How to Keep an Outdoor Cat from Running Away

The debate between indoor and outdoor cats comes up regularly for cat owners. There’s no right or wrong answer to whether you let your cat roam outside or keep it in the house all the time.

But if you decide to let your cat be an outside cat, how do you ensure it doesn’t run away? Or what steps can you take to reduce the risk that it goes out and never returns? Let’s look at tips on how to keep an outdoor cat from running away.

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Why Do Outdoor Cats Run Away?

The first thing to understand is what motivates cats to run away. This can apply to outdoor or indoor cats that sneak out of the house.

Cat looking quite angry while walking across grass

There are a few common reasons behind the behavior, and it is a good idea to be aware of which ones may apply to your pet. The most common causes include the following:

  • Not neutered or spayed – Any cat that hasn’t been neutered or sprayed will be driven instinctively to find a mate during their mating season. If there’s not one nearby, male cats will travel quite a distance to find a female cat to mate with.
  • Expand their territory – Even neutered or spayed cats will still have a territory with male cats, particularly spray-marking trees and bushes around the property. They may also want to expand their territory, leading them to move further away from home as the best way to do this.
  • Nothing to hunt – A well-fed cat won’t hunt to eat, but their instincts still drive them to hunt, and if there’s nothing near the house for them to satisfy that urge, it may seek out a new environment to hunt it, further from home.
  • Exploring the area – Cats are curious and often check out a new location to see what’s there. But this can put them at risk of getting lost or the dangers of road traffic.
  • Escape a threat – One of the most common reasons cats run away is that something has scared them in or around the home. This could be anything from loud noises in the house to wild animals in the garden, making them think there is danger and they must flee. Then they can get into trouble remembering how to get back home.

Top Ways to Keep an Outdoor Cat from Running Away

There’s nothing worse than the constant dread that your cat isn’t going to come home, but there are steps you can take to help reduce the risk.

Get the Cat Sprayed or Neutered

This tops when you get a new cat or even take in a stray one. It is better for their health, reduces many behavior issues, and makes it less likely that they will run away from home.

Also, once the cat is neutered or spayed, you are less likely to fight cats or females in heat around the house, so your neighbors will also thank you for this step!

This is an important step for indoor-only cats when your new pet is old enough.

Get Your Cat Microchipped

This is another crucial step when you have a new feline friend and is especially important for an outdoor kitty.

Unlike collars or name tags, a microchip is a tiny implant placed in the back of the neck that the cat cannot remove.

An orange tabby cat being microchipped by a vet

It contains basic contact information about you, such as your phone number or address, so that if the cat is found, a vet can scan it and quickly get in touch to tell you they have your pet.

If you move, update the microchip company with your new house information so your cat isn’t returned to your old home.

Make Sure Your Cat is Comfortable in New Surroundings

Whether the cat is new or you have moved house, ensure your pet is acclimated to the new property before you let them outside.

Most people recommend anywhere from 4-5 days to two weeks of keeping them as house cats and letting them get used to where they now live before you let them outside.

If you notice they are seeking out hiding places or seem stressed, don’t let them outside and consider taking steps to reduce the stress, such as calming sprays.

Create an Outdoor Cat House

Being in the outside world is great fun for cats; sometimes, they don’t want to return indoors.

But if you are worried about them, the option is to make an outdoor cat house. You can add a few things, such as a small cat tree, favorite toys, and some bedding material.

That way, if the cat doesn’t come into the house, they have somewhere warm and cozy to sleep.

Have Feeding Routines

Feeding routines are a great way to get your cat into the house. Cat lovers know that cats will always try to get their food bowls filled as often as possible, but the best option is usually to have a feeding routine.

Also, if your cat is outdoors and knows it is near time for feeding, it will return to the house. Banging their food bowl, shaking a food container, or other audible prompts can also summon them for food.

Have More Than One Cat

This idea might not be practical for everyone, but having more than one cat can help prevent them from running away if you have the space and capacity.

Two cats standing on a gravel path

Cats like to be around other cats in most cases, and if they have company at home, this can offset the natural instinct to go and find other cats somewhere.

Plus, helping reduce contact with community cats can lessen the chance of fights or other health issues that may come from feral cats who don’t have a caring owner looking after them.

Moving House with an Outdoor Cat

Moving house with an outdoor cat is one of the most common times to find a pet has run off.

They are confused and scared the first time they leave the house on the new property. They remember the old house and are confused about where they are.

The key can be to take a few steps to help them cope with the move and reduce the risk of running off the first time they leave the house.

  • Get them used to the cat carrier – Stress from being in a pet carrier is a top reason cats bolt when released, so it is essential to spend some time before the move ensuring the cat is as comfortable as possible with the cat carrier.
  • Have an enclosed area to start with – When you first arrive at the new place, have a room where you keep the cat with their food bowl, litter tray, bedding, and toys. Keep everyone out of the room and let the cat calm down and relax after the move.
  • Keep them inside for a time – Most pet owners recommend a couple of weeks of getting used to their new home before you let your cat outside. 
  • Be around when they first go outside – Their new outdoor environment is going to be scary, so it is a good idea for cat parents to be around as much as possible when they first start to go outside. Try to let them out before meal times for maybe a half hour, then use the lure of food to get them back into the house.

You may even want to try a GPS tracker to attach to their collar for the first few months after the move. This is an excellent way to get peace of mind, as you can monitor where your cat is via an app on your smartphone. There’s always the risk of losing the tracker, but it can be a great way to find them if they run off.

Final Thoughts on How to Keep an Outdoor Cat from Running Away

The only way to be sure your cat won’t run off is to keep it indoors, but not all pet owners want to do this or find it practical.

Therefore, you can feel more confident about your outdoor kitty by reducing the risk and ensuring that your cat has the best chance of coming home if it gets lost.

Then your cat can enjoy all the fun things it can do outside while confidently coming home for food regularly.

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