The answer to the question in the title can be found in the domestic cat’s inherited character. Each domestic cat has their own “home range”. This is the territory that they call their space in much the same way that people call their apartment or their house their home. And a domestic cat’s home range might cover several houses both left and right and in front and behind the home they occupy. In other words, their home range encompasses the homes of neighbours.
The extent of their home range depends to a certain extent on whether this is a male or female cat. Male cats have larger home ranges than female cats. Some female cats might be happy to stay inside the home even if allowed outside. This difference between males and females is replicated among the wild cat species.
And cats don’t regard neighbours’ homes as necessarily out of bounds. They might be reluctant to enter into the gardens and even more reluctant to enter neighbours’ homes because they are strange places and inside these homes there will be a strange person or persons. This spells danger.
But if a cat is confident and if their home range is sufficiently large, perhaps as large as 20 acres or more, they may enter a neighbour’s home and they will certainly enter different gardens adjoining their own home.
Domestic cats don’t see any difference between the homes and gardens of neighbours and their home in the way that humans do. Humans have the law of trespass. We can’t just walk onto someone’s property without asking them first. Cats cannot be prosecuted for trespass!
They don’t understand the concept of human boundaries, borders, fences, brick walls and even internal doors. It’s all one area to them with some barriers to overcome. These are all human artifacts not present in nature.
If you combine that attitude with the fact that cats are known for their independent nature and their tendency to explore and visit other houses because they are inquisitive, you can see how domestic cats end up visiting other houses and people even when their caregiver provides for them very well.
This is not really a question about how good or bad their caregiver is in discharging their duties, this is about the cat’s inherent nature. And when they are outside, they become a wildcat again governed by their instincts.
Their inquisitiveness extends to new smells, sounds and environments. They like to investigate these places beyond their territory. Or they might know of a good source of mice under a neighbour’s garden shed.
Some cats are confident enough to go up to strange people and interact with them because it pleases them and is mentally stimulating. Some cats simply enjoy the company of humans and other animals. They may seek out social interactions, which may particularly apply if their owner is not around that much or does not satisfy them in terms of mental stimulation.
If a neighbour is particularly kind and they’ve noticed a cat coming around they might put food down. The food might be better than the food that they receive from their owner. This would be a productive and welcome spin-off for the cat as a result of their explorations.
They will return to that home. Sometimes, rarely, domestic cats will transfer their allegiances from their owner to a neighbour because they can detect that life will be better there. They arrive and they stay.
Cats are opportunistic and they will look for food and resources instinctively. Even when they are really well fed, they might seek cat food at a neighbour’s. It’s more likely they will seek out better food or food they prefer.
But the underlying issue is really about their territory and their inquisitiveness. And sometimes cats might want to expand their home range slightly as they become more confident which will mean they “trespass” more often on neighbours’ properties.
To turn the question around and point it at the cat’s owner, it is their duty to provide as good an environment as possible in terms of mental and physical stimulation, safety, security and high-quality food. And this includes plenty of interactions between cat and owner.
Sometimes people think that cats are so independent they don’t need interactions with people. This is a fallacy. They need their caregiver around and they need to interact with them on a regular basis. A failure in this area may push the cat away.
Depending on the cat’s personality, some might like to have another cat as an ‘associate’ or friend. Some cats are more content if they live with another cat or are able to meet up with another cat. By and large that might be an exception because particularly male cats tend to want to occupy their home range exclusively for themselves.
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