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We have a cat- a rag doll/Balinese that we got as a kitten. He's neutered and microchipped and now around 12 months old. We moved about 6 months ago to an apartment near a shopping centre and the beach. He has gradually widened his domain and now roams over an area up to 1km from his home. He is very sociable, and people love him, but we get up to 10 calls a day from people who wonder if he is lost. We collected him today from a gym on the second floor of a shopping mall. Most of the businesses know him, especially the cafes, so the calls are decreasing in frequency. We have retrieved him from, or had calls from, a nail salon, a police patrol car, numerous cafes, the local yacht club, a dress shop, the local library, two gyms, and several bars. If a car door is opened while he is wandering through the parking area beside the beach he will jump in looking for children to play with. He usually comes home at night unless (we suspect) he accidentally gets shut in some business overnight.

We are worried that he will be taken advantage of or get bowled by a car - some of his domain involves crossing roads. If kept inside for longer than a day he starts frantically searching for open windows and waiting near doors for the chance to escape. He's very affectionate when he comes home, but doesn't do much more than eat, sleep then disappear for another 12-18 hours.

We are wondering what our options are - I figure he needs to want to stay around home, so what can we do to make it more attractive for him?

Would another cat be worth trying (i.e. as a playmate for him)?

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    What do you do to interact with your cat and entertain him? I would assume, that he searches less for entertainment, if he would get more at home. But I am not experienced with cats, so just a guess Nov 1, 2022 at 6:14
  • Request for more info: Is he neutered? Intact males roam larger territories than neutered males and can be drawn further afield by female cats in heat.
    – Lizbee
    Nov 2, 2022 at 14:59
  • @terdon Thanks for the heads-up. I checked and no text is legible, and I suspect it was something innocuous like the T&C for a power connection.
    – rossmcm
    Nov 2, 2022 at 19:21
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    @Lizbee he is neutered.
    – rossmcm
    Nov 2, 2022 at 19:22

5 Answers 5

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Not two cats are alike, in the same way that no two people are alike. Some people like to stay home and cook or watch TV, other people like to get their heads into the mouths of crocodiles and steal treasures from ancient temples.

Back to reality: your cat wants to climb the Everest and dive into the Marianna trench. You want to teach him to be couch potato, drink beer and watch TV. Even if you succeed, you will be both unhappy - him because he is not a couch potato, and you because he will not be energetic and playful about anything.

So maybe you will learn to accept each other with your different personalities and different expectations. Let him roam. As long as he returns, and as long as people know him, not many bad things can happen.

To improve the situation a little, you might want to do two things:

  1. Add a collar to him, with two medallions. One medallion will contain contact information (phone number). The other medallion, just the text: "I am not lost. I like to roam." (or something similar.) Make sure that the "I am not lost" medallion is visible first - to avoid getting unneeded phone calls.

  2. Get a harness for him and a leash. Occasionally, walk with him "wherever" he wants. You will learn about his whereabouts, you will befriend people, and get more comfortable about the entire situation.

I understand that you would prefer a cuddling lap cat, but your lottery got you a different present. Learn to live with it, and make the best out of it.

I wish you both a long, happy, healthy life.

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    Maybe add some kind of adress/location at the collar, so the people know the "area" your cat is "allowed" to roam. "I am from new town quarter" or similar Nov 1, 2022 at 16:37
  • @virolino, last time I checked, cats don't drink beer. Nov 1, 2022 at 19:20
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    Thanks, @virolino, his collar has a ph. number and a QR code which points to his website. The "I'm not lost" text is a good idea.
    – rossmcm
    Nov 1, 2022 at 22:39
  • @ColonelCornieliusCornwall: I am not sure if you are serious or if you just joined my joke / metaphor. On the fact side, cats might drink beer occasionally - but I do not have verifiable information on this.
    – virolino
    Nov 2, 2022 at 9:04
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    @Allerleirauh: I already thought of this too, but just "giving" one's address away for free might not be very safe. That is why I provided the best alternative which came to mind.
    – virolino
    Nov 2, 2022 at 9:06
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There is a reason that nearly all major veterinary associations (at least in the US) recommend all pet cats be kept strictly indoors. The indoor/outdoor lifestyle does, statistically, dramatically lower their life expectancy. I've had cats and dogs my entire life, and as a kid (suburban town in the US) we always had cats we would let outside when they wanted and every single one died eventually from being an outdoor cat; attacked by a hawk, locked in somebodies garage that then sold the house, hit by a car, hit by a car. I don't mean to be crude but that is a probable eventuality here.

