Why do cats run away? They often do: whether they’re missing for only hours or days at a time, most cat parents can confirm this type of behaviour in their felines. While cats have a very good sense of direction, it doesn’t mean that your cat will necessarily always return home. Understanding the reason why your cat runs away can help you to find a good solution to protect your cat’s safety and your peace of mind. So let’s talk about the top 10 answers to the question: why do cats run away as well as cover what you can do to prevent your cat from running away the next time.

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10 Reasons why cats run away

calico cat outside cat in heat

1. Reproductive instinct

The first reason why cats run away is their reproductive instinct – which is strong in female cats in heat as well as unneutered male cats.

As long as you have an unneutered male cat, he will definitely spend more time outdoors, searching for purrfect mating partners. Their very sharp senses will detect potential mating partners in the neighborhood and there is no fence high enough to stand in the way of your feline then. If they don’t find a suitable partner in the area, an unneutered cat may travel farther from home to do the deed.

The mating instinct in cats could lead to your feline buddy going missing for days at a time, or even getting into dangerous situations if they get lost, stuck, or injured far away from home. For peace of mind, nowadays you can easily track your cat and follow their every step with a GPS cat tracker.

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By having your cats fixed, their mating drive will be diminished so you won’t have to worry about them roaming the neighborhood in search of 😺. Neutering has the added benefit of making cats less likely to engage in aggressive feline behavior with other cats. In some places, neutering your cat is mandatory by law so check your country’s regulations, in order to make sure your feline is safe.

black cat stalking prey walking forward on mount of dirt outside

2. Hunting instinct or prey drive in cats

Another major reason why your cat is likely to run away from home is the natural and deeply ingrained hunting behavior of cats.

Naturally, the domesticated feline friends we share our houses with today share a genetic lineage with wild, big cats, who are expert hunters. It’s no secret that for most of history, cats big and small relied on hunting as a means to feed themselves and their young. And this strong, biological instinct did not just disappear when we started feeding our cats Fancy Feast.

So regardless of whether or not your cat already has enough to eat, they will most likely enjoy a good hunt – it’s an essential part of their cat-nature. Therefore don’t be surprised if your outdoor cat roams away from home on the hunt for some irresistible prey.

3. Territory

In general, a cats territory is the area where they spend their time – inside your home, backyard, maybe further. If your cat feels comfortable there, they will likely try to expand their territory by checking out the greater surrounding. They may also want to claim your neighbor’s yard, or the sunny spot with all those birds down the street. Cats are territorial, therefore they may try to defend their territory against other cats in the area.

So reason #3 why cats run away is: they’re claiming their kingdom and showing other cats who’s boss. The downside is that the bigger the cat’s territory, the more likely they are to come into contact with other cats, which can put them at risk of fighting and getting injured in a cat fight. Moreover, they’re more likely to be exposed to dangerous diseases, such as feline AIDS.

Also, neighboring cats may try to claim their territory in your backyard, which could easily cause your own kitty to try and find another safer yard. If your cat feels threatened in their own territory by another cat, they may not be around that much anymore.

If you’ve just moved and your cat is running away, they are likely searching for their old territory – so it pays to find the best way to safely relocate with your cat.

calico cat sniffing a bowl of cat treats held out by a person's hand on wooden deck outside

4. Cheating on you

Another likely explanation for why you can’t find your cat is that they are cheating on you with the neighbor down the road. Other friendly humans may have taken a liking to your kitty and begun feeding them, or even letting them inside their house regularly. Maybe they have tastier treats, or more interesting toys than you do at home. It’s not uncommon for a cat to have a ‘backup home’, especially if they’re being spoiled.

Find out where your cat goes with a GPS cat tracker, and if you find that your cat has a second home, politely ask your neighbors to not feed your kitty (too much). Put a safety collar with an ID tag on your cat; this way, it’s clear that they belong to your family and don’t get mysteriously ‘adopted’.

5. Pregnant cat giving birth

Speaking of cats in heat, if your cat successfully fulfills their mating instinct, you may have a pregnant cat on your hands. And it’s typical for pregnant cats to hide. Pregnant cats will often seek out a secluded, private and safe location to bring their kittens into the world. So if you have a stressful household, for example with dogs or children running around, don’t be surprised if your pregnant feline is nowhere to be found.

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6. Stress

Stress is another common reason why cats run away. Cats are creatures of habit – they don’t like changes in the household or to their routine. Moving the furniture around, welcoming a new pet or family member, home renovations or even just loud noises; these things and more can cause stress and anxiety in your kitty and may cause them to seek refuge elsewhere.

To help ease your cat’s stress in the face of big changes, check out these related articles:

7. Neglect or abandonment

Neglect and abandonment are two other potential reasons why your cat may not come home. If you are always leaving your cat home alone, or don’t provide them with enough food, water or anything else that they need to survive and live a good life, they may seek shelter, love and care elsewhere. Similarly if your home has been neglected, or you’ve failed to give your cat the care they need, they may run away from home.

