Layne is an animal lover and grew up in a household full of rescued critters. She is a registered veterinary technician.
Why Do Cats Disappear and Go Missing?
Cats sometimes run away and go missing, and sometimes they return home. They can be gone for several days or disappear entirely. For a cat guardian, this is an emotional and upsetting experience. We often trust our cats to return home, but what happens when they don't?
Do Cats Come Back When They Run Away?
The answer to this question is not so simple as there are many factors that may have influenced your cat's disappearance. Cats are naturally driven by three things primarily:
If your cat has disappeared or perhaps your cat frequently disappears and returns 2–3 days later, one of the above-mentioned topics might be the reason your cat is missing.
Cats Are Curious
Oftentimes, cats follow their curiosity. So if your cat is naturally indoor-outdoor, there's a good possibility that he or she has found something that has caught his or her attention or got caught up in the following:
- Reproduction: spaying, neutering, and sterilizing will prevent wandering, especially with male cats seeking out a female in heat.
- Hunting: a nice supply of mice or other prey may have lured your cat to act on its natural instincts.
- Territory: fending off another cat that has entered their territory; neighborhood cat drama is real.
- Food: your neighbor may be feeding your cat.
- Predation: your cat may have been attacked or killed by a coyote, hawk, etc.
- Disease: some cats run away to die or acquire disease (parasites) making it difficult to return.
- Injury or death: your cat may have been hit by a car or may have been injured in some way (some cats ingest rodents that have been poisoned with rodenticide).
- Collection: your cat may have been picked up by animal control or an animal service agency.
- Disruption: new animal or person in the household, remodeling, big changes, unstable environment (abuse, aggressive dogs, lack of care).
Why Cats Disappear but How They Come Back Home
Many do and many don't. It depends on why they ran away to begin with, but the good news is that many cats are equipped with two impressive abilities:
An experiment in 1954 by German researchers revealed some interesting findings. They placed cats in a large maze. The majority of the cats exited the maze closest to their home location. Some theories suggest that cats use magnetic geolocation (sensitivity to the earth's geomagnetic fields which informs them of distance and direction) and others suggest that they use olfactory cues. When magnets were attached to the cats, their homing abilities were disrupted—thus reinforcing the study's findings.
Coined by Dr. Joseph Rhine of Duke University, this phenomenon refers to an animal's ability to locate their owner when they have moved away. Veterinarian Dr. Myrna Milani introduced the concept of Bell's Theorem, which suggests that owners and their pets have a connection on the material level. Bell's Theorem studies the spin and pairing of electrons—when one electron is separated from another, the paired electron alters its direction. Being that mammals (cats and humans) are composed of atoms, this suggests that we sync up in a natural rhythm at the atomic level—so the animal-human bond, indeed, may run much deeper.
Why Do Cats Disappear?
The Lostpetresearch.com project also revealed that most lost cat homing incidents occur when a pet was accidentally transported away from its environment, e.g. crawled into a car at 22%; 19% disappeared while away from home (vacation, vet's office), 8% were lost due to intention (dumping), 5% were last in transit (during travel or moving).
A noticeable 29% of homing incidences occurred when an owner moved and a cat returned to their old home (this includes cats that were adopted).
How to Prevent Your Cat From Running Away
- Indoor Only: Some owners keep their cats as indoor-only cats (this prolongs their life expectancy greatly). Indoor cats are protected from viruses and disease that can be spread from cat fights, and interactions (as can vaccinating!) Don't let your cat outside if you live in a dangerous area (cars—hit by car, aggressive dogs—chasing them off).
- Spay and Neuter: Spaying and neutering (or sterilizing) is the number one way to prevent roaming! You also help prevent issues like overpopulation.
- Microchip: If you insist on having an indoor-outdoor cat, microchip your cat and use a safe quick-release collar. Be sure to register your microchip so that shelters and the providing company can easily contact you should your animal get picked up.
- Be Smart When Moving: If you have to move, make sure to keep your cat indoors for several weeks. Scope out the neighborhood. Only let them out supervised. Be sure to feed them at regular intervals so they will return home.
- Help Them Adjust: New animals or new baby? Give your cat time to adjust. Make sure they feel safe, appreciated, and have a place to retreat to.
- Train Them to Return: My neighbor has their cat trained by bell and treat. Every day at dusk (which is a safe time to welcome your cat in), they ring a bell and feed a stinky treat. This does the job like clockwork!
