Why do cats ‘run away from home?’

The question looks wrong to me but is taken from Google. The phrase ‘to run away from home’ is used for kids running away for a range of reasons. The phrase does not apply to cats. To try and fit the phrase into cat behaviour is to anthropomorphise cats. It doesn’t really work properly. That’s because the phrase implies that a child deliberately runs away from something unpleasant which is happening in the family home. It may be an argument with his or her parents or something is very dissatisfying for a teenager and they want to escape their current life and home. There must be a multitude of reasons, some of them rational and many of them irrational as to why a child runs away from home to an uncertain and perhaps dangerous world.

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

HUMPHREY THE CAT. Photo: Reddit.com. Humphrey was the mouser at No. 10 Downing Street and he wandered away from home to an army barracks about 1.5 miles away for no apparent reason.

Domestic cats do not wander away from home (a different concept to ‘running away’) necessarily because they are leaving an environment which is unpleasant for them, it may be because they want to live in the wild, outside of the family home. Or they might migrate from one good home to a slightly better one or even a different one which they prefer to the other.

Although it is fair to say that sometimes domestic cats do leave their home because of the attentions of a stranger cat. And sometimes domestic cats return home after they been relocated to a new place. This happens quite a lot. They become familiar with and settled into their home range so when their owner moves with them, they want to return to their home range and if it is not too far away, they might attempt to do this. It looks like they are running away but they are simply going back to their home. Eventually they’ll adjust but their instinct pulls them back.

Domestic cats do sometimes drift apart from their owner for various reasons and in doing so they may visit another home where they are well treated and fed. This encourages them to go back to that place. Let’s remember that domestic cats don’t have a concept of ownership or possession. They are not voluntarily and deliberately leaving one “owner” to live with another. They regard their owner as perhaps their surrogate mother or a co-specific (and associate in their life) so they might not be wedded to them because an adult cat is essentially independent in terms of how they develop if they were developing in the wild.

Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important

Adult cats are kept within a home because they develop a kitten mentality as they are fed and looked after by a human. But they might ‘up sticks’ and live in another home because they’ve visited it a number of times and found it acceptable. Once again, I stress, this is not escaping or running away but simply migrating and gently moving across to a new place. They might just as easily migrate back or if returned be content to remain in their original home.

And, yes, sometimes domestic cats end up becoming stray cats and then feral cats. This is because the owner perhaps is a little careless in discharging their responsibilities and so they allow their cat to wander around outside a lot where they gradually learn to live outside. The cats might be unsterilised and therefore they give birth to unsocialised kittens who become feral cats.

Perhaps the biggest difference between a teenager running away from home and a cat leaving the home of their own accord is that the former is normally a sudden event although the child may have thought about it for quite a long time, and the latter is a gradual event normally which then gels after a transition period. And cats don’t leave their home, which is their home range in technical language, because of emotional upset which applies to kids but because of an instinctive desire to move to a better area which suits their personality. That’s my personal interpretation of this phrase, “to run away from home” and how it applies to cats and people.

I have got to mention exotic cats such as the serval. Many servals escape the home. They are indeed running away from home just like kids in complete contrast to domestic cats in my opinion. They run away from home because they are confined to a space which is much smaller than desired and much too artificial. Their wild cat tendencies drive them to escape their owner’s house which then immediately puts him into conflict with neighbours when they invariably end up in a bad situation which can lead to their death.

I’d appreciate your input please.


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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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