Check out our guide on how to care for a new kitten or cat to make sure you’re properly providing for your feline furbaby. If you have outdoor cats, be sure to provide them with a warm place to stay in winter. Learn more about how to care for outdoor cats in winter.

8. Fear

Another common reason for a missing cat is, well, a scaredy-cat. If your cat gets scared off by something, their natural fear response may send them into fight, flight, or freeze mode. Flight: your cat will run for the hills. Freeze: your cat will stand still, probably hiding somewhere nearby, but they may be too scared to come out of hiding or make a sound. If you suspect that your cat was scared into fleeing or hiding, a GPS cat tracker is one of the most surefire ways to locate them and bring them home immediately.

cat wearing tractive gps cat tracker outdoors in grass
Pictured: Tractive GPS Cat Tracker

9. Sickness

Next, another natural cause of cats running away is sickness. When cats are ill, they prefer to go someplace isolated, concealed and quiet to recuperate on their own without any disturbances. And they may decide that the most peaceful spot for them is not on your property.

Hopefully, your cat will get well soon and be back home in no time. However that’s not always the case. Cats who are sick or injured are more vulnerable in the outdoors alone. They could catch the feline flu, for example, or become an easy target for a local predator. If your cat is on the verge of dying, they may wonder off in search of solitude and not be able to make it home again.

10. Curiosity

Finally, cats often run away just because they are inquisitive creatures who love to explore and follow their curiosities. Maybe your cat likes chasing the butterflies or insects in summer; maybe they got distracted by a friendly squirrel or neighbor kid. Especially if there is something enticing nearby, your cat is likely to roam away from home for hours to up to days. Even just nice weather is enough to cause them to leave your lap in search of some excitement.

So if you have a curious, exploring adventure cat, know that it’s 100% normal. But of course, there are certain safety measures we can take to protect our outdoor feline friends. This is especially important, because your cat may face certain dangers when they’ve gone missing out of your sight.

Good to know: While they’re trying to discover new places, be they distracted or just curious, many cats get stuck in various narrow places, such as fences, tubs, etc.

This is when a GPS tracker for cats proves very useful! This way, you will always know where kitty is and can help them immediately, in case you notice that they may be in trouble. Just tap the LIVE button in the app and see where your cat is anytime. Afraid that a tracking collar will create trouble to your curious feline? Not to fear! With the breakaway mechanism of the Tractive GPS Cat Tracker, the collar will immediately “break” apart in case of pressure and it can then be easily re-attached to your feline.

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Potential reasons why cats go missing and don’t come back

When cats run away, it’s often just for a few minutes, hours, or days at a time. Most likely they will return. According to studies, cats usually don’t travel further than a one mile radius of their home. When cats are missing for 2-3 days or less, they were probably just exploring their territory, seeking a mate, or hunting a prey.

However, sometimes, a cat goes missing and doesn’t return – they run away and disappear forever. Considering this, it’s important to be aware of some other potential reasons why your missing cat may not come back.

Natural predators

Cats may encounter predators and become prey themselves to these larger animals, so keep your cat indoors if you have dangerous natural predators of cats in your area. These may include cougars, mountain lions, wolves, coyotes, snakes, eagles, hawks and owls, depending on where you live. 🦅

Disease, injury or death

As mentioned above, outdoor cats are more susceptible to sickness and injury than indoor cats. That could come from disease-carrying ticks, other cats, toxic plants or mushrooms, predators, or other natural or man-made dangers. This is why it’s always a good idea to know where your cat is at all times.

Animal control

Another reason why your cat may go missing and not come back is if animal control picks them up. Maybe someone thought they were a stray, and called to have them picked up off the streets. So if you do have a lost cat, make sure you call your local animal control services to see if anyone has picked up your feline. Likewise you can call veterinarian offices and animals shelters to see if your cat somehow ended up there.

black and white cat standing outside in front of fence


Unfortunately, dognapping is on the rise and our feline friends may be affected by pet theft too. Professional cat thieves would most likely target expensive cat breeds, so they can sell the cat and make a profit. Therefore you should keep an extra close eye on your cat if they fall into one of those breeds.

Cat theft can also happen if someone sees your cat roaming the neighborhood and decides they want to make your furbaby their new pet. Microchipping can help prove that you are the rightful parent, should this happen and you can identify who took your cat. But it can be difficult to find your stolen cat if you have no way to track them in real time – unfortunately microchips won’t help with that but a GPS cat tracker can.

Intentional loss

Unfortunately, another reason why pets sometimes go missing is intentional loss. People who don’t wish our furry friends well may decide to dump the cat somewhere or even harm a cat. So if your feline is missing it may be a good idea to ask yourself if anyone you know may have done something to intentionally get rid of the cat. We hope this isn’t the case!

