Can Cats Find Their Way Home?


We know it’s possible for lost dogs to find their way home, thanks to a keen sense of smell and some sort of visual map embedded in their canine brains. But what about their feline counterparts? Can a cat find its way home when it gets lost in unfamiliar territory? There have been a handful of interesting cases where missing cats are able to return home after having been displaced for many miles.  The reason for cats returning home yet remains a mystery, but some animal behaviorists have done experiments and made some interesting observations on the homing instincts of cats.

How Does a Cat Find Its Way Home?

As part of research to understand lost cat behavior, some animal behavior experts have done experiments to find out can a cat finds their way home and if so, how they’re able to do so.

  • In the 1920s, Professor Frances Herrick published “The Homing Powers of the Cat,” based on his observations of how a mother cat managed to return to her kittens after being separated. The study attempted to find out how far away can a cat find its way home to its family.  The mother was able to successfully return to her litter for a total of seven times, even across distances of one to four miles.
  • In the 1950s, a group of German researchers experimented by putting cats in a large maze that opened up to different exits. The research showed that cats came out of exits that are closest to where they actually live.

Can a cat find its way back home? Based on scientific evidence, we can establish that yes, cats do have a way of finding their own way home either with their sense of smell, or through much more complicated mechanisms such a magnetic geolocation, as theorized by some researchers.

Homing instincts are definitely planted in the DNA of felines, which are territorial creatures. Cats are known to “mark” their territories with urine spraying or bunting scent glands, helping them establish olfactory cues that guide them when they’re displaced in unfamiliar territory.

But what if the distance is too great? Can a cat find its way home 6 miles away or more? There has in fact been such a case of a missing cat that travelled a great distance from the animal shelter where it was left to return back to his owner’s home.

If your cat is lost and you can’t help thinking whether or not can a lost cat find its way home, you’re also naturally worried about how his health and safety. It’s indeed a distressful situation, but it’s important to keep calm. You need to be able to think clearly and take all the necessary steps to find your missing cat, including making a thorough physical search of the immediate area and reporting your lost pet to and other lost and found channels.

How to Help A Cat Find Its Way Home

Will a cat find its way home? Yes, he can. If you believe your pet is doing its best to return to you, there are some things you can try to do to help him. These are tips offered by some pet owners who are fortunate enough to be reunited with their missing cats.

1. Leave strong-smelling food for your cat.

No matter how long your cat has gone missing, you can try leaving out some food from time to time to lure him home. Heat up his favorite food and leave it outside. In case your cat ventures close to his territory, he is likely to catch a whiff and follow the trail back to your home. Offer tuna, sardines, or any strong-smelling food that your pet wouldn’t be able to resist.

2. Hang up worn clothes or his favorite blanket.

Will a cat find its way home? It might be able to do so easier if you try this effective trick. Take articles of clothing and hang these up by the windows or anywhere outdoors to enable to scent to travel by air, and hopefully, reach your cat. It could be a used shirt of yours, a towel, your cat’s blanket or beddings, a slept on a pillowcase, or seat covers—anything that may have your or your cat’s scent on it.

3. Call out to him using your normal voice.

If your cat is lost, it would make sense to conduct searches not just once, but on a regular basis. As you plan to take your searches to nearby neighborhoods or search at varying times of the day, you may call out to your cat but use a calm voice. If your cat is hiding because of fear, the comforting sound of your voice should draw him out. Make sure you don’t sound sad or panicked when you call out his name.

4. Watch and listen closely.

Cat owners whose cats have managed to return home report that their pet returned in the times between dusk and dawn. This is because cats feel safer to move around in the dark. If you’re waiting for your cat to return home, you may want to listen closely during these hours for the quietest meow or a light scratch by the window. You may be surprised to find out it’s your cat! You may also consider setting up CCTV cameras focusing on areas around your house, or a baby monitor.

5. Leave the garage door open.

Can an indoor cat find its way home? Better believe he can, and when he does, he will be doing it sneakily. So, don’t forget to leave the garage door or interior door slightly ajar so he can enter without difficulties the moment he reaches you.


We may not have exact answers as yet about how far away can a cat find its way home, but never underestimate a feline’s innate homing abilities. If dogs are driven by their bond with their owners in searching for their way back home, cat’s territorial instincts are pretty strong (and cover a much wider area than you might think). They certainly have the ability to track familiar scents and sounds for path finding. You can try to help them out with the suggested tips above. 


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