- Keep Windows and Doors Closed: If you have visitors in your home, consider putting your cat in a safe room until they are gone (people are prone to leaving doors and windows open). If you have an escape-artist, train everyone in your house to be especially aware of leaving doors open (even for a fraction of a second). Put a bell on your cat if they are stealthy.
- Get a GPS Tracker/App: There are many products on the market. These consist of little tracking devices (often weigh only a few grams) that can be attached to your cat's collar or reside on a collar. A great investment if you worry for your furry friend.
- Get a Catio Space: Yes, there is a company called Catio Spaces. You can find a nice outdoor enclosure for your indoor cat. This gives them the freedom of outdoor time without facing the risks of cars, dogs, and cat fights. Remember to provide them with shade, warmth, and water.
- Provide the Necessities: Give them adequate food, water, toys, love, and play time! Consider training them to walk on a leash.
Most cats (90%) were lost for an average of 5 (median) to 7.5 (mean) days. This average jumped to 12.2 (mean) days if you looked at cats missing up to four months.
— Cat Homing Behavior Survey Results
The Missing Cat Profile
Outdoor or Indoor-Outdoor Cats Are Likely to Find Their Way Home
According to Lostpetresearch.com, 67% of outdoor-access cats and 25% of outdoor-only cats demonstrated homing behavior. The percent was much lower for indoor cats at 7%.
Age Plays a Factor
Other factors reveal that age plays a huge role in disappearances: 58% adults and 34% young adults make up the missing. This day suggests that kittens and seniors may not have strong homing abilities.
Shy Cats or Bold Cats?
Recent data suggests that personality plays no role in homing ability; however, it is likely that if your shy cat gets outside, it may be hiding close by but fear to reveal itself, making it harder to find. On the other hand, a bold cat is more likely to approach you when called.
What to Do If Your Cat Is Missing
Indoor-only cats that escape often go into defense mode, especially if they are timid. This means they will hide even when called. They may not want to show themselves. If your cat recently bolted, know that it is likely they are nearby, so don't go heading off in your car for a ground search, instead:
- Be patient.
- Put out food.
- Sit quietly, and call them calmly.
- Leave a door to your house open.
When It's Normal
Some cats (indoor-outdoor) come and go as they please. This is normal behavior. If your cat is fully vaccinated, microchipped, and has a decent collar, you can allow for a day or so before ramping up your search. Otherwise, call your cat every 5 minutes. Space this out to every half hour and every 2–3 hours. Do your best to retrieve them.
Have a Lost Cat Plan
Know what to do. Have your cat's microchip information available. Let local shelters and animal control know that your cat is missing (give them physical and personality descriptions). Talk to your neighbors (3–5 houses down). Consider posting flyers in your neighborhood (make sure to collect them after the search), and use apps like NextDoor, Craigslist, etc.
Don't Beat Yourself Up
If you have done your best to keep your indoor cat safe (always keeping doors closed) or have provided your outdoor cat with its creature comforts (spayed or neutered, tagged, vaccinated), but your cat has still gone missing, show yourself some compassion. Losing a pet is an extremely emotional event. Sometimes, we never get the answers we are looking for, and our cat doesn't come back. Know that you gave them a great life, perhaps they are off living up their wild instincts, and always hope that they will return—because one day they just might!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2019 Laynie H
William L. Johnson on September 06, 2020:
I was looking after a friends cat tonight and it was not around their house. I called for it and never came. What should I do?
Vieanne on August 25, 2020:
My Two kittens Went Missing it has been two in a half month! the name of my female kitten is named Oreo and My Male kitten is named Ginger, They have been gone for Two months in a half and they missed my birthday. My Family and I have been Searching for them but we still haven't found them. I MISS YOU GINGER AND OREO! PLEASE COME BACK
BENJAMIN on August 25, 2020:
My cat is missing from a week he is in an another house and not coming back
jcee on August 21, 2020:
i miss my cat :( ,last night he was sleeping beside me then when i woke up hes gone ...i was literally crying whole day ,pls be safe and come home i miss you :(
Kate_nicky on August 17, 2020:
My cat has been missing when i was in holiday i Just NEEDED a vacation but i dont know where my cat is Last time i saw her she was realy sick and felt dead in the inside it May of heard me when i was talking to my maid that she gave me a Persia cat her name is chloe she is 1 year old and has a husband named snoopy
Ysabel on August 09, 2020:
My cat has been missing for 3 days. I really missed him. I hope that he is alright and nothing happened. I wish he could be back sooner. I've been crying for 3 days. Please come home.