Picked up by a moving vehicle

Another common reason why wandering cats may go missing for a longer period of time is if they are accidently picked up by a moving vehicle. Maybe your cat crawled under the hood of a car, or inside the delivery guy’s van. This happened to our friend Kiwi the cat, who had an adventure in the back of a van before eventually being reunited with their family again. Thanks to Tractive GPS, Kiwi’s parents could see where he and bring him home safely. Stacy shared the story with us in her Trustpilot review:

Our cat Kiwi jumped into the back of a van (little to the drivers knowledge). After spotting on my phone that she had left her ‘virtual fence’ I noticed that she was moving quickly and along roads. She ended up travelling down the motorway, 15 miles away. With the Tractive App, I found her in a shopping centre car park in the back of the fish van. Without Tractive, who knows where Kiwi would be now…

Read the full story of Kiwi the cat saved by Tractive GPS
Source: Grimsby Telegraph

How missing cats find their way back home

It’s not all bad news when it comes to cats running away. It turns out, our feline friends may be experts at finding their way back home. Here are some factors which can help your feline friend return home on their own:

  • Homing instinct: a cat’s homing behavior is their ability to navigate back to a familiar location through unfamiliar areas. While it is not completely understood, it may have something to do with cats’ keen sensitivity to the Earth’s geomagnetic field, which helps them to figure out their way home1. However keep in mind that not all cats are equally skilled at homing; outdoor cats are more likely to have this ability than indoor cats.
  • Cat sense of direction: what helps make their homing instinct strong is cats’ extraordinary sense of direction. Using their advanced senses of smell, hearing and vision, as well as sensing the magnetic fields, cats have been known to find their way home from miles away. The presence of iron in cats’ ears and skin may act as a natural compass.
  • Psi trailing: in some remarkable cases, cats have been able to find their way back to a loved one, through unfamiliar territory to a destination previously unknown to the feline. This is called psi-trailing and there is not much of a scientific explanation for it – but some cat parents stories indicate that cats may have some way of tracking their parents and homing in on them, regardless of where they go.

These are three good reasons to remain hopeful that you will be reunited with your kitty again, even if they go missing. However, the further your cat roams and the longer they are missing, the less likely they are to be found. 😾

How to stop a cat from running off

Luckily, there are many things a cat parent can do to prevent a cat from running away from home. Even if you have the most adventurous outdoor cat, you have options to keep your feline safe and closeby. Here are some of the best tips for stopping a cat from running away:

  • Get them fixed: spay or neuter your cat to prevent them from running off. Many cat parents are able to worry less about their male cat going missing, once they’ve neutered their cat.
  • Keep your cat inside whenever possible, especially during cold months or at high prey activity times, like dawn and dusk.
  • Cat-friendly relocation: make your move a cat-friendly one.
  • Create a catio aka outdoor cat enclosure so your cat can enjoy the outdoors without the risk of getting lost.
  • Microchip your cat and make sure they have ID tags, so others people will know that your cat already has a family.
  • Entertain and keep your cat stimulated at home with healthy activities & play.
  • Limit your cat’s roaming space by setting up a Tractive GPS Virtual Fence: you’ll be notified if your cat crosses the boundary, and you can bring them inside.
Tractive GPS Virtual Fence for dogs and cats tutorial infographic
  • Minimize possible escape routes by securing your home, catio, or backyard to make it cat-proof.
  • Track everywhere your cat goes with a GPS cat tracker.
  • Train kitty to come home using positive reinforcement.
  • Be mindful of your cat during stressful changes at home – and give them the extra care they need.
  • Provide them with everything they need to thrive at home (food, water, toys, activity, love and healthy stimulation).
  • Use a harness and leash on walks with your cat outside.

How to find a lost cat

It’s no fun when our precious feline leaves our side and gets lost – we can feel helpless, scared, and worried about what might happen to our poor missing cat. Will they return home on their own? How long do cats go missing for?

Instead of wandering and waiting, it’s important to take action as soon as possible to bring your lost cat home again. Get all our tips for finding a lost cat, including a free lost pet poster download here: How to Find a Lost Cat – and Stop Them From Going Missing Again

Conclusion on why cats run away

In this article, we covered the 10 main reasons why cats run away. They are:

  • Reproduction
  • Hunting
  • Exploring territory
  • Visiting neighbors
  • Pregnancy
  • Stress
  • Neglect
  • Fear
  • Sickness
  • Curiosity

Additionally, cats may go missing and never come back back in cases where predators, disease and injury, animal control, theft, intentional loss, or other accidents happened.

Luckily, cats have several ways of finding their way back home if all is fine and they don’t get stuck, trapped, or injured. But to maximize your chances of finding a lost cat, you need to start looking right away.

You can prevent a cat from running away by getting them fixed, keeping your cat inside, using a catio, attaching a GPS cat tracker to your cat’s collar, and by providing them with a loving, nurturing and safe home atmosphere in which they can thrive.

For more info on if why cats run away and if they come back home, check out the video below:

What’s your cat’s favorite reason for running away?

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