How Far Do Cats Travel?

While the behavior of lost cats is likely to differ from that of outdoor-access or free-ranging (stray, feral or farm) cats, we can still learn something from studying their normal movement patterns.  In this post, I want to focus on research studies that measured how far cats normally traveled within their home ranges and the maximum distances they traveled from their homes.

First let’s get an idea of the distances traveled for suburban outdoor-access house cats.  The average distance traveled for outdoor-access cats was only 47 meters (155 ft).  I calculated this as the weighted mean of three studies; Meek 2003 (wandering cats = 34 m and sedentary cats = 9 m), Morgan et al. 2009 (mean = 72 m), and Schmidt et al. 2007 (mean = 31.2 m).  In comparison, Barratt (1997) found that the average maximum distance that outdoor-access cats traveled from their home was 311 m (0.2 miles) with a range of 20 m (65 ft) to 940 m (0.6 miles).  Interestingly, Morgan et al. (2009) also found that cats younger than six years old traveled significantly farther and had larger home ranges than older cats.

Since outdoor-access cats in suburban areas generally have small home ranges, we can get a better idea of the distances cats are capable of traveling by looking at movements of free-ranging farm cats in rural areas.  Liberg (1980) found that farm cats in Sweden rarely traveled farther than 600 m (0.4 miles) from their home farm.  In comparison, Warner (1985) found that farm cats in Illinois traveled an average maximum distance of 1,697 m (1 mile) from the farm with a range of 956 m (0.6 miles) to 3,013 m (1.9 miles).  Germain (2008) found similar distances for farm cats in France with two cats that traveled 1,500 m (0.9 miles) and 2,500 m (1.6 miles) from the farm in a single outing.

It is important to keep in mind that all of these measurements are the straight-line distance that the cat traveled, and they do not tell us how far the cat actually walked.  In reality, cats may walk considerably farther each day/night than these numbers indicate.  One free-ranging (intact) male cat in rural Spain was continuously tracked for two 12-hour tracking periods (Palomares 1994).   During one 12-hour tracking period, he walked 4,076 m (2.5 miles), but he stayed in the vicinity of one house.  They don’t specify how far from the house he traveled, but 73.9% of his locations (over 5 months) were within 400 m (0.2 miles) of a house.  This is the only published study I could find that calculated actual distance traveled.

In a future post, I intend to look at dispersal distances of free-ranging cats and what dispersal can teach us about lost cat behavior.  Dispersal occurs when a cat leaves its current home range in search of a new home range.

Literature Cited

Barrat, David.  1997.  Home range size, habitat utilisation and movement patterns of suburban and farm cats Felis catus. Ecography 20(3): 271–280.

Germain, E., S. Benhamou, and M.-L. Poulle .  2008.  Spatio-temporal sharing between the European wildcat, the domestic cat and their hybrids. Journal of Zoology 276(2): 195-203.

Liberg, O.  1980.  Spacing patterns in a population of rural free roaming domestic cats.  Oikos 35: 336-349.

Meek, Paul.  2003.  Home range of house cats Felis catus living within a National Park. Australian Mammology 25: 51-60.

Morgan, S.A., C.M. Hansen, J.G. Ross, G.J. Hickling, S.C. Ogilvie, and A.M. Paterson.  2009.  Urban cat (Felis catus) movement and predation activity associated with a wetland reserve in New Zealand.  Wildlife Research 36: 574-580.

Palomares, Francisco and Miguel Delibes.  1994.  A note on the movements of a free-ranging male domestic cat in southwestern Spain. Hystrix 5 (1-2): 119-123.

Schmidt, Paige, Roel Lopez, and Bret Collier.  2007.  Survival, fecundity, and movements of free-roaming cats. Journal of Wildlife Management 71(3): 915-919.

Warner, Richard.  1985.  Demography and movements of free-ranging domestic cats in rural Illinois. Journal of Wildlife Management 49: 340-346.

20 thoughts on “How Far Do Cats Travel?”

  1. Correction: I made an error in my original calculation of the average distance traveled by suburban outdoor-access cats. I mistakenly put down the average distance for Schmidt et al. (2007) as 72 m and this is the average home range area radius. The average distance traveled was actually only 31.2 m, which changes the weighted mean for all the studies from 55 m (180 ft) to 47 m (155 ft).

  2. Pingback: Cats – Where do you go to my lovely? | Go South Online

  3. This was kool reading for me. i did have a gray tabby outdoor cat come up to me in
    2011 and he died 11-09-13 this year. but i fed him and watched him leave and always wondered were all does he go for like when he wonders off in the woods and goes to the neighbors what does he do while being their. well hes dead now because some truck smashed his head in when he was on the side on the road and the truck wanted to speed around a car and that’s how he got hit.

  4. know what i should have done was put a tracking collar on the cat
    then i could have seen where all he went to and also how far.

