The most likely reason why a cat runs away from home is being in heat.
But there are other reasons too that range from a stressful environment, significant changes in their living situation to illness, giving birth and more.
Reasons Cats May Run Away
Some of the primary reasons a cat may run away are:
1. Sexual Instincts
If your cat has not yet been neutered or spayed, he or she might want to go outside simply because of their hormonal instincts.
Most cats reach their sexual maturity around the age of 6 months, but if you live in a relatively warm area of the country, this might happen when they’re five months old.
But an important aspect is that cats are seasonally polyestrous, which means that they don’t just go into heat in the spring and the autumn. As such, cats can cycle anytime between January to late October.
The heat period can last anything from one week to 10 days or more. Males usually go into heat because of the scent they get from females.
For example, if you have a spayed female in your home but your male is not neutered, he might want to go outside to mate with another female.
Getting your cats ‘fixed’ before they reach sexual maturity can prevent a number of health issues and can also make it less likely for them to want to run away.
2. They May Run Away To Give Birth
There are many cats that give birth indoors, and there’s nothing wrong with this, but sometimes, pregnant females might have marked their territory in specific places outdoors, and they might feel safer there than in your home.
If you know that your cat is getting close to the end of her term, keeping her exclusively indoors is the right way of going about things. Most cats will find a spot they prefer in your apartment or house if they have nowhere else to go.
Make sure that your cat is as comfortable as possible, with plenty of fresh water and food available and a clean litter box in her space.
If you have recently changed homes, taken your cat to the vet on a regular basis, or started living with someone else, your cat is likely to experience some amount of stress.
If he or she is used to going outside every day, they might feel better outdoors rather than indoors.
More often than not, making some improvements to your living situation can solve the issue.
But some cats will return and make changes in their behavior so that they can cope with the stress-inducing factor as best as possible.
Consulting an animal behaviorist can sometimes help, so do keep that in mind.
4. Hunting Instincts
If you allow your cat to go outdoors and there might not be enough entertainment opportunities in your home (such as cat trees, cat patios, toys, or anything else), she might have to look for them elsewhere.
Cats are natural-born predators, so they need to have their hunting instincts stimulated every day.
If you tend to be away from home for many hours during the day, even if you are tired by night, you need to make sure you play with your cat — as this eliminates boredom and prevents your cat from getting depressed.
It also makes it less likely for your pet to want to go outside for several days in a row.
Intact males and females mark their territory more than their spayed and neutered counterparts.
This means that if your cat is used to going outside and he/she sees that another cat has been marking the same territory, they need to be on top of their game and protect their space as best as possible.
Keeping your cat indoors only from the minute you adopt her can prevent this mishap.
6. Pure Curiosity
Cats are more curious than any other animal species that exist in the world.
But if you know the saying ‘Curiosity killed the cat’, you probably know that this feature can be dangerous for your pet.
Most outdoor cats go on walks and mark their territory, and it is normal for them to do this almost daily.
But if your cat ventures away from your home, she can also get in trouble — like getting stuck somewhere.
It’s sad to think about it, but cats have a limited life just like people do.
So, when they feel that they are approaching the end of their life, most cats will go outside, and you might never even see them again.
On the other hand, your cat could get sick or sustain trauma while being outdoors, and there’s no way you can help them if you do not know their location.
If you can’t convince your cat to live indoors only, getting a pet tracker might solve your problem.
If you can’t afford one, at least get your pet microchipped at the vet clinic and fit her with an ID collar so that if someone finds her, they can call you.
8. New family members
This is another possible reason why cats tend to run away, at least for several days at a time.
Whether there’s a human friend that you have staying with you or you have adopted another cat that your older one now has to share her space with, cats might try to find solace somewhere else.
For the first two to three weeks after getting a new pet, you should try to keep both indoors.
Also, getting them acquainted needs to happen gradually, so we suggest keeping the two cats in separate rooms so that they can get used to each others’ smells and only then meet for the first time.
In a household where two cats live, there should be two or three litter boxes and at least one food and water dish for each.
If you have recently had a baby, your cat might feel neglected or like she is now competing with the baby for your attention — so she could look for attention and affection elsewhere.
How far can a cat travel?
Male cats tend to wander a bit farther compared to females.
There have been cases where cats have traveled for impressively long distances and got back home successfully.
The average territory that a male can cover and mark as their own is about 150 acres. For females, that figure is much lower since they usually mark about 42 acres around their homes.
Female cats are less curious compared to their male counterparts, so they’ll usually travel for about 750 feet (230 meters) from home. By contrast, males tend to travel for at least 1,000 feet or even 1,500 feet from home (up to 500 meters).
These numbers are not universal for every cat in the world since as any pet owner will know, their temperament and behavior can vary a lot from one animal to another.
A study by Missing Animal Response showed that most outdoor cats travel on a 17-house radius from their homes.
How to stop your cat from running away
First of all, the best way of preventing your cat from running away is to get her used to living indoors at all times.
Indoor cats are much healthier than outdoor ones simply because they don’t come in contact with predators, large or small, and they also have fewer opportunities to catch infections from other animals, including cats.
On the other hand, getting an older cat used to this situation can be more challenging than doing the same with a kitten.
If you’ve adopted an adult or senior cat and they’re used to going outdoors, microchipping them and fitting them with an ID tag is the best piece of advice we can give you.
Spaying and neutering your cat can also eliminate part of the problem, not to mention that it also makes it less likely for your pet to get into fights with other cats.
You can also try to train your cat to always come back home by giving him or her treats, calling their name, or ringing a bell that can also be associated with snacks or toys.
It takes time to train her in this way, and cats can often be stubborn, but they have to know that your home is the safest and cosiest place they can come back to.
Additionally, you can train your pet to walk on a leash, and some breeds, such as the Maine Coon, are known to take this up quite well.
Finally, making your house or apartment as cat-friendly as possible can convince your cat to go outside less often. Make sure you have enough toys or accessories like cat trees and cat perches throughout your home.
What to do if your cat’s missing
It’s perfectly normal to feel concerned if your cat has been missing for more than 24 hours, but it can occur every now and then for any of the reasons that we’ve already described.
Try to be patient, put out some food, and leave a window open so that your cat can get inside your house even when you aren’t paying attention.
If your cat doesn’t come back in 24 to 48 hours and if she is microchipped, call your veterinarian and ask them how you can go about things.
Tagged cats can be found a lot easier and faster compared to those that haven’t been microchipped.
When all else fails, you should probably talk to your neighbours and post flyers in your area with a photo of your cat so that in case someone sees her, they can call you and tell you her whereabouts.
More than half of cats that regularly go outdoors have strong homing instincts, so if they can, they usually come back on their own.
Do keep in mind that some cats can have double personalities and might have another home they might be spending their time in.
There have been cases before of neighbours believing they’re the owners of the same cat!
Cats can run away from home for a number of reasons, whether because of their territorial or reproductive instincts or as a result of being stressed indoors.
It is our responsibility to keep cats as safe and sound as possible and prevent them from becoming lost in the future.
Microchip your pet and fit her with an ID collar so that you can find your cat in case she disappears in the future.