Whether you're deciding if you're going to let your cat roam around outside or are simply wondering why a cat with a collar from a distant neighbourhood is in your backyard, the question of how far a cat can get around is certainly an interesting one. I've had and cared for many cats over my lifetime, and more than a few I let roam around outside.
While I initially expected them to stay relatively close to the house, it was quite surprising how far I've seen a cat go. They can be rather adventurous wanderers!
In this article, we'll go over some deciding factors that go into a cat's roaming habits, look into a cat's average roaming distance, and how they can play a decided impact on exactly how far they can find themselves in a relatively short amount of time.
How Far Do Cats Roam? (in short)
Cats have a natural instinct for exploration and independence, leading them to wander varying distances. The extent of their roaming really does depend on many factors like breed, individual temperament, and if they have been neutered!
Typically, domestic cats establish a home range encompassing their immediate surroundings, extending to neighboring yards or nearby streets.
On average, cats may venture around 200 to 500 meters from home.
However, some felines with a more adventurous disposition or access to outdoor spaces such as rural areas or large gardens can roam much farther, covering distances of several kilometers. It really does depend.
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Why Do Cats Roam?
Depending on the situation, there can be a large number of reasons why a domestic cat finds itself roaming the earth. This can range from looking for food to seeking out a mate, to even trying to get back home homeward bound-style.
Below, we're going to hit up the top three main deciding factors that determine how far a cat can find themselves.
The first and most obvious factor that can determine how far adult cats can find themselves comes down to any available food in the area.
Cats will often navigate toward locations that are more likely to host wildlife such as small rodents (like mice or moles) as well as birds, fish, or snakes.
Cats will often seek out areas where these animals are plentiful and base the bulk of their traveling there. This is because these locations, if largely free of predators, offer the cat an easier time to find, catch, and kill prey compared to areas where these animals are less plentiful.
If you're a cat owner that lives near wooded areas, this is good news! While you'll certainly need to make sure you have them properly washed for fleas and ticks more often than not, wooded and forest areas are much more likely to have these smaller animals, thus greatly reducing how far your cat may roam.
On the other hand, cats that live out in the city or areas with more human infrastructure will tend to find themselves roaming further and further away to find any prey while also hopefully avoiding any dangerous threats (like cars and other humans).
Mating is also another expected reason why a cat may find themselves roaming around. In fact, unless your cat has been spayed or neutered, the urge to mate is arguably one of the biggest reasons that a cat may find themselves roaming the streets.
This compulsion impacts male cats over females and can have them traveling several acres at a time in order to find a mate.
Female cats are much less impacted by this desire, instead holding to the idea that the male will "come to them". As a result, female cats tend to hunker down and make themselves known to any male cats in the area (what that loud guttural sound is in the middle of the night) that they are fertile and ready.
This means that female cats won't go nearly as far, often staying as close to one location as possible and simply waiting on the man to show up.
If two males find themselves in the same area as a female, they'll fight for the right to mate with her. The winner will end their roaming there while the loser will have to keep searching, thus roaming out even farther.
This means if your cat isn't in the gym training for his chance, you may have to learn that they've gone hundreds of acres trying to get a girlfriend.
Lastly, and one that was the most surprising to me, was your pet cat's gender. It may seem like a complete non-issue whether the cat in question is a male or female, but the reality is that it plays a significant role in their travel distances.
Males can often find themselves venturing out over twice as far as female cats, with males reaching upwards of 1,500 feet (over 1/4 mile) and females going out as far as 750 feet (roughly 1/8 mile).
This is for a lot of reasons, many of which we've already discussed with the food and mating factors. Another one is simply that male cats will often establish a much larger territory for themselves in comparison to females. A feral male cat will survey a territory as large as over 153 acres, while female cats will often only look over around 42 acres of space.
Their territory space is ideally meant to be rounded out, though, more often than not, outside influences (ie. food or finding a potential mate) can have an influence.
For example, a cat will often avoid wide-open areas with little cover while also focusing more heavily along river territories as open spaces put them at risk of predators while rivers are known as ideal spots for finding small rodents.
How Far Do Cats Travel From Home?
