediate environment.

When Cats Roam, How Far Do They Go?

The roaming territory of the average domestic cat can vary, with males tending to seek a larger territory than females. Male wanderers tend to stay within a territory of about 150 acres, while females stay closer to home, roaming only about 40 acres. This means that your average male cat is likely to stay within 1500 feet of home, while your average female tends not to go much farther than 75 yards from your door. Neutered cats, deprived of t heir mating instinct, are likely to stay within these limits, while unneutered animals (especially males) may travel farther in search of a mate.

How Do Cats Find Their Way Home?

Cats have long been known to possess an uncanny homing ability. You’ve likely re t last one news story about a can traveling hundreds of miles to return home after being lost, or to return to a house where it was raised. While not much is known about the mechanisms of the feline homing instinct, scientists have postulated that cats may actually bee able to navigate using the earth’s magnetic field as a sort of “divining rod.” Others have suggested that a cat’s memory of its local territory, combined with its keen senses, can help it create a mental map of a familiar area.

How Can You Keep Your Wayward Feline Safe?

If you have a cat that likes to roam, there are several things you can do to help keep it safe:

  • Be sure your cat is spayed or neutered. Mating drive is a powerful trigger for roaming behavior and can cause a cat to venture outside its familiar territory. Spaying and neutering also helps prevent unwanted pregnancies and reduces the likelihood of fight with other unneutered cats.
  • Microchip your cat so that it can be tracked if it becomes lost and is found by a Good Samaritan. If your cat isn’t microchipped, be sure it has a breakaway collar with a tag containing your contact info and your vet’s pone number. This can be a lifesaver if your pet is injured.
  • Be sure your cat is current on all its vaccinations. That way, when it does wander, it is at decreased risk for acquiring any diseases during its travels.
  • Encourage your cat to hunt by providing it with a few enticements to keep it entertained around the house. A carpet cat tree and some interactive cat toys may tempt a cat that’s simply bored to stay home more.


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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