by Michael

I love cats because I love my home and after a while they become its visible soul – Jean Cocteau – Photo by Martha★

The homing instinct of cats and dogs are well known but how does it work? Here are some examples of cats finding their way home over long distances:

  • Tabby cat called Mimine in France: The family had moved a distance of 500 miles from Toulouse to Treveray in the north. The family had left their cat with someone else but Mimine wanted to go home and turned up 13 months later.
  • USA – Cat travels from New York to California, the breadth of the USA to be with family
  • Cat predicts that family are about to move and moves on ahead. A family living in Louisiana went house hunting in Texas. Their cat had disappeared on their return. When they moved to Texas their cat turned up at the place of work of the family’s mother! Extraordinary.
  • Under several tests a cat and a kitten (different family of cats) were taken up to 4.5 miles from their home. The cat was tested seven times and blindfolded on one occasion (on the outward leg) and anaesthetised on another occasion. The kitten made it back after 36 hours having negotiated a range of severe obstacles. The cat always made it back.
  • In another test in Germany a number of cats were tested. They were driven on a confusing journey from their homes and then put in a maze (not sure about the ethics of these tests by the way). The maze was covered, blocking out the sun to prevent the cats using it as a source of guidance. All the cats used the exit from the maze that pointed to their homes, indicating a fantastic sense of direction. However, when the cats were more than 7.5 miles from home they were less successul (in an American version of the same experiment).

You can’t confuse me! Furby surrounded by mirrors
Photo by Joyce Sammons
What is the explanation? These are the theories:
  • Cats have a sensitivity to the earth’s magnetic field (the same magnetic field that allows us to use the compass). This is supported by the fact that the cats were less successful in the maze experiment above when magnets were attached to collars worn by the cats.
  • A more fanciful (but no less believable, I feel) theory is that there is a “morphic field” set up in a cat/person relationship binding them mentally and physically.
  • Another interesting theory is that cats and dogs have an extrasensory ability called “psi trailing”. This is something I have never heard of. The theory goes that there is something going on at the atomic level. When a cat or dog is separated the equilibrium in the atoms in respect of the electrons is disturbed and a reunion is the only way to recreate the equilibrium

On a more simplistic level, we only have to look at the wild cats. Some have extremely large home ranges of hundreds of square kilometers. The snow leopard comes to mind as one example. They navigate and patrol these areas effectively. My theory is that cats and dogs use a wide range of signals to assist them. Some are commonsense and some may be related to science which we are unsure about.

Another factor in the success of cats to travel long distances to return to their families is their survival instinct. Cats as we know have nine lives and they sometimes use up some of these on the hazardous trek home. The homing instinct of cats are remarkable.

It also begs the question as to whether people (or at least some of us) have the same or similar skills!

The Homing Instinct of Cats to Cat Facts

The Homing Instinct of Cats – source material: Play It Again Tom by Augustus Brown – thank you.

Comments for
The Homing Instinct of Cats

Average Rating

Click here to add your own comments

Sep 05, 2010
Finding their way back home
by: Lynn

When I was a child my Dad gave away our cat when we were going to move. I cried nonstop. The cat found its way back home. I just couldn’t beleive it when I saw it walking up to the back door.

Jan 23, 2010
homing of cats
by: kathy

I still want to apologize to Joyce for what I said about her sad stories. I realize just how many lost souls you have helped and my comments were uncalled for Please accept my apologizes from my heart. My cousins once had a cat that they drove all the way up into Wisconsin one time to “drop off”. Well about a week later she was back at their doorstep. What this is or what it is called I have no idea. But its a good idea for cats that are stolen.

Please comment here using either Facebook or WordPress (when available).
Michael Broad

Hi, I am 70-years-of-age at 2019. For 14 years before I retired at 57, I worked as a solicitor in general law specialising in family law. Before that I worked in a number of different jobs including professional photography. I have a longstanding girlfriend, Michelle. We like to walk in Richmond Park which is near my home because I love nature and the landscape (as well as cats and all animals).

View Comments

  • I think Dexter found a girlfriend or two in the vicinity. They can smell females in heat for quite a distance. I think he went to sow his oats, and will be home soon. You know, a young man's fancy.....

  • My daughter's cat, Dexter, has disapeared. He has been gone for two days now and she is very upset. He has not yet been neutered and is a year old. Is this normal. She says he has found a new family. Please help.

    • I know how upset your daughter will be and you as well. Cats do go walkabout sometimes. It depends on the cat in my experience. Some cats even revert to the wild by preference but this is rare because life is harder. I don't agree that Dexter has necessarily found a new family. Someone may have fed him, perhaps not, but it takes time for a cat to settle into a new environment. The stray cats who have come to me have simply stayed for a few hours and moved on. I expect that might happen. I would also expect Dexter to be in the vicinity. I don't think he has gone far. Domestic cat 'home ranges' are not that large so I would say about a maximum of half a mile in any direction would be the boundary of his range. Don't hold me to that estimate though, please.

      I presume you have gone in search, knocked on some doors and put some posters up. There is not much more you can do. Sometimes animal control (USA phrase) pick up strays so you might ask.

      If Dexter has a really favorite food you might put some down in a place in your yard he used to frequent. He may notice it and be attracted to it. Of course in the USA (I presume you are in the USA) putting food down might attract wild animals etc. but it is a decent trade off.

      Best of luck
      Of course he might well just walk in the back door tomorrow.

Recent Posts

Why do cats move their heads from side to side?

You might have noticed that when a domestic cat is (a) jumping precisely onto a…

2 hours ago

Is the domestic cat a species?

Yes, the domestic cat is a species. Although I think it is a slightly tricky…

3 hours ago

Feral cats prefer insects and frogs on island with many migrating birds

This is another study, this time written up on the National Geographic website, which debunks…

12 hours ago

Cat visited previous home 0.75 miles away when current owners were away for weekend (video)

This was a finding by a study in which cats were fitted with video cameras…

17 hours ago

Why do cats die of kidney failure?

Kidney failure is the inability of the kidneys to remove waste products from the blood.…

18 hours ago

Why do cats die with their eyes open?

This is a difficult topic but questions are asked and I will try and answer…

22 hours ago