So, how far do cats walk? Depending on the health of the cat, it's not unusual for them to walk upwards of half a mile or more per day, though this largely depends on the aforementioned points. Still, this is only in standard cases.
Be careful when you move home! We have read several stories about cats traveling hundreds of miles in order to get back to their former home.
A famous real-life instance of this was a cat named Sugar that managed to travel over 200 miles to get back to her home!
Indoor Cats Vs. Outdoor Cats - Which Is Best?
If you're like me, you may be interested in letting your cat be an indoor/outdoor cat and giving them the freedom to roam and be free if they so chose.
And while I can't fault you for that desire, the sad truth of the matter is, unless you're living out on a farm or have several acres of land to yourself, having an outdoor cat is just asking for all the worse types of trouble.
Dangers To Them
Cats that go outdoors in cities, suburbs, or human-developed areas run the risk of getting seriously injured (or even killed) by the negligence of surrounding humans. As an example, it's easy for a cat to be hit by a car, grabbed by a person, or even mistakenly picked up by the pound or certain animal shelters.
The worse thing imaginable is for you to notice your cat has been missing for a lot longer than you'd expect only to learn the absolute worse news. It's a terrible situation and infinitely worse than simply playing with them in the house to burn off their excess energy.
It may seem cruel to keep them inside, but you may very well be saving their life by keeping them indoors.
A Danger To Others
Not only does your cat being an outdoors cat put them in danger, but your cat could pose a threat to others all on their own.
Whether that's marking a random person's home, digging up a neighbor's garden, or even killing random animals in their environment (even if they don't plan on eating them), pet-owned outdoor cats can be a nightmare for the other people around you.
By keeping them indoors, you ensure that these potentially serious issues are, at the very least, contained to your own home where you can better train out any bad behavior without worrying about getting a lot of embarrassing calls from your neighbors.
Useful Tips To Keep Your Cat Safe
If you've heard the potential dangers and drawbacks of having a cat outside yet still want to allow them to roam freely, there are some useful tips you'll want to implement in order to ensure they are as safe as possible.
1. Make Sure Your Cat Is Microchipped & Collared
Ok, if you're going to let them go out, at least make sure they have a quality cat collar on while also making sure they've been properly microchipped.
This won't protect them from some of the more dangerous threats outside (other wild cats or animals, cars, or potentially violent people), but it will ensure that, if your cat ends up being lost or mistaken for a stray, animal services will at least return them to you.
A car microchip is very affordable (especially for kittens) and has a 20xs higher chance that your cat is returned than if they are not.
2. Make Sure They Are Fully Vaccinated
You want to make sure you've had your cats fully vaccinated as early as possible even if you don't plan on letting them go outside.
If you're planning on letting them be outdoors cats, this is especially important as rabies is one of the more prevalent diseases that animals can get.
You'll also want to make sure they're given an additional booster every couple of years to ensure their immune system is as protected against these diseases and infections as possible.
3. Get Them Spayed/Neutered
As with their vaccinations, it's important that your cat is either spayed (females) or neutered (males). This not only reduces the urge for your cat to roam around outside (remember that mating is a huge factor) but they also won't end up spraying in your house.
If you do end up letting them go out, a neutered male is less likely to find themselves roaming outside of the immediate area while spayed females will be much quieter throughout the nighttime hours.
4. Consider Leaving Food Close To Home
Lastly, you want to make sure you leave food near your house, especially if they are outside at the time. Remember that cat food is one of the factors that impact a cat's roaming distance. The closer food is to the home, the closer they'll stay.
This is a great way to ensure they can still roam around while also never leaving your neighborhood.
5. Consider an Outdoor Shelter
If you know your cat is going to stay outside and resist calls to come inside then it might be wise to invest in an outdoor cat house so that they have somewhere to shelter from the elements and potential predators.
Read this next: Microchipping Your Cat: A Vet’s Guide
How Far Do Cats Roam? Summary
Cats love to travel and explore. It's simply in their nature and something you can expect no matter the cat's gender, age, or overall disposition.
And while some factors can exacerbate these issues more than they'd otherwise be, by understanding and resolving these issues as quickly as possible, you can ensure your cat's desire to go out and explore is reduced, ensuring they (and the outside environment) is as safe and free of danger as possible.