Your cat has become accustomed to a certain lifestyle and enjoys it, this is why he acts so frantically when he is deprived of his outdoor time. Behaviors can be learned, unlearned, and directed. It sounds like he enjoys the exploration and socialization aspect of being an outdoors cat. I would strongly recommend you look to enrich his home environment so he can get that same sense of exploration and socialization indoors. Introduce more verticality in your inside space, places you can encourage him to climb and hide out and explore. Be diligent about having regularly scheduled, daily/multiple times a day, play time with him. If he truly does enjoy socializing a lot, consider a second cat, but remember this second cat will have its own personality that may or may not mesh as perfectly as you hope (maybe consider fostering for a local shelter if you can so your cat can get a lot of different types of socializing). My current cats (both previous strays) have LOVED having a routine that we follow everyday (breakfast time, play time, dinner time, play time, treat time, bed time) so much so they jump the gun and are usually waiting on us to fulfill their next activity.

If you do consider keeping him strictly as an indoor cat (which I strongly recommend), just accept that it will be a process and he won't switch overnight to being happy about it but focus your effort into creating an indoor environment full of enriching activities for him. At the end of the day his health and wellbeing is your responsibility more than it is his.

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    Welcome to pets.SE! Your answer is good quality in general, but it would increase value, if you focus more on the question: HOW to change the wandering. I agree that activity at home is the aim, but maybe you have experience on HOW to go the steps in between? Nov 1, 2022 at 16:35
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    @Allerleirauh This is a "frame challenge" answer. While appropriate, and understood from context, it might benefit from making that claim up front.
    – Wyrmwood
    Nov 2, 2022 at 15:37
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    Really, this is the correct answer. This is precisely why we keep all of our cats indoors despite how much some of them want to explore. Nov 2, 2022 at 19:21
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    I have a cat like the one being discussed, an incorrigible roamer, and he is 14 years old, so they don't always come to a sticky end. Nov 2, 2022 at 22:55
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    My outdoor cat just turned 21, and we live in an area with coyotes and owls a-plenty. I consider keeping such an animal inside as borderline animal-cruelty (with the main upside being to protect local wildlife). Why imprison something just to extend it's life?
    – johnDanger
    Nov 3, 2022 at 0:59
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Most of the businesses know him, especially the cafes

People have a tendency to offer cats morsels of food, especially if they think the cat doesn't have a home. You said that he's been spotted at "numerous" cafes, bars, and other places that serve food or light refreshments. I'll wager that your cat is getting lots of snacks on his excursions, which would be a huge driving factor to make him want to wander out. Why stay inside with just the kibble when there are lots of people out there who will give you all sorts of tasty food?

I occasionally see animals wandering around that have a tag or collar that says something along the lines of "Please don't feed me, I'm on a diet and have plenty of food at home". A tag like that can reduce the amount of food he's offered and thus decrease the incentive to wander. Personally, I'd be tempted to install a GPS tracker on his collar, map out the specific locations he frequents, and then talk to the people that work there.

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    Your answer would become better if you replace "good food" with "tasty food". They are not really synonyms. And the cat goes to those places for "tasty", not for "good". Just like people.
    – virolino
    Nov 2, 2022 at 12:23
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Getting your cat a playmate may work, but it may not. There is no guarantee that two cats will get along. They may just ignore one another, and then you will have two bored cats if you try to keep them indoors

A friend had four cats of various ages. They were all very nice cats, but they gave no indication of interacting with each other. However, they were confined to the house and garden, so they may have appreciated each other's company. Only the youngest cat knew how to escape, and so roam free. I often found him outside the front door, waiting to be let in. The other three cats were either too old or too dim-witted to escape.