Khaing on August 02, 2020:
I have a strong connection with a stray female cat for almost a year. I have known her since she was young. Now, she is 9 month old and she has three kittens. She loves me and I love her but I am a teenager so I do not have enough money to take care of her and her three kittens. So, I asked for help in fb gp and found a young couple who are willing to take care and adopt the cat family. But she kept running away from the couples when they got home. She ran away twice. In the first time, they found her within a day near their house but this time, they said they couldn't find her anywhere even near their house. It's been three days she doesn't come home. The couples take care of three kittens really well. The couple's house is 14 miles away from my home. I am so worry abt her. I really want her to come to her kittens. Pls help me.
Divya on August 01, 2020:
My cat is back ...I had been in search of her for all 4 days...I used to call her names...keep her favourite food everywhere. Asked a lot of people...and wherever they would say they saw , I used to out food there. I threw a whole bunch of cat food around my home...and her litter too ,so that one day she will smell and come back. And one night I heard her meowing....there she was...I found her. So don't give up...just keep searching and they will b back to u soon....thanks guys.
Divya on August 01, 2020:
Helo everyon... good news...my cat is back
Ochi on July 30, 2020:
my cat has been missing for a few days now, about 4 days since last seen, he is 1½ years old and usually comes back at night or hungry, but I havent seen him come home AT ALL, I even stayed up 24h just to see him! No signs that he came home, no urine, no cat food ate, no nothing, but he has his brother that is always at home and rarely comes out of the house, but he doesnt know where he is, even searching for him, im afraid i might lose him too
Divya on July 24, 2020:
My cat ran away in the night. I have just shifted to a new place and it's been only 4 days. She seemed to be adjusted to a new place since 1-2 days. She is 6 yrs old and is spayed and she is a very intelligent cat. She used to run away and come back everyday in my old house. This place is new so I'm worried if she will.b ok.and if she would return. I went in search of her and found her sitting on the roof of a building. Called her several times but she ran away from.there....and the place is not accessible. Called her many times....and I've made her litter trails around my house and placed food outside. I just hope she comes back soon.
Rea on July 23, 2020:
Here is an ironic confusing story. We rescued a kitten of the street and was Iiving with us in our apartment for 8 years and grew up with our 7 years old daughter and she is so attached to him. Now we moved country and brought him with us and staying with parents in law (who already owns 2 cats and 2 dogs) after few weeks he was feeling confident and happy to be able to be outdoors... He got missing for few days and we finally found him in a neighbors garden but he won't come back. We try to speak with the owner, apparently its a lady who feeds all street cats and she was not very helpful and said she doesn't have him and if a cat was treated well he doesn't leave the house. Which broke my heart and my daughter is missing him so. But I don't know what else to do (ps he is microshiped and we have all documents)
Bebo on July 23, 2020:
My cat is missing from today..she went outside the window..as she had the habit of going to next building..we have stopped her many times..but then she used to go and come back.. yesterday night she went out..I thought she would come back as usual..but she is missing ..she didn't return back..we used to love and pamper her like a kid..I don't understand where she has gone..m crying for her..God please send her back home..I care for her..I love her more than anything
sarah on June 28, 2020:
My cat haven't been home for 4 weeks and that's my only hope
Unknown on June 24, 2020:
My cat ran away and I have tried everything, I have not found any dead bodies, hair, or anything that would be a sine of my cat dyeing. What should I do?
Genie on June 17, 2020:
Last my cat went missing for three months, discontinued his insurance to stop buying his food and gave it away and then all of a sudden there he was back in my garage and he still here. ☺️
Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on June 13, 2020:
An enlightening article. Cats are very special beings, and I like having them around. We have a neighborhood cat who comes around and patrols our yard with our dogs. When I was a young boy, we had a cat that managed to travel 20 miles in two weeks, somehow finding my uncle's house. Thanks for the great information.
Sp Greaney from Ireland on June 13, 2020:
Years ago one of our cats went missing for few days. It was so stressful because you always think of the worse case scenarios. Then when they return, they act like they only being gone a few hours.
Marsha Hanson on June 06, 2020:
Don’t beat yourself up. You’ll be too busy ducking judgements of people who weren’t around when you needed them.
Catlover223 on May 17, 2020:
Ohh yeah sounds cool
Louise Elcross from Preston on May 11, 2020:
One of my cats went missing years ago. I had recently moved home and thought he might have gone back there so I backtracked every day and searched for him, I left messages with missing and found cat agencies and the council who remove cats that have been run over and I put notices with promises of a reward. On the ninth day of him missing, I was crying because I was scared for him and desperate to get him home. As I opened my back door I started to cry tears of joy because there he was, skinny, dirty and meowing.