  5. may first he just suddenly vanished
    I been searching ever scince then. I call him at night I go all over. for 4 miles.
    n ormaly he hangs out in the neighborhood. no one knows anything all cat places cat shows
    friends of felines the lot of those groups.
    could he have started his own domain. and how far would he go to do that.

  6. My male neutered cat of 10 years has been missing for one week as of today. No sign of him . Posted signs everywhere.
    What can I be expecting at this time? Will he be back? He once was free ranging. When he came up on our deck 10 years
    ago, we made him an indoor cat. Was very happy here. Last week the sliding door was left unlocked and he got out. We miss
    him terribly

    1. I’m sorry to hear that your cat is missing. I would recommend reading some of the resources available on the Lost Pet Behavior page: https://lostpetresearch.com/lost-pet-resources/lost-pet-behavior/. If you are looking for more individual help, you may be able to find a pet detective in your area on the Missing Pet Partnership Pet Detective Directory: http://www.missingpetpartnership.org/lost-pet-help/find-a-pet-detective/pet-detective-directory/.

  7. I found this study looking for average distance lost cats travel. Mine has been gone for 3 months. I have posted a notice on neighborhood site. I am finding lots of look-alike kitties, with mine being a brown tabby. Lately I’ve gone as far as 2 1/2 miles to check on sightings. Wondering when I should give up.

  8. It is something that I have always wanted to know.

    I live in the country and have 8 cats (all vaccinated, microchiped and spay or neutered) and they all wear highly reflective collars with ID Tags.

    They are out during the day and I bring them in at night.

    The problem i have is once in awhile I have a cat that won’t come home. I will call and call and go look and can’t find him.

    I would love to have a gps tracking device and know where he goes but without the monthly fees.

    I bothers me when they don’t come home in the afternoon because we have foxes etc. that will kill a cat.

  9. deborah belinda zissler

    Helo Debbie here i have lost my white fur baby girl called Affie my cleaner opened my kitchen window she got out been missing 1 week yesterday she only 6 month’s so she no neutered or chipped as i was waiting till she 6 month’s old i am disabled housebound so can’t go looking but have joined services on line to report her missing i got her at 12 week’s old my little year & half year old is missing his play friend what’s the chances we will get her back many thanks Debbie toblarone n Bailies X

  10. HELP!!! I have been taking care of a feral tom cat Mokey for 11 years. In August 2018 he left home. He was spotted 5 miles from home. We tried the live trap but these ppl had too many young strays. Since he’s been gone for more than a month….should I still keep my hopes up or should I just let my heart deal. Is he lost is he dead…HELP

    1. It is quite likely that he is still alive. Feral cats are quite good at surviving but unfortunately finding and catching them can be quite difficult. It is hard to know whether he is lost or if something caused him to leave your home and he is afraid to come back. I also feed feral cats and over the years different cats have come and gone and sometimes returned again years later.

  11. 3 years ago I saw this thin black cat eating bird seed. I knew he was feral. Up here in NW PA we get brutal winters. So the first winter I made a feral cat shelter. He didn’t like it. Then the next winter I let him in my garage and he hunkered down quite well with beds blankets, etc. Even though I had him for 2+ years he was very mean and also very loving. I never knew when he would bite me or scratch me. I could never turn my back on him or he would get me. But then he loved to sit right next to me, even in the dead of winter, and he would purr and loved to be scratched certain places (his head, ears, chin, tail). But then he would suddenly bite me. I was doing every thing right, no hands over his head, etc. I work in rescue a lot and this cat just wasn’t wired right. I landed in the hospital once because of a bite from him and I had upcoming back surgery so I found a place that had three barns on 5 acres. This place was about 25 miles away. I took him there in April 2018 and then the other night he showed back up (mid-December 2018)!!!!! A few months ago I took in 2 other ferals and had been working with them. I was making great progress. This this guy shows up (he is a big bully) and now it is chaos. I try to feed the 3 in separate locations but he will run to the other dishes and chase the two nice ones away. Any suggestions? I don’t want him hurting the two that I have been working with, plus I am already tired of getting bit and scratched. I feel so guilty that he traveled 25+ miles to get back to my house but it just isn’t working out. HELP!!!!!!

    1. That sounds like a tough situation. If you attempt to relocate that feral cat, he may well keep coming back. Before I make any other suggestions, can you tell me whether you have gotten this feral cat neutered. This can often help with aggression issues.

  12. While visiting friends out of town, our indoor-outdoor cat escaped from her leash and ran away from us. We made a flier and placed it on mailboxes/porches in a wide area and also checked the local pound. On the 3rd day, we received a phone call from a woman saying that a cat fitting the description was on the roof of her house about 1.5 miles away. We went there and it was indeed our cat. We got her down from the roof, took her home and vowed never to travel with her again.

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