Losing your cat can be a terrifying experience. With all the reasons they have to run away, you as a loving cat parent, want to ensure their safety every step. So if you’ve turned up here wondering – how long do cats go missing for? – you’re not alone. Because how long is too long – when should you be worried? And do cats come back home if they run away?

While the exact answer is difficult to pin down, it can depend on the reasons your cat ran away from home in the first place. And more importantly, why they’re staying away. So we’re going cover the different reasons why cats stay away from home, how long is normal for them to stay away, and the best way to prevent your cat from going missing.

Do cats come back home if they run away?

So – do lost cats come home? It’s understandable to ask if your kitty has recently gone missing. And the good news is: cat’s do have a homing instinct that can help them find their way back home. No matter if your cat prefers the indoors or exploring the great outdoors, they all have a homing instinct.1

This is why we recommend socializing younger cats and newly rehomed cats plenty of time to get used to the outdoors. It firstly benefits them tremendously from being out in nature. Secondly, it also helps your cat familiarize themselves with the natural environment around their “home base”. So it’s easier for them to make their way back to you.

So do cats come back home if they run away? Yes, possibly. Their natural senses and instincts can help them plenty. But since each cat and situation are unique, there is no simple answer to this question. Cats love independence, are very individualistic, and like to make their own decisions. They are true adventurers and love to discover new things. For them, being outdoors is an enriching and rewarding experience.

But here’s the good news. Even if you have a roaming kitty on your hands, many cats who wander away from home may find their way back and return eventually. And if you take an active role in searching for them, your chances of finding your cat alive and well are higher.

We cover a bunch of tips to find a lost cat fast – and prevent this from happening again with the help of, for example, a GPS cat tracker. Which you can use to locate your cat in real-time with just a glance at your phone – and no matter where you are in the world.

How do cats find their way home?

When a cat goes missing, their sense of smell and memory of familiar landmarks can help them navigate back home. But it’s important to note that this can vary from one cat to another. Some important factors include how far off they’ve wandered, how old they are, and their previous experiences.

With a dedicated pet GPS tracker, you never need to worry about how far your cat wanders off. Tractive’s unlimited range and LIVE tracking helps you stay on top of your missing cat’s location – every 2-3 seconds. Or you can set up a “safe zone” which immediately alerts you if your cat ventures past it. Helping you intervene right on time – and ensure your cat’s safety.

Tractive CAT Mini GPS tracker with a safety collar

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See where they are in real-time, no matter how far they go. Get alerts if they roam too far home. Find out where they’ve been and discover their favorite spots. Let others track with you.

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How long do cats go missing for? And why do they stay away from home?

Cats run away for a whole bunch of reasons. But more importantly – why do they stay away? Here are a couple of reasons why:

Why your cat is staying awayHow long do cats go missing for?
Cats stay away much longer in summer than in winter.
A few hours
Younger cats tend to be on the road longer and go on larger explorations.
Several hours
Outdoor cats:
They explore their surroundings and can be on the road for a very long time.
Hours to days
Cats in heat:
If not neutered and just in heat, their only mission is reproduction.
Days to 1 week
Cats are territorial – so they might find themselves in a turf war or two. Your cat may be injured and not make it home.
Days to months
Your cat might not find their way back (e.g. if they haven’t sufficiently adjusted to the new home after moving).
New family:
Your cat has found a place where she feels more comfortable than with you. (Most likely if one of your neighbors has been feeding them.)
In rare cases, your cat might return.
Sick cats:
Cats are more likely to masks signs of illness and discomfort. So they might hide away – sometimes in a far-off place where they feel more secure. At times, they might not return because their health condition might have changed for the worse.

It can be difficult getting a clear answer when you might not know the reasons your cat ran away in the first place. And sometimes, cats might go missing from a few hours to days, weeks, months, or even years. So keep an eye out for your cat’s regular behaviors. (Like, for example, if they seem more restless or lethargic than before. It could hint that they’re struggling with a sickness.) If you spot a change, it could indicate why they might run or stay away from home.

When should you start worrying about your missing cat?

The periods of time described above are intended as a guide, but they can differ from cat to cat. But as a general rule, start your search within 12 hours of your cat going missing. Past the 90-day mark, it’s less likely you’ll find your lost cat alive.

If your cat is used to a certain routine, it knows when there is something to eat at home and will return at this time, in the evening at the latest. And here’s some good news – a 2018 study found that 61% of missing cats were found within one year. 34% were found (alive) within a week.

A physical search is one of the most successful ways to find a missing cat.2 So the faster you get started with your search, the better your chances for finding them.

grey cat close up of face

Checklist: What you can do to quickly find your lost cat

  • Call out your cat’s name. Keep some of their favorite food around the house to lure them in.
  • Search your immediate area. Watch out for dark hiding places, tall trees and roofs.
  • Ask neighbors, especially other cat owners.
  • Check with the municipality or road maintenance department whether a dead cat was found on the street.
  • Get in touch with your local animal welfare organizations and shelters in the area to see if a cat has been found and / or given in.
  • Distribute flyers in your neighborhood (if necessary, place an advertisement in the local newspaper or in a daily newspaper)
  • Share a photo of your missing cat on your social media channels. Encourage your friends and family to distribute it as much as possible.

Read more tips to find a lost cat here.

