by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Having a cat go missing is a traumatic situation for the whole family, people and other pets included. Cats may be missing from our homes; they are not lost as they know exactly where they are. What we term a ‘missing’ or ‘lost’ cat is a cat that is not where it should be, i.e. an absent cat.
There are many articles with advice on how to keep your cat safe and how to look for her when she is missing. Studying how and why she left may help to find her – when and where was the opportunity and what was the motive?
With our lifestyle many cats tend to be allowed outdoors unsupervised. This affords the opportunity to move off the property; cats are masters at escaping and can usually find a way through any barrier we construct. Indoors-only cats find opportunities when doors and windows are left open; if they don’t know the immediate outside vicinity it is less likely they will find their way home safely.
Here are some of the reasons cats move around. Since each cat, situation and environment are different there is no specific order to the list. This does not cover cats that have died, on the road, taken by other predators, or deliberately killed.
- Unneutered cats, male and female, look for mates.
- Both male and female cats own territory. If there is not sufficient or attractive territory available at home they will look elsewhere.
- Other cats looking to take over territory can chase established cats out of their homes.
- Hunting or playing with focus; following the prey item without concern for where it is going.
- Chased by a dog, person, or frightened by a noise; cats tend to run for safety first then look where they are.
- Returning to previous territory after move; outdoor cats often relate more to territory than to family and will try to go back to their previously-owned territory.
- Looking for previous owner; cats that are strongly attached to a person may try to locate that person when they move away from home on a permanent basis (not when they go out to work or school each day).
- Panic or fear as a result of in incident at home, including noises; this can be anything from fireworks to a new baby.
- Stress; often from living in a multi-animal household or a home where there is any form of abuse, not necessarily towards them.
- Bold and adventurous cats, especially kittens, want to explore the world and may not find their way home easily.
- Following a family pet; when animals have a very close bond and one is given away another may attempt to find it. This applies across species, not restricted to cat-to-cat relationships.
- Escape from carrier away from home; at the vet, groomer, when travelling.
- Unintentionally transported; curious cats can climb into vehicles and be taken far from home without anyone knowing they are on board.
- Resources not found at home. Cats have a need for food, safety, shelter, and water, if they do not have these at home they will look elsewhere.
- One way routes happen when a cat can move off your property in a direction but not be able to return the same way, for example a high wall. They need to find another way home and overcome obstacles on the way.
- Quiet space or company; cats living in a busy or multi at household may find a quote corner somewhere else to rest. Cats that are very people-orientated may look for company while you are out and may not be aware when you return.
- Sick, injured or dying animals prefer to be away from others as a protection mechanism as they instinctively feel vulnerable to attack. These cats can be hard to find as they will generally not answer calls.