Understanding your cat’s roaming behaviour

Whether your cat enjoys a short stroll around the garden or a long, late-night prowl, many cats like going for a wander now and then. But what’s behind this urge to explore and how can we keep adventurous cats safe when they’re on the roam?

Cats love their independence and for many of them, this includes exploring their local environment. As a natural instinct, some cats will roam even if they have a full bowl of food at home. This doesn’t mean they don’t love our company, but roaming can cause owners to worry about their cat getting lost or hurt.

Why do cats roam?

Roaming is a completely normal behaviour because, quite simply, cats are curious! They love to keep themselves up to date with their environment and are always on the lookout for anything new. That way, they can make predictions about their safety and territory, and know where to hide if threatened by another cat.

Hormones can also be a strong driving factor, especially in cats that haven’t been spayed or neutered. Male cats will often roam far from home when looking for a mate. Some cats have a strong hunting instinct, which means they’ll be keen to find and catch prey, even if they have a bowl of food at home.  

How far do cats roam?

The distance individual cats can roam from their home varies enormously. Some cats may never leave their own garden, while others travel far and wide. But the average roaming distance is actually pretty small — at just 40 to 200 metres from home. 

Unsurprisingly, farm cats tend to roam the most, and can sometimes roam almost two miles away from their home. Cats in urban areas are less likely to roam as far and will often share their territory with other cats. To avoid conflict, they may only visit certain areas at specific times, to reduce the chances of them running into another cat whose territory overlaps their own.

How to stop cats roaming

Unless you decide to keep your cat indoors, you can’t stop the natural behaviour of roaming. But there are plenty of things you can do to keep your little explorer as safe as possible.

Making sure your cat is neutered or spayed will reduce the chances of them roaming far from home in search of a mate. It’s also important to make sure your cat is wearing a collar with an ID tag. Putting your name, address and phone number on the tag will help reunite you and your cat if they do get lost far from home. Choose a collar with a quick release buckle that will snap open if they get caught on something. Collars in bright or reflective colours can help keep your cat safer at night-time. Some collars say ‘Don’t feed me’, which can also help to keep cats closer to home.  

Make sure your cat is microchipped in case they lose their collar. You may even decide to add a GPS tracker to your cat’s collar. Trackers allow you to track your cat’s location so you know where they are even when they’re away from home. 

It’s also important to make sure your cat’s vaccinations are always up to date to protect them from contagious diseases they could be exposed to from other cats. If you think that keeping your cat indoors would be a better option, it’s best to consult your vet or an animal behaviourist for advice first. 

Training your cat to come home

Cats might be independent, but they’re also intelligent and generally they know where ‘home’ is. If you’re worried, however, there are a few different things you can do to encourage them to spend more time at home. Training your cat to return home when called means you can allow them out to explore with confidence. You can either call their name or use a sound they’ll learn to recognise, such as shaking their favourite packet of treats or tapping a spoon on their can of food. Start calling your cat when they’re close by and when they return, offer them a treat. Gradually increase the distance before you call them back. 

Ensure that your cat has all their essential resources spaced out across your home, eg litter tray, water bowl, food bowl, hiding places, elevated perches, and places to sleep. Also, consider whether your cat’s home environment is interesting and stimulating and, if not, add some entertainment that might encourage them to spend more time at home. Rotate the types of toys on offer, and try using a feeding ball or puzzle feeder to appeal to your cat’s hunting instincts.   

Is your cat a creature of comfort who likes to stay close to home, or are they an intrepid explorer who is always on the go? Head over to our Facebook page and join the conversation.

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