I would suggest that you try to get your cat used to a harness, and then you can take him for lots of walks. If you have bicycles, you could get a cat basket and take him for rides, as well. That may provide him with the stimulation that he needs, and obviously desires.

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  • Thanks for the reply Mick. On the occasions where he has had other cats staying he made an effort. It doesn't seem to be in his nature to be aggro. He just wants to hang out with them (and with people, and with dogs even!).
    – rossmcm
    Nov 1, 2022 at 9:31
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Sorry to hear of your wandering problems. If he was a six month old kitten when you moved it seems unlikely he was very far along developing a territory. You don't mention how far you moved, are the pickup points in the direction of your old home? If so, despite his age he might just have been establishing a territory prior to your move.

Was he neutered late i.e. already developing territorial behaviour (e.g. spraying)? Intact males will try to establish a territory that can certainly be 1km or more.

Are there signs of fighting, ear damage, tufts of fur detached? If so he really should have the feline HIV (FIV) vaccination, I lost a fighting (ex-rescue) cat to that.

There are two other drivers for roaming. Firstly, he may well be hunting. Does he bring you home any victims? Aside from the concern about injury, hunting cats are a serious threat to biodiversity wherever they are present in any density (which tends to be wherever there are humans in any density).

The second reason is that he might be developing/have other homes, possibly where he just visits or where he could be additionally fed. Lots of cats do this and if there is noise or disturbance (do you have small kids who are pestering him, or loud noise?) they may be actively seeking another home. Try and set a quiet spot (ideally up high, they like that) for them to sleep, they may switch between different ones. Try not to disturb their sleeping places. A cat which is actively seeking other homes will accelerate this process if you get another cat. They are not the social animals that dogs are and may get stressed with other cats.

You can exercise your cat at home. There is peer reviewed evidence that may reduce predation. If you get a (~1.5m) stick and tie some string to it which you dangle/drag/flick in front your cat will switch into hunting serial killer mode. Be careful you don't pull on his teeth with the string. You can also use a laser pointer or a torch in low light and flick the beam about in front of the cat (up the stairs if you have any), be very careful you don't shine it in his eyes though. Both of these activities can wear out the cat, leading it to sleep. They are ambush predators who like to conserve energy. Over time, neutered males tend to put on weight (need to watch that if it gets too much..) and be happy to stay home more.

Fundamentally, we have to treat them like pets, but even well socialised cats are not fully domesticated, they have minds of their own. I like the dual tag idea, but you can also use a GPS tracker to see where he is going. He may find another home he likes better. You can do some retrieves but if the interval between returns gets too long perhaps might want to consider whether you want to fight their will over time, particularly if there is a busy road crossing between your homes. It is possible a sad conversation and a handshake might be in order, perhaps in return for payment for vaccinations already given and reassignment of the chip if the cat has chosen wisely.

Good luck. He may settle down.

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  • Hi, thanks for the comments. He's a long way from our old home. He's not trying to go back, he just likes to party. No evidence of fighting. We considered a tracker but he's always where people are and they call if they don't know him. Most often, when the shops/bars close or if it's raining he wanders home. We have tried walking him on a leash but he hates being out in the open and tethered. If we go for a walk on the beach, he'll come, but he's nervous and always sticks close to cover. He's never shown any territorial behaviour (there are a few cats and dogs in our complex).
    – rossmcm
    Nov 1, 2022 at 22:28
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    @Speromelior: you are the living example of contradictions, it seems. You are worried about biodiversity in an area with cafes, shopping malls and all the business you can expect in a town or a city. And then: "cats are not fully domesticated" vs "Good luck. He may settle down." You do not say bad things, but the way you put them together is ... original.
    – virolino
    Nov 2, 2022 at 12:30

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