Indoor/outdoor cats do not need to patrol their territory in order to find food when they are well fed. But domestic cats still, instinctively, patrol their ‘home range’ (the area they call home). Domestic cats are attached to their territory as much as they are attached to their human caregiver. It’s about habits and what is inherited from their wildcat ancestor. The point is though that when cats have a regular food supply, which means a regular supply of high-quality food from their human caregiver, it seems to reduce the area that the domestic cat patrols. This has advantages in terms of risk of injury, predation, getting lost and neighbour relations!
In urban areas it’s been found that many domestic cats do not stray far. In one study some cats only ventured about 25 feet from their cat flap. None of them in this study travelled more than 55 yards from the cat flap. Females have smaller home ranges than males. Note: if you are concerned about your cat wandering far from home, adopting a female and feeding her well is probably the best you can do to curb it.
In rural areas the patrolling distances increase and it’s been found that they travel between roughly 25 and 100 yards depending upon the individual cat’s preferences.
But clearly, it is not the search for food that motivates domestic cats to travel these distances albeit small distances in many cases. The reason is inherited traits carried out instinctively.
But a food source is what keeps the domestic cat at home. Stop feeding a domestic cat and you may find that they disappear. It’s the reason why feral cats, for example, create colonies. They do so around a food source. And socialised cats i.e. domestic cats without a permanent owner who cannot, therefore, rely on a regular food supply travel significantly further from their home base. It might be around 200 yards compared to the 55 yards mentioned above.
But unsocialised feral cats will travel much further particularly, for example, those in Australia, in the outback where they can have home ranges of many square kilometers. But in general, they might travel over a range of a mile or more. Neutering males does not substantially reduce the distance that they travel as they still have a habit of searching for receptive females.
Neutered males do this out of pure habit because they cannot reproduce. The key though is cats instinctively increase their territorial home range when they cannot rely on a regular source of food as they are compensating for that lack of regularity.
And this should be translatable to cat caregiving. If you want to keep your indoor/outdoor cat nearer the home then you should feed them high quality cat food regularly. Most owners do but not all. Dr. Bradshaw states that this will also reduce hunting desires. Domestic cats still hunt instinctively even when they have a full belly but they might do so when they simply bump into a prey animal without actively searching for one as they would if their food source is irregular and unreliable.
Well-fed domestic cats hunt with less commitment. This should be a factor in wildlife conservation.
Source: Dr John Bradshaw Cat Sense and myself.
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