Once again, there seem to be frequent reports of missing cats.

This is an inevitable and nerve-wracking experience that almost every cat owner endures. Cats are naturally territorial. Youngsters need to mark out their own kitty kingdom and sometimes that journey takes them way off the beaten path.  Alas, there is truth in the adage “curiosity killed the cat.”  I know because my childhood kitten wandered into a removals van, never to be seen again.

Cats that enjoy hunting, or that are un-neutered, may develop surprisingly large ranges; intact tom cats may roam for up to 5 miles. A minority of cats are kept indoors. Many city cats are neutered and learn to patrol and defend a tiny range, often only the back garden. However, most cats will want to defend their little patch from neighbouring cats. This can be constant and stressful. Inexperienced and shy cats may flee to avoid confrontation, running outside their range and safety zone. It is at this point cats can go missing.

Missing cats tend to fall into two camps: the displaced or truly lost. Indoor cats get spooked and escape the home, others exit to chase something they have spied through the window.  Having bolted, the cat then finds himself in unfamiliar territory and fear prompts him to find the best hiding place he can- squeezing under sheds, behind walls, even up drainpipes. This type of cat may go missing for days, but chances are he is very close by, just too scared to reveal himself.

Outdoor/ hunter cats or sexually motivated cats are a slightly different proposition. These cats will have travelled further from home, but the issue of displacement is still key. All it takes is a nasty or scary confrontation for the cat to run and find itself in unfamiliar territory, forced take cover in the best hiding place it can find. The strong advice is neuter your cat to reduce roaming.

The length of time a displaced cat goes missing varies, much depends on the individual cat’s personality and at what point it is prepared to break cover, meow, and reveal itself to the outside world- at which point it is more likely to be found. Bold cats reach this threshold quickly, timid types may take up to twelve days, at which point the need for water probably overrides other survival instincts. What unites all the cases of displacement is that the cat wants to get back home, he is just too scared to try.

The ‘lost’ cat, is the cat that does not want to be found or to return. Some cats are determined, voluntary migrants set on a new home; inability to get along with other cats around is often the cause. Cats in pain, ill or injured, go into full defence mode, and hide from the world.

On the whole cats do not run away; territorial by nature they just freak when they find themselves on unfamiliar ground and take cover. It can be no surprise that the largest percentage of missing cats is made up of those who have just moved to a new home.

Next time – what to do when your cat goes missing.


Photo by Alex Nicolopoulos Unsplash