Likely reason why well-cared for domestic cats leave the security of their home

Dr. John Bradshaw in his book Cat Sense tells us that surveys of domestic cat ownership in the UK confirm that many stray cats have got ‘lost’ (probably temporarily) having left a home in which they were cared for properly. They lived in nice homes with a good owner. This can happen in about a quarter of some homes in some areas.

And we know this happens because fully-domesticated stray cats sometimes turn up at a home and when the owner is asked where they acquired their cat they say, “He just turned up one day”.

Likely reason why well-cared for domestic cats leave the security of their home
Likely reason why well-cared for domestic cats leave the security of their home is because they feel they need a home range where they are unchallenged. Image: MikeB
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I can remember speaking with Sarah Hartwell of the messybeast.com website about this. All her cats just turned up one day over a period of time. She never went out of her way to adopt a cat. They just arrived as if instinctively knowing that they will achieve the territorial peace that they required at her residence.

So, these are not feral but domestic cats who were keen to find a new owner. Very few of them were genuinely seeking to find their existing home. The majority would appear to be “voluntary migrants” as John Bradshaw calls them. They were looking for a better place to live than provided by their original owner.

I’m sure their owners would be mortified to realise it. They might scratch their head and try and work out how they failed and it is probably because they’ve not taken fully into account the need for a domestic cat to feel attached and relaxed, safe from challenges, in a ‘home range’ that they can call their own.

And the threat to their territorial peace might come from a cat living next door or possibly a cat living within the home. This is one of the issues regarding multi-cat homes. There’s plenty of possibilities for inter-cat agonistic behaviours in multi-cat homes.

John Bradshaw says that many cat owners are oblivious to what he calls a “principle” of domestic cat living namely that cats think that they should “proceed with caution when meeting any cat that has not been a part of [their cat’s] family for as long as they can remember.”

He says that cats are unlikely to tolerate a new cat. Although it does happen so one shouldn’t be too pessimistic about it. But to avoid conflict between domestic cats even in the confined space of a house or apartment cats find ways to carve out their mini-territory with perhaps areas of overlapping territory.

Bradshaw says that in surveys of homes with two cats, one-third of the owners say that their cats always avoid each other when possible. About one-quarter of owners said that their cats fight occasionally. They probably end up tolerating each other and find a way to attain peace but there may be a background tension.

This is why cat experts like Jackson Galaxy (Total Cat Mojo) say that there should be one cat litter tray per cat plus one extra and feeding bowls and water bowl should be spaced out and there should be one per cat. In short, there should be no sharing.

When cats get along and when they see themselves as part of the same social group they will:

  • Perform the tail-up greeting
  • scent exchange by rubbing up against each other when walking past each other or when alongside each other
  • perhaps sleep in contact with each other
  • perhaps play gently, engaging in mock fighting games and
  • share toys.

If they don’t get along and set up separate territories they may:

  • Run away from each other
  • hiss or spit when they encounter each other
  • avoid contact with each other i.e. one cat leave the room when the other enters it
  • sleep in separate places often wide apart. For example, one might sleep high up to avoid the other.
  • sleep defensively with their eyes closed but always alert
  • restrict each other’s movements on purpose in order to protect resources. They might, for example, sit for hours by the cat flap or on top of the stairs
  • look tense when both are in the same room and
  • interact with their owner separately or they may sit either side of their owner to avoid direct contact.

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