Why Do Cats Run Away? The Important Truth

Key takeaways

11-18% of cats will go missing within a five-year period. The reason why depends on your cat's behavior, routine, and environment.

Common reasons for outdoor cats running away from home include feeling threatened in their territory, becoming injured or sick, and moving house.

Common reasons for indoor cats running away include pregnancy, mating, and a change in routine.

Follow our three simple steps to find your furry friend if they're currently missing: start a thorough physical search, recruit your neighbors, and contact local animal shelters.

In this article, we’ll explore every reason why your kitty may have run away while offering expert insights to help you find them again.

Quick Navigation

  1. Key takeaways
  2. Why do outdoor cats run away?
  3. Why do indoor cats run away?
  4. How to prevent your cat from running away
  5. How to find a lost cat in 3 simple steps
  6. FAQs
  7. Final thoughts

Why do outdoor cats run away?

Although it's more rare for an outdoor cat to run away than an indoor cat, it still happens. You may think if your cat has street smarts, they'll be able to simply find their way back to you. This isn't always the case.
There are many reasons why cats run away. When they do, they can become displaced, which means they find themselves outside of their usual territory and become disoriented.

New cats threatening their territory

Claiming territory is a natural element of a cat's life (source). If this becomes threatened by a more dominant cat, then your cat may become displaced. Stray cats can become aggressive, so your kitty may choose to leave home in order to avoid fights and altercations.
It's important to look out for signs of catfights so you can prevent your kitty from being bullied away from their home. Check for:

Bitten and damaged ears

Acting withdrawn or fearful

Limps, lumps, and scratches

Two cats engaged in a territorial dispute outside

Recently moved house

Cats have incredible homing abilities thanks to their fantastic hearing and sense of smell. In fact, cats can detect a scent up to 4 miles (6.5km) away and can hear frequencies three times higher than humans (source).
However, if you move house, it may take a while for them to recognize the new location as their territory. This means if they are let out too soon, they may instinctually return to their old home. If this is far away, they can become lost.
To prevent this from happening, make sure you keep your cat indoors when you move for at least two weeks. If they do go missing, contact your old neighbors to make sure they keep an eye out in case your clever kitty has made their way back to their old digs.

They are sick or injured

The question, 'Why do cats run away to die?' is one cat owners have been asking forever. It's always heartbreaking when elderly or sick cats run away. We can feel helpless, hurt, and frustrated. After all, we've only ever cared for, loved, and provided a safe home for our kitties. So why do they leave?
Well, unfortunately, this is when their natural instincts kick in. Our furry friends know when they're most vulnerable to predators. And this is usually when they are sick or injured. Even if your home is a calm and safe environment, cats will seek somewhere completely isolated and secluded.
This often leads to our fur babies running away to a hiding place that's hard to find.

Why do indoor cats run away?

If your indoor cat has run away from home, it can be difficult to understand why. Kitties are curious by their nature, which means if they are confined to the walls of a home, it's likely they've explored every escape route possible. But why would they want to leave?

Pregnant cat ready to give birth

It's an incredibly special time if your beloved kitty is pregnant. Whilst it is exciting, it also comes with a lot of responsibility. If you don't provide the right environment and care, it's possible your pregnant cat will run away from home to find a safe space.
Pregnant cats need somewhere:






Ideally, you can dedicate a corner of your house or a quiet room and fill a cardboard box with familiar-smelling blankets. If you don't do this, you risk your cat running away and putting themselves and their new kittens in danger.

"It's an incredibly special time if your beloved kitty is pregnant. Whilst it is exciting, it also comes with a lot of responsibility."

Cat in heat looking for a mate

If your cat has always lived indoors but has suddenly shown a keen interest in escaping, it's possible they could be looking for a mate. If they aren't neutered, they will do anything to satisfy their instinct to mate.
If your cat isn't used to the outdoors, they can quickly become displaced. This will likely result in disorientation, confusion, and fear. To stop this from happening, keep your windows and doors locked shut.
Expert Insight: Keeping your windows and doors shut will also stop your kitty's scent from escaping and attracting unneutered male cats looking for a female cat to mate with.
Lots of cats together outside looking for a mate

Change in routine

Domesticated cats are creatures of habit. This means a simple change in routine can distress our live-in fur babies and may even cause them to run away. Common causes of cats going missing include:

New pets in the house

New visitors

Building work

Loud music/sounds

Lack of attention/care

If there are inevitable changes taking place, remember to introduce your kitty to them gradually. For example, if you're intending to get another pet, make sure you do your research beforehand. It's important to respect your cat's home. If you don't, you risk your kitty running away.

