Why Do Loved Cats Disappear?

Lost cat

You love your cat. Your cat has lived with you for years. One day he or she disappears. You search high and low for days. You are very upset because you love him and you miss him. You do everything you can to find him and after three days, if you are lucky, you find him. He is filthy. He is dry mouthed. He is thin. He is “crawling with weird bugs” and pleased to see you.

Your beloved cat opted for a miserable life under a porch somewhere about half a mile away or under the crawlspace of a neighbor’s house (USA) instead of the warmth and comfort of your home.

I have just read two cases of loved cats disappearing. Their caretakers were distraught so they must have really cared for them and looked after them well. Their cat’s lives were certainly better, much better, than after they had  “escaped to freedom”.

Perhaps the two examples that I read concerned full-time indoor cats who craved an outdoor life but when they discovered it they found it too harsh and couldn’t cope. However, I think this happens with cats who are allowed out.

I don’t know for sure why cats leave their caretaker’s home. If the caretaker is no good then it makes sense to leave. This is not uncommon. Often these cats find another home, perhaps a home they have visited before several times. But to leave a decent home where a cat is treated well for an uncertain future where there is no food and warmth seems strange.

I will have a guess at why this happens. The cat is an indoor cat or confined in some way. The space allowed is too small. The natural drives within a cat click in and the cat seeks ways to express his natural desires, to roam within a territory that suits his instincts.

Once out, he is fine for a while, then he becomes confused and nervous because he has to survive in a strange place. He has lost the skills to do that. It is a fallacy that the domestic cat can survive in the wild, instantly converting from domestic to wild cat.

Why then does he not return to his home? His caretaker is searching for him, calling his name etc.. Why does he stay out, hungry and cold, anxious and out his element? Shouldn’t his go to his human caretaker immediately?

He returns reluctantly, days later, but when he is found by his caretaker, he is happy. His human companion is happier.

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19 thoughts on “Why Do Loved Cats Disappear?”

  1. Sorry, hit post by mistake.
    I have always had amazing wonderful relationships with my cats.
    My cats have met their demise thru humans.
    In 20 yrs I have had three cats and just recently a pair of brothers.
    The first three were with me for years, the first was lost when I had gone away for new years and my neighbour asked if she could borrow chairs, my cat got out in a terrible storm.
    The second years later, was shot by a neighbour with a pellet gun because he didn’t lie cats because he had pigeons.
    My third thank god is still with me, all my cats have travelled extensively with me.
    Now there is the occasional cat that really does want to be in the wild, the one I have had a sister and she openly left after having a litter, she wanted to be in the wild with the craziest looking tomcat.
    But my little guy who went missing a few days ago…
    My neighbour and I got kittens from the same litter.neighbour wasn’t affectionate and this littleguy tore up his house literally and his windows and screens to get to his brother.
    The neighbour gave up and little buddy (stupid name)moved in with us, his brother and himself were inseparable. He was so happy, and so we’re we.
    The little guy was an exceptionally cute cat, and his meows were like a cougar. He was a tough little guy and extremely intelligent, I don’t think an animal got him because every night they would be home no later than 10.
    Our neighbourhood is very relaxed and u see cats lounging everyehere. It’s awesome. Our cats would lounge too.
    But little buddy had a stomach that wouldn’t quit, we just discovered he had worms, and finally understood why this cat was always hungry.
    I think someone lured him with food. Idk But I’m very very sad. Miss u so much, little buddy.

  2. My cat went misssing 5 days ago. I am so sad, I miss him terribly.
    My mother always had our cats indoors, she was terrified of them being poisoned,intentionally.
    I have always had wondwonder

  3. There are a few reasons cats disappear but hopefully not as many sinister reasons as it seems. Because missing cats mostly seem to return home eventually, hungry and thin, it may be that most have been shut in somewhere by mistake, not that far away from home and were unable to return until someone set them free.
    When taking phone calls for Cats Protection Lost and Found, in the days before face book where they are now posted about, we often heard that cats had returned home, some had been found in someones garage or shed or even by someone returning from holiday and finding the cat had been shut in their house. But most had returned home on their own and their family never did find out where they had been.
    I don’t think a happy cat leaves his home from choice.

  4. I have often wondered why happy loved cats dissapear; where do they go to? What is their fate? I receive ‘Petfinder’ emails every week with sometimes as many as 12 cats and dogs that have gone missing in my area. I forward them onto everyone in my address book its very sad 🙁 I don’t know how I would cope if this happened to me.

    Pehaps we think we are better caretakers than we actually are? perhaps our cats have a different perception of how they should be cared for than we do?

