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Can Cats Find Their Way Home If Lost?

There’s no question about it. Cats are a bit weird.

To call them quirky and unique would be a total understatement. It’s as if they have real-life superpowers and abilities when compared to other domesticated animals. But — in true cat fashion — they’ll only use them when it’s convenient for them.

One of these seemingly unnatural abilities they have is their homing instinct. Cats have an uncanny talent to find their way home. For example, a one-eyed cat named Ginger made its way back home after being lost in a blizzard five miles away!

So, the question is, how can cats find their way home if lost? What about them makes their homing abilities so keen?

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Why is a Cat’s Homing Instinct So Strong?

First, you need to understand that cats aren’t fully domesticated animals. If anything, they’re really only halfway there — and that doesn’t look like it’s changing anytime soon. And cats are instinctive wanderers, perhaps driven by an even stronger curiosity.

This combo of curiosity and wanderlust may be why cats have naturally developed several ways to enhance their homing instinct.

A cat lost in the urban jungle
Image Credit: AM.studios, Shutterstock

Can Cats Find Their Way Home When Lost?

There’s really no clear-cut explanation for why cats have such a strong sense of direction of navigation. As a matter of fact, most scientists believe it’s a culmination of different factors that give felines this super-sense. However, none of them are actually hard-proven.

The first theory involves the use of their powerful sense of smell and rubbing or urine markers. While dogs will still remain “top dog” when it comes to having the strongest sense of smell, you still can’t count out cats. To put this in perspective, humans have five million different scent receptors in our noses whereas cats possess 80 million. And if you’ve owned a cat before, you know firsthand just how much scent-marking they do, especially with things that they claim to be theirs—chairs, tables, toys, and even you!

Another great theory as to why cats can easily find their way home is because they can detect magnetic fields within the earth. Like most mammals, their ears contain a substantial amount of iron. Some experts believe that this iron actually acts as an internal compass that cats can use to orient their way home.

What Do Cats Do When They Wander Off?

Your cat probably didn’t wander off because it didn’t care for you or your way of life. It’s actually hardwired into their nature. Remember that old phrase, “curiosity killed the cat”?

That’s because they’re among the most curious and nosy creatures on Earth! Even when at home, your cat may want to help you out with everything you do or try to get in the middle of every conversation. Or at the very least, they’ll spy on what’s going on from a watchful perch.

So, when your cat wanders off, it’s probably because they’re just out exploring their surroundings. They have a huge wanderlust and cover huge swathes of ground without even realizing it. Not to mention, they have an extremely high prey drive. Chasing small insects, lizards, or rodents can keep some cats entertained all day. So, if you’re cat does wander off, you don’t need to worry about them going hungry. They’ll be alright until you find them again.

Beautiful well-groomed cat is lost

Helping Your Cat Find Its Way Home

Not all cats are built the same. And if you’ve raised a strictly indoor cat, their homing senses might not be as sharp as indoor/outdoor or outdoor-only cats. That’s why you should take preventative action just in case.

Ensure that your cat wears a collar with a set of sturdy identification tags. You don’t want to choose a set of long dangling tags or tags with weak linkages. If these were to snag on something, they may fall off of the collar and completely defeat the point.

Next, make sure you have your loved one microchipped. This requires a small procedure at the vet. Your vet will insert a microchip just below the skin of your cat in case they ever get picked up by animal control or a concerned citizen. And this isn’t super painful either. It’s just the same as your cat having its blood drawn for routine tests.

But microchipping is only one part of this tracking system. You’ll need to actually register your information on the chip. There are so many stories of people getting their cat (or dog) microchipped and losing them because they never actually registered their info.

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Final Thoughts

If you’re reading this because your cat has scampered off one day, don’t panic. Start by going through all the steps to retrieve them, but trust that if you have a collar and a microchip for them, and a little bit of trust in a cat’s keen homing instincts, you’ll see your furry friend again in no time.


Featured Image: Gansstock, Shutterstock