Cats do remember where they live especially if they roam only reasonable distance from home. Outdoor cats, despite being given freedom to explore, still understand that they are reliant on you for their needs, such as food, water, shelter and social interaction. Because of this, they will usually find their way home with no problem. However, indoor cats who have limited exposure to the outside world can get scared and may not trust their inner compass. They might get confused or even lost.
If you want to know more about whether your cat remembers where it lives, keep on reading.
How do cats roam?
Before we discuss how cats make their way home, we have to understand what it is like for a cat to roam outside. In any setting, be it rural, suburban, or urban, cats will always be territorial creatures.
Cats are quite subtle when marking their territory. A cat will rub its chin and body on your legs, and any other object in your home, to spread its pheromones.
Cats exhibit the same behavior outside their homes. Since there really is no such thing as a boundary for an adventurous cat, they can claim entire streets and blocks as their territory. Most of the time, cats stay within the confines of their territory and are aggressive towards cats encroaching on it.
Studies have used tracking devices to show that some cats have territories that can be up to three acres wide.
Indoor cats, however, roam shorter distances when they are left outside or accidentally get out. These cats usually do not venture more than a mile away from where they live.
A cat that lives in a neighborhood with a large cat population may explore only to the end of its street. Others who are even more cautious prefer to stay within the confines of their yard.
What do cats do when they are roaming?
Studies have shown that cats hunt prey, which can include small reptiles, rodents, spiders, and all kinds of insects. Some of these cats are often seen eating, whether it be a free meal given by a friendly neighbor, or food from the trash.
There is no need to worry that your cat is hungry, especially if your cat is usually gone for just a night. Chances are they have done what they need to do to survive.
How do cats know to come back home?
Cats that are given the freedom to explore both the indoors and outdoors will gain an understanding of the surrounding territory quickly and will usually not wander very far. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about cats that have never set foot outdoors.
There have been studies, but it is still quite unclear exactly how cats come back home.
Cats mark their territories by rubbing their scent or spraying surfaces like porches and steps. Cats normally use their sense of smell to pick up other nearby cats’ scents. This way they know which areas are off-limits. They can also utilize this same technique to catch familiar scents which will help them find their way home.
While dogs still have a more superior sense of smell, cats have a sense of smell that is 16 times better than a human’s. These sensory powers can still certainly help the cat navigate the world around it.
Cats’ ears, like those of most mammals, contain iron. This helps them determine direction thanks to magnetic fields naturally found in the ground. Other mammals, like deer, have demonstrated the ability to differentiate between north and south, which means that it is not out of the realm of possibility that cats can as well.
Cat’s Short Term Memory
Studies have shown that not a lot of animals have short-term memory. In one study, 25 species were studied and the average short-term memory span was only 27 seconds. A dog has a memory span of two minutes.
Cats use associative memory to store away information that helps them survive. This means that they remember places where they are provided with food and shelter. These associative memories are what regulate a cat’s behavior. For example, a cat will run into the kitchen whenever they hear the sound of a can being opened, even if their owner is simply opening a can of beans.
This associative memory is likely how your cat remembers you. Even though your cat may not remember specific interactions with you, it will come to associate you with food, shelter, and love. The fact that you provide the three things it needs to survive makes you quite unforgettable to your cat.
Do cats miss their owners?
Cat behaviorists believe that cats do miss their owners. It is just that the signs that they do are not that apparent. When a cat misses its human, it will try to relieve its stress by eliminating outside its litter box.
Some cat owners who come home to see that their cat has peed or pooped outside its litter box will think that their cat did this because they are angry or spiteful, when in fact, the cat did those things due to distress and sadness. If your cat has an accident when you have been away for some time, it is probably because she misses you.
If your cat imprinted on you, it might miss you even more. Imprinting is the process by which a kitten bonds with its mother. When your cat was taken from its mother at a young age and came to live with you, it may have imprinted on you. If this is the case, the kitten is more likely to remember you after long absences and miss you.
Yes, generally speaking, cats do remember where they live. Outdoor cats that are given freedom to roam may have territories as wide as three acres, but at the end of the day, they will come back to the place where their basic needs are met. Indoor cats that have never been outside tend to stay near where they live since they are more cautious about their surroundings. If you are able to provide your cat with food, water, shelter, and love, it will have a hard time forgetting you and will always want to come home to where you are.
Image: istockphoto.com / Nils Jacobi