10 facts about the space used by cats allowed outside

This is information from a Norwegian study but it represents domestic cats generally in ‘developed countries’ because domestic cats anywhere have the same mentality on home range size. I was not sure how to present it but decided in the end to simply state the facts. I found that the results very much matched up with my personal experiences in the UK. It is useful to know at least in general terms how far from your home your cat travels and where they spend most of their time when outside the home. A lot of cat owners are in the dark on this aspect of their cats’ lives.

Domestic cats don't travel far when allowed outside
Domestic cats don’t travel far when allowed outside. Illustration from the Norwegian study This is part of their illustration.
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  1. Domestic cats allowed outside spend about 80% of their time outside the home within about 50 m of the back door.
  2. In Norway, the study found that 32% of the cats used a cat flap whereas the remainder were let outside manually by their owners. I found this statistic interesting and would like to know more on a worldwide basis. How many cat owners install a cat flap and how many let their cat outside manually on request and as a result allow their cat inside on request by their cat? The latter affords the cat owner some control but there must be downsides such as cats being left outside for too long from the cat’s perspective.
  3. The size of the area that domestic cats wander around when allowed outside (their home range) varied between 0.3 ha to 22.1 ha with a mean home range of 2.6 ha. 2.6 ha is 6.4 acres. 6 acres is an area roughly 500′ x 522′. 500 feet is about 150 m. I have made these comparisons because it is important to try and visualise what 6.4 acres means in terms of actual size.
  4. To put it another way, if you walked about 200 steps from the back door or a bit less than that and then took a right turn and also walked about 200 steps and then made a further right turn with the same number of steps, and did this one more time, you would encompass about 6.4 acres. It is quite a compact area. The average domestic cat therefore wanders around outside the home in quite a tight area.
  5. If you lose your cat for whatever reason, you should really focus your attention within this limited area initially at least.
  6. The average “distance of outdoor positions from the home was 58 m”. I take this to mean that on average domestic cats position themselves and rest when outside the home 58 m from the home.
  7. The maximum average distance was 352 m from the home.
  8. One cat in this Norwegian study travelled over 3000 m from their home.
  9. The domestic cat population density in this study was 126 in an area of 1.1 km².
  10. They stated that this is similar to the UK with a domestic cat population density within the range 131.8 and 1579.2 cats per square kilometre.. They state that studies in New Zealand have reported cat densities of above 200 per square kilometre.

Comment: There were an equal number of female and male cats in the study and their age was around 5. I found the results interesting not for the density of domestic cats in Norway or elsewhere but for the relatively confined space that domestic cats choose to utilise when allowed free access outside. They don’t wander far. This very much squares up with my personal experience. My cat spends most of his time outside within 100 paces of his cat flap.

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When I go to the corner shop to get the newspaper every morning and he follows me, he stops at about hundred metres or a little more from the front door. This strongly indicates that the boundary of his home range in which she feels comfortable is around 120 m from the front door of his home i.e. my home. This is very much in line with this Norwegian study and other studies.

The study: Mapping the “catscape” formed by a population of pet cats with outdoor access by Richard Bischof, Nina Rosita Hansen, Øyvind Skarsgard Nyheim, Astrid Kisen, Lillian Prestmoen & Torbjørn Haugaasen. They GPS-tagged 92 pet cats with outdoor access.

Below are some more articles on domestic cat home range.

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