by Barbara George, Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Although many cats do successfully find their way home there are still many that don’t. This article is a general overview of the ways a cat may find its way home, if it has a mind to do so.
Cats are territorial and will generally try to return to their home territory, mainly because they are familiar with it, providing that that territory offers security, shelter and food and there are no reasons to remain away.
If the cat is in the vicinity of its home territory, the first sense used is sight – can he recognise any feature where he is, and where is it in relation to home? This presupposes the cat has some knowledge of his close environment.
The sense of smell is also used to identify scents that can lead him home. Cats have an amazing sense of smell and can distinguish between odours that smell the same to us. They can smell their territory, the people and other pets who live there, and can also recognise smells that they could smell from home but are not actually part of their territory. All of these smells can help them to move in the right direction and eventually get back home.
Cats leave pheromone markers as they rub against items, and with the pads of their feet as they walk and scratch a tree or other surface. This can help them to backtrack to an area with which they are familiar.
Sounds are good leads too. As with the sense of smell, cats can identify familiar sounds, and the direction they are coming from, and use this to navigate towards home. Depending on the sound, such as traffic noise, this can also lead them in the wrong direction.
Free-roaming and feral cats have the need to create maps of the area in their heads in order to find the fastest and safest way back to safety from any point. Indoor cats do not have this option, unless extensively walked on a leash in the area.
In addition to using these senses, it is believed that cats have a magnetic sense of home, similar to bees. They relate to the magnetic field of the earth and use their knowledge of the magnetic position of home to navigate back.
The reverse of finding their way home, finding an owner or carer at a new and previously unknown location, called physic- or psi-trailing, has been documented for a few cats. The scientific explanation for this is Bell’s Theorem, which proposes that ‘all electrons function in pairs, with each electron spinning in the opposite direction of the other electron’, and may occur where there is an exceptional bond between a cat and his owner. This can be seen as similar to magnetic tracking, except the object is a person, rather than a place.
There is some doubt as to the ability of animals to use the magnetic field or Psi-trailing over vast distances; it has been said that at every point there are at most 4 ways to travel (forward, left, right, or backwards), so there is a 25% chance of an animal choosing the correct direction at any point.
In order to return home safely and successfully certain conditions must be present. The cat must want to return home, he must have the knowledge of where home is, he must be free to move, he must be fit enough and receive sufficient food and water en route, he must have experience of using his mental map and/or magnetic sense, and he must be in a mental state to deal with the journey.