Outdoor domestic cats generally wander fairly close to home

ABC News San Diego have commented on an Australian survey of outdoor domestic cat wanderings and their conclusion is incorrect in my opinion. They say that domestic cats wander up to 2 miles and you should keep them inside at night.

GPS tracked outdoor domestic cat shows how far they wander from home
GPS tracked outdoor domestic cat shows how far they wander from home
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

Yes, depending on the terrain and the cat’s character some cats might wander 2 miles. I’ve met a cat who did that where I used to live in London. But these are the exception for domestic cats in my honest opinion.

In general, the wanderings of outside domestic cats are limited to areas not that far from their human caretaker’s home. You could say with some confidence that your cat is no more than about 400 yards from the back door at a maximum and normally she’ll be within 100 yards or less of the home.

Typical domestic cat urban activity outside the home
Typical domestic cat urban activity outside the home when freely wandering.

Also it is worth mentioning that in the world of the wild cats, no matter what the species, the male wanders further than the female and they have larger home ranges (the area they call theirs) than the females.

In these GPS tracks, the individual cat that has wandered up to 2 miles from home is probably a confident male ginger tabby and the terrain looks more suited for longer wanderings as it is semi-urban. He is not that typical in my opinion. But, yes, we have to admit that some domestic cats do that regularly.

This wandering cat travels quite far from home
This wandering cat travels quite far from home because he is confident and probably male and the terrain allows it.

The reason why I am mentioning this again is because when cats become lost you can be fairly sure that, typically, they are not very far away unless they’ve accidentally caught a ride to somewhere. There are some extraordinary stories of cats stuck in lorries who end up over 1,000 miles from home. They’ve not walked to this remote place. They’ve jumped onto a vehicle and the vehicle has been driven there.

Like all wild cat species, domestic and feral cats have home ranges. The area of these home ranges depends on the species of cat and the cat’s size. Looking at records of the movements of North African wildcats, the ancestor of the current domestic cat, in Kenya a radio-tagged adult occupied a 1.6 square kilometres area as his home range (source: Wild Cats of the World). This means a range which is about a mile in length and 0.6 of a mile in width. This is larger than that of the average domestic cat but it does match up roughly with the ginger tabby I mentioned above. This is because wildcats are (a) wild and have to roam to find prey and (b) they don’t live in an urban environment. You’ll find that feral cats in the Australian outback have much larger home ranges than domestic cats. They are similar to their wild cat ancestor.


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