Why do domestic cats sometimes leave high quality homes and go somewhere else?

Cat looking for new home
‘Can I come in? I’m looking for a new home.’
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Often we read about cats being lost for a long time and sometimes they come back or are found. Many cat owners expect their cat to behave like other family members, namely to follow them wherever they go to live. They might assume that it’s enough for them to provide a good home with security, food and shelter together with good human company. They might expect their cat to stay put under these excellent conditions. Nearly all of them will but a some don’t.

However, a high quality home (from the human standpoint) might not be enough for a domestic cat. Domestic cats need to form an attachment to their physical environment. Many of these cats are “voluntary migrants” looking for a better place to live. The reason or at least the most likely explanation is that they are unable to establish a place, or what is called a “home range”, where they can feel relaxed and where they are unchallenged by other cats.

It seems that sometimes cat owners fail to recognise this necessity in the domestic cat. Challenges and threats from other cats might come from next door or perhaps from another cat in a multi-cat household .

There is possibly an overconfidence by cat caretaker/guardians in the ability of domestic cats to get along where there are two more cats in their home.

So the most likely answer to the question in the title is that a cat goes looking for a “better home” because he feels stressed and challenged by other cats and is unable to establish a territory where he feels settled.

In one study, in one area of the UK, as many as one quarter of cat owners adopted their cat because he turned up one day. These cats were not feral, they were domesticated cats keen to find a new home and adopt a new owner. They had recently been someone else’s companion animal but where desperate to leave what might have been a high quality home to find a new place to live. Many are ‘voluntary migrants’ to use the words of Dr Bradshaw. Some are genuinely lost but often this is a deliberate search for a better place to live.

Cat owners need to be vigilant and on another page I present the signs of feline discord in homes where there are more than one cat (to follow).

Source: Myself and Dr Bradshaw.

Outdoor cats and conflicts with other cats

5 thoughts on “Why do domestic cats sometimes leave high quality homes and go somewhere else?”

  1. Thinking back over the 23 years I’ve been doing this and I see where you are spot on about this too, Michael. I always tried to keep my cats happy but each cat needs adequate room, standing and minimal conflicts. At one point I had 15 cats in my small house and there was some stress that prompted markings and minor arguments. I worked very hard to give every one time and understanding which helped a lot. Only one cat I brought in during that time couldn’t handle it socially and ended up leaving, so I know what you’re talking about. I’m lucky to have had a lot of cats in a small place over a long time, which taught me a lot. Most people don’t get that experience.

    • I should add that the worst stress has come from conflict with other neighborhood or extra-nighboring, roving cats that my neighbors did nothing to discourage and even encouraged to visit by feeding them. Those cats had homes elsewhere, like on neighboring streets, but their “owners” were negligent or careless. They likely couldn’t provide an inside home to their cats which felt sufficient enough not to branch out of. I personally always brought my cats in at night when they were out there, and I discouraged them from coming around… usually with a stern talking to, and of course following them to find and talk to their owners.

  2. Cats will stray from tense homes where raised voices, ill will or unspoken threatening atmospheres prevail. Unruly, cat ignorant visitors/family members/friends or a new cat or other pet may cause straying. Frequently people bring a dog into a home with no thought as to how the cat may react. Usually the poor cat slips further down the hierarchy and the cat chooses to leave, sometimes out of physical & psychological desperation. I think there are myriad, complex and also simple reasons.

    Cats may just not like their human family and express their preference by leaving.

    Not enough cat guardians are willing or able to view home life from the cat’s point of view.

    A ‘good home’ is where the cat is happy.


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