Tip: We’d recommend searching again after sunset. Cats that are frightened and have hidden somewhere often only dare to leave their hiding place in the dark. (Because they’re nocturnal by instinct – so more energetic around nighttime.)

How tracking your cat’s health can prevent them from running away

Sick cats might be more likely to hide or run away – but how do you find out they’re sick in the first place? Here’s how: with regular activity and sleep tracking. Besides locating your cat in real-time, Tractive’s Wellness Monitoring helps you stay on top of your cat’s health and wellbeing. Which can help you intervene and prevent your cat from running away when they’re sick or injured.

With regular activity and sleep tracking, you can get a picture of your cat’s regular movements and quality of sleep. So you can more easily spot a change – and get your cat to a vet before they decide to run off. Cats tend to favor secluded spots where they feel safe. But they might wander off too far and end up somewhere dangerous instead.

Even a cat who might seem happy and healthy might be struggling with a sickness. Here’s a story from one of Tractive’s pet parents who spotted a change in her cat’s usual behaviors – and avoided a medical emergency:

“With the Tractive GPS, I found out one night that she’d only made one little trip to the park, slept all night – and didn’t really do much during the day.

On the second night, she didn’t leave the garden at all. Which struck me as odd, since she’s an outdoor cat and on the move quite often.

So I decided to check her up to see if she was sick – or had something else going on. When I picked her up, the pus oozed over my hand from the abscess bursting!

Without Tractive, I wouldn’t have noticed it at all. I would still see her walk around to drink and feed and think everything is okay. I might only have noticed when I didn’t see her stroll over for a whole day.

At which point, she’d probably have been dangerously sick.

We went to the vet a few hours later – she had a serious fever, a big abscess, and was pretty sick already. So we got it in time.

A whole week of antibiotics – and now she’s herself again.

Tractive is also very handy for when you need to give your pets their medication. All I have to do is check where she is and call her over to give her the antibiotics.

So why risk your cat going missing from home because they’re trying to manage their sickness by themselves? With a little vigilance, you can help prevent their health condition from worsening – which can make your cat run away from home as a result. So you can get your cat the help they need – right when they need it most.

Sebastian Raab, Product Manager at Tractive

“Everything we build puts pets and pet parents first. It’s why we’ve built one device that tracks all aspects of your pet’s safety, from location to wellness. So you can holistically keep them both safe and happy.”

– Sebastian Raab, Product Manager at Tractive & occasional pet sitter

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“Call a cat” – training your cat to get home quickly

Cats are headstrong but very intelligent animals. They might not be able to learn to walk at heel like dogs. But they can come to you when you call. If your feline friend is outdoors, here’s a practical guide to teaching them to respond to “Come”:

  • Select a specific command to call them. (For e.g. “Mitsi! Come!”)
  • Reward your cat immediately (with a treat or a pat) when they respond. It might take some time for your cat to pick up on it. So be extra mindful you’re rewarding them at the right time.
  • If your cat doesn’t respond, lure them in with some toys. (But avoid treats. Only reward those when your cat responds to your verbal command.)
  • If your cat comes to you without you saying “Come” – ignore them. You want to teach your cat to associate the sound of your voice and “Come!” with a treat.
  • Practice, practice, practice – several times a day over a longer period of time. It can take several weeks for your cat to learn the exercise. But if it means ensuring your cat’s safety, it’s worth it.

Cats are creatures of habit. Which means if you always call them at the same time, they will develop a familiar routine. So an ideal time to practice this command is during evening mealtimes.

Another excellent, practical training option is cat clicker training. Your voice might be inconsistent at times – but the sound of the clicker isn’t. So it can help you communicate your expectations more clearly to your cat. And since it’s built on positive reinforcement, it can help you deepen your bond with your feline friend that much better.

How cat parents around the world have complete peace of mind – with Tractive

Few experiences are as panic-inducing as finding your cat missing. And like any loving cat parent, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have complete peace of mind as your cat explores and wanders around? Tractive pet parents around the world are using their trackers to stay on top of their cat’s locations – and find them no matter where they roam.

Here’s the story of Nala, an adventurous outdoors cat who went missing late one evening. With a little help from Tractive’s LIVE tracking, her parents Michel and Anja found her soon after in an empty, partially-constructed house:

In Michel’s words:

A cat wearing a Tractive GPS tracker outdoors

“We went into LIVE Mode and…ran towards the location Tractive GPS had pinpointed. We came to an empty house that was still under construction.”

 At that point, we had already given up hope and thought that we were never going to be able to find her. So, out of desperation, I shouted out her name.

“And she responded! Nala started screaming as soon as she heard our voices...our little furball managed to pull it together and we finally took her home. After a little comfort food and some cuddling, her world had been restored to normal.

“We are both so very thankful that this day – after a few hiccups – had such a happy ending. The fact that Tractive GPS even worked inside that empty house completely saved us and really turned this thing around. I love Tractive for keeping our cats safe.

Here’s the full story of Michel, Anja, Nala’s adventure – and how her Tractive tracker helped her return home safely. And with your very own GPS tracker for cats, you’ll never have to experience the pain of losing your little furball ever again.

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Got a neighbor who’s been feeding your cat? Here’s the heartwarming story of Bernie, an outdoor explorer whose wandering landed him a new family several miles away. And was safely returned to his mum soon after – with a little help from his trusty Tractive GPS.