"It's important to respect your cat's home. If you don't, you risk your kitty running away."

Cat sitting in a sunlit window, illustrating the role of the internal clock in daily routines

They are sick or injured

It's easy to forget that our furry friends are animals with wild instincts. Especially when they spend the afternoon snoozing on a comfortable sofa and eating roast chicken... However, no matter how comfortable your little kitty is in your home, if they become sick or injured this could change.
While they'll also understand that you and your household aren't predators, like outdoor cats, their natural instincts tell them to find somewhere completely isolated and secluded to hide.
It's important you start searching for your kitty straight away so you can get them the care they need.
Something to consider: Your cat's personality will influence their behavior in the outside world. If they're sociable, they may seek a friendly neighbor to play with. However, if they're timid or introverted, they'll likely curl up in a peaceful spot for a few hours of kip.

How to prevent your cat from running away

So, now you know why your cat might run away. But how can you prevent this in the future? It's an incredibly stressful time for you and your fur baby, so the less it happens, the better! For your well-being and your kitty's, follow PetRadar's top tips.

Observe your furry friend's behavior

By keeping a close eye on your cat's habits, you'll be able to notice any alarming changes that may indicate distress. If you take action quickly, then you'll be able to avoid losing your buddy.
It's easy to become complacent as a cat owner. But the key to a happy kitty is to pay attention. Are they eating their food? Are they drinking? Are they enjoying attention or acting withdrawn? Are they uncharacteristically irritable?
It's likely you'll pick up on any behavioral changes naturally. But if you're a busy person with a packed schedule, be sure to set some time aside to check in with your fur baby.

Keep consistent

By keeping your kitty's life consistent, you'll keep them happy. Regular dinner times with enough food, bedtimes, routines, and keeping a calm environment will help your cat feel settled and satisfied.
You may start to question whether such a routine will bore your cat. However, it's quite the opposite. For a cat, stability makes them feel safe and confident (source). Don't underestimate just how happy a regular routine will make your kitty.
If you need to change it up, do this gradually. Any drastic alterations to your kitty's day might spook them and send them running.

Keep them indoors

If you've recently moved house or you suspect your cat is distressed or threatened, keep them indoors for at least two weeks. This will help them recognize your home as their safe space and keep them calm.
If they are distressed because of other animals or territorial issues, then keeping them indoors will allow for the situation to dissolve and calm down.
It can also help your cat trust you. If they are having a distressing time, instead of running away, they will recognize that you can help them. This will bond you and your kitty even more!
Top Tip: If it's too difficult to keep your kitty strictly indoors, opt for just limiting their time outdoors.
Cute cat remaining indoors and sleeping next to a window at night

Introduce changes gradually

It's normal for situations to change over the years. However, make sure you always consider your cat. Introduce changes gradually to allow your kitty to become accustomed to them without feeling worried, distressed, or scared.
Humans are incredible at adapting to new situations and environments. But we need to remember that our furry counterparts aren't as easygoing. After all, they are animals. We can't chat with them to put their minds at rest or explain why a certain situation is happening.
Have patience and respect when your cat is adjusting to changes. It may feel small to us, but to them, it's their whole world.

"Have patience and respect when your cat is adjusting to changes. It may feel small to us, but to them, it's their whole world."

Get them microchipped

While it won't necessarily prevent your cat from running away, it will help if they get lost. Animal shelters and vets will be able to scan the chip to find your contact details so you can be reunited as soon as possible.
A recent study found that the return-to-owner rate of cats in shelters was 20 times higher for those microchipped (source). It's easy, quick, and affordable to do. It will not only help you in times of need, but it can help prevent animal shelters from becoming overwhelmed with too many lost and stray pets.
Do your bit as a pet owner, and make sure your kitty is accountable. Want to go one step further? A GPS tracker means you can keep an eye on your cat and their adventures in the great outdoors.
Person scanning a found kitten for a microchip

How to find a lost cat in 3 simple steps

If your cat has run away, there are certain steps you can take to increase your chances of finding your little buddy. It's important to remain calm and be proactive, so follow our three simple steps.

