How far has a cat travelled to return home?

The question is asking for information about the longest distance that a domestic cat has travelled to return to their former home. My research indicates that the distance is 1,900 miles from Darwin on the north coast of Australia to Ungarra which is very near the south coast of Australia.

Jessie travelled the longest distance to go home - about 2000 miles taking a year
Jessie travelled the longest distance to go home – about 2000 miles taking a year. Photo in public domain.
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Before I go on, I think I have to mention that some of the distances mentioned on the Internet might be a bit dubious because stories can become exaggerated as they are copied and re-published. So the information about domestic cats travelling long distances might not be 100% reliable.

That said, the cat who walked due south from Darwin in the Northern Territory to Ungarra in South Australia appears to be genuine and she is a brown mackerel tabby whose name is Jessie. Her exploits were reported in the Mail Online on 7 November 2011 which got the story from Northern Territory News. Her owners, Sheree Gale and Andre her husband, were relocating from the south to the north and within a short time (two weeks) of their arrival in Darwin Jesse went missing. About one year later she turned up at her former home in Ungarra.


The Google map shows human travel routes by air and road. Jessie would have travelled direct.

Allowed to stay

Sheree was convinced that Jesse had returned to her former home on foot! This is because she hated getting into cars. The new residents of Sheree’s former home found her hanging around more than a year after there’d been living at the place. They took a photograph and sent it to Sheree and lo and behold Sheree recognised Jessie.

Sheree and her husband decided to let Jessie live in her former home. When they had moved they had left two other cats behind with the new owners so it seemed natural that Jessie should remain with them especially as she had travelled almost 2,000 miles to be back at a place that she considered her home. Clearly she did this with the consent of the new owners.


The story is clearly remarkable and, to be frank, a little difficult to believe but it is feasible. After all it took over a year to travel almost 2,000 miles; about 5 miles a day which is very feasible. How did she navigate? This is the difficult question and experts don’t have a certain answer. The best theory is that domestic cats can navigate by using the Earth’s magnetic field. They probably do this in conjunction with markers (obvious features in the landscape) on the route. However, when Sheree and her husband Andre relocated they flew north. Therefore Jesse would have no memory of certain landscape markers by which to navigate. I would have to conclude therefore that she did it through sensing the Earth’s magnetic field and then when she got close to her former home she used landscape markers to home in on her target.

American record

It is reported that the American record for a domestic cat travelling home is 950 miles by a cat named Rusty. It happened in 1949. The cat was a ginger tom (male) as he travelled from Boston Massachusetts to Chicago in Illinois. It took him 83 days. It’s not clear whether he hitched rides on vehicles but the distance travelled would have been about 11 miles per day which is also feasible on foot.

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