Will My Cat Come Back if I Let Him Outside? The Important Truth

A cat sat next to an open window wanting to explore the outdoors

Key takeaways

Being a responsible pet owner means doing what's best for your kitty. Sometimes, this means letting them outside so they can get the physical and mental stimulation they need.

However, how can we trust our cats to come back home? It's a daunting process, but with time, you can train your cat to go outside and come back again safely.

We're exploring exactly how in 3 easy steps before answering some key questions about your kitties.

Quick Navigation

  1. Key takeaways
  2. How to let your cat outside
  3. How outdoor cats find their way home
  4. Should you keep your cat indoors?
  5. FAQs
  6. Final thoughts

How to let your cat outside

Choosing when and how to let your cat outside is a big decision. Understandably, cat owners can be full of worry and anxiety about how their fur babies will navigate the outside world and whether they'll be able to find their way home.
However, adult cats have very developed senses. This means, the majority of the time, they will be able to live a happy indoor/outdoor life. There are also a few things you can do to ensure their safety.

1. Wait until they're comfortable

For your cat to come home safely after an outdoor adventure, they'll need to recognize your house as their territory. This can take time, so there are a few scenarios where you should wait a while before letting them outside:

You have just moved house: If you and your kitty have just moved house, you'll need to keep your cat inside for at least two weeks. This will help them associate the smells, sounds, and sights of the new house with their territory. If you let them out before, you risk them trying to return to their previous house and getting lost.

They are a new kitten: Before you let your new cat explore, you need to ensure they are safe. This can include getting all their vaccinations and getting your cat spayed. This will help them avoid picking up diseases, getting pregnant too early, or getting into fights with other neighborhood cats.

You have recently adopted/rehomed them: Similar to moving house, a cat that has recently been adopted will need to fully adjust to their surroundings before being allowed outdoors. If sufficient time doesn't pass, they may try to return to their previous pet parents.

A cat sat next to an open window

2. Let them gradually adjust

If you own an indoor cat that has never been outdoors, you need to help them gradually adjust. This means supervising them and building up their experience. Follow these steps to train your kitty to go outside and come back home:


Go outside with them: When you're letting your cat outside for the first time, go with them and observe them. This will make them feel safer and more confident and will mean you can keep an eye on them.


Keep calling them back to you: Every now and then, call them back to you and reward them with a treat. This will prevent them from getting distracted and exploring too far, and they will start to positively associate coming back to you with a tasty treat!


Go inside and call them in for dinner: Stay outside for a maximum of 15 minutes and then head back into the house. Don't pick them up or force them in. Instead, call their name, shake their treat bag, and wait for them to follow you. Once inside, give them dinner so they associate coming home with their normal routine.


Repeat: Repeat this over the next couple of days and gradually increase the time you spend outside.

Top Tip: Once you feel confident that they will return, you can start letting your cat outside on their own!
Two cat owners with their cats outside training them to come back in

3. Keep them safe

Even after training them, you may still feel a bit apprehensive about letting them explore on their own. This is perfectly natural. But don't worry. There are steps that pet owners can take to further ensure the safety of their free-roaming cats:

Get them microchipped: Every responsible pet parent will get their cat microchipped. This is a way of identifying your kitty and proving ownership. Animal shelters and vets will scan a lost pet for their chip so they are able to contact the pet owner. Without this, your cat may be put up for adoption.

Install a cat flap: A cat door or cat flap will mean that your kitty will never get trapped outside or inside. They will be able to come and go as they please. If you want your pet door to also prevent other cats from entering the house, then it's worth looking into microchip ones. These will be able to scan your cat's microchip as they approach and then open for them.

Use a GPS tracker: If you think you've got a particularly adventurous furry friend, then a GPS tracker may put your mind at rest. These can clip onto your kitty's collar so you can live-track their location.

A cat exploring outside

If you think you've got a particularly adventurous furry friend, then a GPS tracker may put your mind at rest.

How outdoor cats find their way home

You may be wondering, at this point, how outdoor cats can actually find their way home, especially when they travel long distances every day. Surprisingly, most cats will usually stay within half a kilometer of their home, which isn't too far at all. (source)
However, this does depend on your cat's personality and where you live. A rural countryside home will mean your cat will probably have a larger territory compared to an inner-city cat that's fighting with its neighbors for space.
The main ways these kitties find their way home are:

Practice and experience: Cats build up their sense of location through experience and practice. Every adventure means they're building up their knowledge of the area and creating new routes, maps, and visual cues in their head.

Powerful senses: A cat's hearing and sense of smell are incredibly impressive. They can detect frequencies of up to 85,000 Hz, whereas humans can only hear up to 20,000 Hz. (source) This means they can find their way around by following certain sounds and smells and pinpointing their location.

Tapping into the Earth's electromagnetic field: Recent studies have found that cats are sensitive to the Earth's electromagnetic field, meaning they can use the North and South axes to find their way around.

A cat sniffing the air to help them find their way home

Should you keep your cat indoors?

You may be thinking, after all of this, maybe it's easier to just keep them indoors. And sometimes, that can be true. Many cats live a fulfilling life without ever exploring the great outdoors. However, this is only possible in the right situations.

Plenty of space

Lots of entertainment

Lots of mental and physical stimulation


Not to be left alone for too long

Expert Insight: If you can't provide this, then you risk your cat becoming bored, stressed, and depressed. This can lead to behavior issues, and even escaping and running away.
An indoor cat sleeping peacefully by a window


Will my cat run away if I let him outside?

Your cat is unlikely to run away as soon as you let him outside. However, it's important you gradually introduce them to the outdoors while you supervise them before letting them out on their own.

How do you train a cat to go outside and not run away?

To train a cat to go outside and not run away, you need to supervise them at 15-minute intervals outside. When outside, call them back to you and reward them with a treat. After 15 minutes, go inside, call them in, and if they follow, you reward them with dinner. Continue this process until you're confident they'll come back home.

What if I let my cat out and it doesn't come back?

If you've let your cat out and they haven't come back, don't panic. It's important to act quickly and report them missing. Then, start a thorough physical search of the area and spread the message around your neighborhood.

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

Thanks to their great sense of direction, your cat is likely to come back home. Their strong sense of smell, hearing, and sensitivity to the Earth's electromagnetic field mean they will usually able to find their way around. However, don't wait for them to find its way home; start searching for them and spreading the message.

How long will a cat stay outside before coming home?

Cats are natural adventurers, meaning they can sometimes stay outside for 24 hours hunting and playing before coming back home. If more than 24 hours have passed, start searching for them.

How far can a cat find its way home?

A cat can find its way home if they are still within their territory. This means within around 0.2km up to 5km, depending on the cat and the area they live in. If they are outside of their usual territory, they may get disoriented and struggle to find their way back.

How do you lure a cat back home?

To lure a cat back home, leave strong-smelling food outside, clothes, blankets, toys, and their litter box. You can also open up windows and doors so familiar sounds will travel further.

Final thoughts

We hope this guide has been helpful and you feel a little more confident to let your furry friend explore the great outdoors. After all, they're curious creatures and will no doubt enjoy some adventures.
If they don't come back, we're always here for you. Reporting your pet missing with PetRadar helps locate them quickly and safely. We've already reunited over 10,000 lost pets with their owners, so you'll be in good hands!

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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