What is the average size of a cat's home range?

A cat's home range is the area that the cat normally uses in its daily activities.  A home range is different from a territory in that it may not be defended from other cats.  However, non-biologists frequently use home range and territory interchangeably.  A cat's home range will often overlap with other cat's home ranges with the (possible) exception of the core area.  

Research on cat home range size

There is a lot of variation in the size of a cat's home range.  Some cats are sedentary and rarely leave their own yard while others are wanderers and may travel.  Most studies of outdoor-access cats (i.e. owned cats allowed outdoors unsupervised) were in suburban/urban areas.  Studies of free-ranging owned and feral cats were in both suburban/urban and rural areas.  Home range studies usually calculate the area in hectares which are 10,000 square meters.  To make this easier to visualize (at least for most Americans), I converted the area to a circle and calculated the radius in meters and feet.  

The average size of an outdoor-access cat's home range was 1.89 hectares or a circle with a 78 meter (254 foot) radius.  There was a significant difference (P=0.03) between home range size of sedentary and wandering cats (Meek 2003; see Table 1).  Most studies did not find a difference in home range size between male and female cats.  At the time that I wrote this 2012, there was insufficient data on whether unfixed owned cats had significantly larger home ranges.  However, most free-ranging cats were unfixed.

Table of cat home range sizes

Table 1: Average size of a cat's home range. Hectares were converted to radius from the cat's home.

How to use home range size to search for a lost outdoor-access cat

When an outdoor-access cat goes missing from their home, it may mean that something has happened to prevent the cat from returning home.  Some of the possible circumstances that could prevent a cat from coming home include:

  • being injured or killed by a vehicle or predator
  • hiding due to illness, injury or a traumatic experience
  • becoming trapped somewhere  

Under these circumstances the lost cat is probably still present within their own home range.  If sick, injured or scared, a cat may hide in silence and not return home or respond to their owner's calls.  

For this reason, I recommend searching 2x the average home range size for your cat's type.  This is because your home is not necessarily at the center of your cat's home range, so if you double the search area, you are more likely to include your cat's full home range.  For the average outdoor-access cat, this is a 500-foot radius from their home, which usually equates to a 3 to 5 house radius.  See Table 2 for a list of suggested search areas.  

Table of suggested search area for lost cats

Table 2: Suggested search area for a lost cat based on average home range size.

Figure 1 is an example of a (fictional) outdoor-access cat's home range and the suggested search area.  The blue balloon is the cat's home.  The red circle is the average size of a cat's home range with the home at the center.  However, in this case, the actual home range of the cat is further north.  The yellow dots are actual locations of the cat and the pink circle is the home range area.  Assuming this was our cat and we did not know where they traveled, the suggested search area would be the blue circle.  This is twice the average home range or a 500 foot radius.

Example cat home range map and search area

Example of a cat's home range and suggested physical search area if lost

In a research study that I participated in, Search Methods Used to Locate Missing Cats and Locations Where Missing Cats Are Found, most lost outdoor-access cats were found between 300 meters (1,000 feet) and 1,600 meters (1 mile) from home (Huang et al. 2018).  This is a much larger area than the suggested search areas above.  The likely reason for this difference is that many lost outdoor-access cats get scared or chased out of their home ranges or wander away.  For this reason, posters, flyers and local online advertising are recommended out to a larger area than the physical search area.

Learn more about cat home range and movements

For additional information on cat home range research, visit my research files:

Also check out this article to learn more about how far cats travel.

Note: This article was originally written in 2012 and updated in 2023 with data from 1985 to 2011.  I plan on updating  this article using new home range GPS data in the future.

Literature Researched

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

Horn, Jeff A., Nohra Mateus-Pinilla, Richard E. Warner, and Edward J. Heske. 2011. Home range, habitat use, and activity patterns of free-roaming domestic cats. Journal of Wildlife Management 75(5): 1177-1185.
(Online: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jwmg.145/abstract)

Liyan Huang, Marcia Coradini, Jacquie Rand, John Morton, Kat Albrecht, Brigid Wasson, and Danielle Robertson.  2018. Search Methods Used to Locate Missing Cats and Locations Where Missing Cats Are Found.  Animals 8(1): 5.

Kays, Roland and Amielle DeWan. 2004. Ecological impact of inside/outside cats around a suburban nature preserve. Animal Conservation 7: 1-11.
(Online: http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/staffpubs/docs/15128.pdf )

Meek, Paul. 2003. Home range of house cats Felis catus living within a National Park. Australian Mammology 25: 51-60.
(Online: http://www.publish.csiro.au/?act=view_file&file_id=AM03051.pdf )

Molsher, Robyn, C. Dickman, A. Newsome, and W. Muller. 2005. Home ranges of feral cats (Felis catus) in central-western New South Wales, Australia. Wildlife Research 32: 587-595.

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 the 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

Steen-Ash, Sara. 2004. Intraspecific spatial dynamics of urban stray cats. Shaw et. Al. Eds: Proceedings 4th International Urban Wildlife Symposium: 222-227.
(Online: http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/adjunct/snr0704/snr07042s.pdf )

Tennent, Jaclyn and Colleen T. Downs. 2008. Abundance and home ranges of feral cats in an urban conservancy where there is supplemental feeding: a case study from South Africa. African Zoology 43(2):218-229.

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

1 thought on “What is the average size of a cat's home range?”

  1. Cats’ territorial ranges vary greatly up to several miles in radius, not just several houses from home, depending on several things.
    If the cat is allowed outdoors, it will go farther on its own to explore. If the cat is spayed/neutered, they will also tend to stay within several blocks (but not always), while unspayed/unneutered cats will travel from home to find a mate and contribute to the issue of feral cats and population.

    An indoor-only cat, I think you are referring to, don’t tend to wander far from home, at least right away, out of fear.

    Also several human-related interferences can alter the distance the cat is from home entirely. If someone saw the cat while driving by or found it injured, or it got into a vehicle, it could be anywhere if they drove off with it. The same applies if your lost cat was believed to be a ‘stray’ and someone trapped it or took it and brought it to a shelter or decided to keep it without looking for its family.

    There are microchipped cats that have been found over a decade after going missing, several countries or even continents over, that got into shipping crates, or got taken by someone who later moved overseas, where they then somehow ended up at a shelter where they were luckily scanned, and their family, luckily still reachable through the contact from the chip, then notified and reunited.

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