Behavior of an Outdoor-Access Cat Lost from Home

How an outdoor-access cat behaves when missing depends a lot on the personality of the cat and the circumstances of their disappearance.  When an outdoor-access cat goes missing from their home (or another familiar location), it usually means that something has happened that prevented your cat from coming home.

Possible scenarios (i.e. Probabilities) include that your cat:

  • Got inside a garage, shed, basement, etc. and is now trapped
  • Got in a fight or was chased outside their home range and is now hiding or lost
  • Was frightened or injured and is now hiding or deceased
  • Became ill and is now hiding or deceased
  • Was attacked by a predator and is now hiding, injured or deceased
  • Climbed into a vehicle (or furniture) and was accidently transported out of the area
  • Was intentionally taken by someone, which can be either:
    • Theft
    • Rescue – when someone takes your cat thinking they are a stray, abandoned or lost cat
    • Intentional Disposal – when someone takes your cat and abandons them somewhere

Behavior of an Outdoor-Access Cat Lost Away from Home

Outdoor-access cats may also go missing from unfamiliar locations such as a new home, vacation home or campsite, vet’s office or while traveling.  Under these circumstances, the cat is considered “displaced” and may act more like a lost indoor-only cat.  See Lost Indoor-Only Cat Behavior.

Occasionally, a displaced outdoor-access cat will attempt to travel back to their home or a previous home (if you recently moved).  How they do this is not well understood and not all cats seem to have this ability.  In one study, researchers found that only 60% of cats appeared to know the direction of their home when the cats were taken three miles away.  In my own research, I found that homing is more likely if your cat was allowed outdoors, if he went missing 3.5 miles or less from their current or previous home and had lived at that location for at least 2 years.  Some cats do travel across 2-lane and 4-lane highways and streams/rivers so don’t rule out the possibility of homing due to these potential obstacles.  Learn more about which cats are likely to display homing behavior here.