    For example my friend has a toddler and 2 cats. She adores her toddler and also her cats she has always taught him from when he understood (and even before that time I think!) not to mess with the cats, she does exactly the right thing and if he gets scratched for disobeying her then so be it this is her way and I believe this is the right way but even so said toddler is 2 and a half and ‘no’ is his favourite word. His know how to push moms buttons and will occasionally rough the cats up just to annoy her and get a reaction (even though most of the time he’s gentle) I think that if the cats wondered into a child free quiet home one day and their needs were met then they would stay there. Who could blame them really? My friend does her best and she would be devastated but her cats have gone from having all her attention in a quiet household to having to live with a noisy toddler 🙁

    Please don’t think I hate children, I don’t but I pity with my heart all the cats out there (and dogs) who are the last consideration in a multi child household especially those where the parents really couldn’t give a damn about what the kids are doing to them 🙁 How awful especially if they can’t escape> makes me very sad however I’m pleased to say this is not the case with my friend however I have known families like this.

    • “Pehaps we think we are better caretakers than we actually are? perhaps our cats have a different perception of how they should be cared for than we do?”

      Leah I really liked your comment. It was very insightful.

      Very few studies have been carried out into the behaviours of domestic cats. The focus has mainly been on their larger, wild relatives and as a result we don’t really know as much about our pet cats as we could.

      • Very true Michael I donlt think any of us really have a clue what our cats get up to, I don’t think some of us would want to we would be worried sick if we knew!

      • Nice point Michele. It may go deeper than that. Domestic cats may see us in a quite a different way to the way we think they see and relate to us. Harvey Harrison made a good point. The line between domestic and wild is paper thin because if a kitten is not socialised he won’t be a domestic cat. In other words each domestic cat born has to be “tamed” in effect. Domestication is not necessarily hard-wired into the DNA of cats, as yet, as far as I can tell.

        This means the call of the wild is always inside them. Cats are with us because it suits them. Some decide to go and disappear despite the relative hardship.

  5. Monty disappeared today. We searched and searched. I was out there singing to him about tuna. Finally, after several choruses singing his name and working in the word “tuna” whenever possible while holding an open can of sardines (we were out of salmon tuna or tuna tuna so I opened the sardine tuna) he appeared over by the cyclone door to the basement. We don’t use it. It’s rotting. The door at the bottom is heavy and secure, so we haven’t worried about the state the outer door is in. I thought I had blocked it so Monty couldn’t get down there. I guess not, because that’s where he was. Down where it is spidery, grubby and gross. But it smells of cats. His feral siblings spent a winter sheltering down there. I was so terrified he had went over the fence, but he’s never done that, even chasing another cat away, even going after a mouse that climbed the fence. And I had just been playing with him. I went into the garage with my husband for a moment, came back out and Monty was gone. We wanted to go get lunch but instead spent what felt like an eternity searching for him. We also looked in the garage and on the driveway. He had simply vanished. That was the worst feeling ever. I was so glad to see him when he finally appeared. At least when he does hide it’s easy enough to tempt him out with food. Jeff thinks Monty would never run away because it’s too important for him to have his belly full at all times. But there are all these stories about other cats who took off, who also had had hard lives, but for some reason returned to that life instead of an easy life mainly indoors. He does like his outside time! Part of me says I should just keep him in for safety, or hover over him every minute he’s out there in case he ever would run away. But how can I do that? It’s just not realistic. And I just can’t deprive him of ever going out. As my husband pointed out– he still was inside his own yard. He had not climbed the fence. Jeff doesn’t believe Monty would ever go over that fence and run away. He’ll play in that dusty hole by the basement, but he won’t run away.

    • I agree with Jeff. Some cats are born to roam and be wild. They are not really domesticated. But I believe, God willing, that Monty will stay. As I recall his background is feral but he prefers home. He made the choice.

      It is a risk, a small risk that he will wander but a risk worth taking for the pleasure he gets from roaming his territory.

      I am pleased he turned up! These are slightly scary moments.

    • I’m so pleased Monty wasn’t gone for too long 🙂 When Honey stays out I’m restless until she’s back I’ve even been known to sleep on the sofa listening out for her dropping onto the conservatory roof.

  6. If he is lucky enough that he didn’t get lost in the process. I think that’s the tragedy of it – they realise, turn around and then can’t find their way home. 🙁 – we had a cat just vanish and not come back. It’s awful. He was sweet – he came to us because of a bad caretaker and then vanished – he had love and everything. Pepi and me asleep on the couch 🙂

    • ….exploring his favourite place – in the countryside during the summertime. He’d sleep all day out in the woods or fields and come in the evening and go out again at night. He sure loves/loved his outdoor time. I still hope that he is somewhere nearby and will appear again one day but he’s been gone over 2 years now.

    • I find this very strange. Perhaps some cats are just not suited to being domesticated. They just don’t want to be domestic cats. Or perhaps they are born outside and are used to it so return to it. They don’t consider the hardship and safety elements.


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