Villy Fernandes I hope you find your cat soon. Thank you Layne for writing this.
Vanessa on May 06, 2020:
This was helpful. Thank you!
catlover223 on April 23, 2020:
hi we want to move away from where my cat grew up is it ok to do that?
Hayley on April 23, 2020:
My 7 year old cat has run away and he's been gone or a year. It can't be from old age as his brother is two years older and is still alive.
Fatimah on April 12, 2020:
My 7 months. Old male cat is missing from three months.some people from outside and some of our neighbors have seen him.why is he not coming backing home.and he is also wearing a collar will he be safe or not? Please advice?we love him soooo much
Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 15, 2020:
Hi Catrina, sorry to hear that. 5 months is pretty young for them to be going solo. Was he neutered?
Catrina on January 15, 2020:
Our mail cat has been lost from 1 months he is 5 months
Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 06, 2019:
Hi Lora, thanks for reading and I really appreciate you sharing your story!!! I'm glad that your cat ended up being okay, but that must have been terrifying and I know the procedure was certainly expensive. It's such a hard decision to make! My current cat would be so happy outdoors, but I live in an area with lots of dogs and car traffic (also—she gets along really well with my dog but I would worry she could approach an unfamiliar dog and get into trouble). It simply is too risky. I'm realllllly hoping to invest in or buy a nice outdoor cat patio for her to spend time on (like a chicken coop). I also have taken her out on her leash here and there but it's been very hot and there's been lots of construction, etc. I worry that she could startle. (She also is difficult sometimes to get a leash on!) I feel guilty not getting her out because I found her outdoors as a kitten. Anyhow, I'm glad you think this can be helpful to others! And a big YES on spaying/neutering!!!
Lora Hollings on November 05, 2019:
Great article, Layne, with a lot of good information about why cats run away or get lost. Spaying and neutering is one of the primary reasons for cats to go wandering particularly males, and this can lead to cats getting into dangerous situations and of course, we certainly don't need to add to the surplus pet population that puts even more of a burden on already crowded shelters.
I had a beautiful little Calico about 30 yrs. ago who was an outdoor/indoor cat. She was spayed, microchipped, had a tag on her and vaccinated, of course, and I had a very tall fence around my property and she never left my yard before. But one day she went off and I looked for hours all over the neighborhood for her and then I received a call late in the evening from some teenagers telling me they found her on the side of the road and she was unconscious and had blood leaking from her mouth! You can imagine my reaction! They told me where she was. I don't know how I got there as I was in such a state of panic. But anyway, when I arrived there, they had gone but Lottie was there. I immediately wrapped her up in warm blankets and took her to the emergency vet. It turned out, thank God, that only her jaw had been broken as a result of being hit by a car and they had to wire her jaw back together. It was a very expensive procedure, but I was so glad that she was still alive and it wasn't more serious. Anyway, she ended up living to 19 years of age and had no problems with eating. After that, she became an indoor cat only and all my cats after that have been kept indoors! There's just too many bad things that can happen to them outdoors. The catio space is a great idea where they can have the freedom of outdoor time without the danger. I think leash training your cat is also a good idea so they can get some exercise and experience the outdoors on walks. You did an excellent job on this well researched article that offers owners great advice and products to help them locate their pets!
Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 08, 2019:
Hi Desislava. I'm really sad to hear that your sweet boy is missing. At least know that cats generally are good at surviving. Sometimes they just go off and do cat things. I've heard stories of cats returning years later. Wishing you the best.
Desislava Trendafilova on October 08, 2019:
My cat missed from 4-th September.He is a boy 3 years old.I did castration when he was 1 year old.No matter of what i did I don’t find him.I will explode from sadness...
Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 07, 2019:
Hi P. So sorry to hear. Our neighbor is going through the same thing right now. We are searching for an orange tabby in the neighborhood—we miss him so much.
P on October 07, 2019:
Our indoor cat was just on our porch with us and a neighbourhood cat came who was friendly. However, it later ended up chasing off our caT yesterday and we’re just hoping he comes back.
Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 05, 2019:
Hi "LilyisLost" I'm so sorry to hear that your Siberian cat took off. I hope he or she turns up. Stay hopeful and certainly don't be hard on yourself as mentioned . . . cats have to do cat things!
LilyisLost9/18/19 on September 30, 2019:
This article was very comforting, especially the last paragraph. Our beautiful Siberian outdoor cat has been missing since 9/18 :-(