1. Start a thorough physical search

You may assume that your clever kitty will find their way home. And while they do boast an incredible homing instinct, you can't expect them to always be able to locate you. You need to start searching the area around your house for your lost cat and further afield immediately.
In the garden, follow this checklist:

Up trees

Under garden furniture

In long grass

In hedges and bushes

In outbuildings

In bins

In garages

For further afield, follow this checklist:

Under cars

In abandoned buildings

In neighbors' gardens

In neighbors' houses

Quiet streets

Nearby fields and farms

Be sure to bring a food bag or tin on your search to make noise, and continue calling their name. Cats can recognize vocal patterns, so the most attractive sound will be your voice!
Searching for a lost kitten with a flashlight

2. Recruit your neighbors to help

The fastest way to spread the message and get help finding your kitty is to start a PetRadar search. Think of it as a digital missing cat poster, but instead of waiting to see if your neighbors stumble across it, we use social media to make sure thousands of people see your lost cat.
Once you have chosen the radius of your search area, we'll organize a sponsored ad campaign that will pop up on your neighbors' Instagram and Facebook feeds, alerting them to the mission cat in the area. We also:

Support you emotionally throughout the whole process

Instantly notify you when any sightings are reported

Provide you with a personal dashboard to monitor the campaign

List your missing cat on the PetRadar website

Whilst we're hard at work, it's also worth going door-to-door asking for help. Be sure to ask your neighbors to:

Spread the message

Check their houses

Check their gardens

Keep an eye out

We'll also provide you with a printable missing cat poster so you can start posting them in your neighborhood.
Neighbors working together to find a lost kitten

3. Contact local shelters and vets

If somebody finds your missing cat, their first action will likely be to take them to an animal shelter or a vet. This will ensure their safety and keep them in the hands of the professionals. It also means your kitty can be checked for a microchip so they can contact you.
Start by calling all of the shelters and vets in the immediate area. You can then branch out further, as your kitty may have traveled quite some distance.
Top Tip: Ask if you can visit in person to check the recent animals that have been handed in, as it can be tricky to describe your cat over the phone.


Do cats come back if they run away?

Whether your cat comes back when they run away depends on why they ran away in the first place. The majority of cats will come back. However, it's important you start searching for them immediately in case they have gotten lost.

Is it normal for cats to run away?

11-18% of cats will run away from home in a 5-year period. This means it is fairly normal for your kitty to go missing. However, they may have run away because of sickness, injury, or distress, so make sure you always observe your cat's behavior to prevent future escapes.

How long do cats run away for?

Most cats will run away for around 24-48 hours. However, it all depends on your cat. Some kitties will return home after a week, some a month, and the rare few even years!

How do you attract a cat back home?

To attract a cat back home, you should open up your windows and doors. Then leave food, treats, and blankets outside to help your cat smell their way home.

Do cats remember where they live?

Yes, cats do remember where they live. Cats are very territorial and their powerful sense of smell, hearing, and sight means that their homes are deeply ingrained in their memory. If you have recently moved house, they may try to locate their old home, so be sure to keep them inside for at least two weeks.

How likely is it for a cat to come back home?

At PetRadar, we have a 68% success rate, meaning it is very likely your cat will come back home!

Why do cats randomly run away?

There are many reasons why cats randomly run away. Some include:

They are sick or injured

They are in heat, looking for a mate

They have recently moved house[[/faq-answer]]

Final thoughts

Having your kitty go missing is something many cat parents will experience. To avoid these situations becoming too stressful and emotional, be prepared. Understand your cat's behavior and routines, and respect their environment.
If your cat is currently missing, start a PetRadar search. We'll make sure thousands of your neighbors are made aware of your lost kitty while providing you with a printable poster and a personal dashboard to monitor all reported sightings.
We'll do all we can to get you reunited with your kitty. In the mean time, follow our blog to keep up to date with the latest advice and tips on cat welfare.

Written by

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Lauren Jeffries

In this blog, I combine my two areas of expertise: pets and writing. I share my personal experiences alongside plenty of animal behavior research to help owners look after their pets. I have always lived with furry friends and am now a loving cat mum to two orange kitties.

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