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Update To clarify for everybody who suggests that I just give more food and attention, or arrange myself with him going out more:

  1. He is not 'going out more'. He is not here. After a life spending more time at home than outside, he suddenly went missing for 6 days. I returned him home, locked him up for 4 days, then let him free. He returned for a short daily visit for the next 3 days, on the third I wasn't home. He hasn't returned since (it's been 4 days now since his last appearance) and I don't expect him to come back again of his own accord.
  2. In the time after I caught and returned him, I did give him more food, snacks and attention than usual. He enjoyed it, but that didn't stop him from moving out again.
  3. I can't tempt him with food. As soon as he got the opportunity to go out again, he basically stopped eating here even though I offered a variety of food.
  4. He isn't on a long expedition, he spends some time every day in a garden 100 meters from here, but doesn't bother to come to my home.

About 20 months ago, I adopted a kitten, almost 4 months old, trapped with a feral mother. I neutered him at 6 months old, and let him roam at about 10 months old. He has a cat flap and is free to come and go. He's a very human-friendly cat, letting new people pet him, but quite afraid of other cats, not defending his territory and preferring to hide or run away when he sees another cat.

Up until last month, he was a homeboy and slept the whole day at home. I fed him wet food maybe 3-4 times a day - we didn't have exact hours, he just asked for it when he was hungry. He usually went out at night, and for a couple of hours once per day.

Three weeks ago, the weather turned warm. Suddenly, the cat went missing. I was already starting to mourn him, thinking that he must have been hit by a car, but started searching and on the sixth day, I found him in a garden two streets away, the owner said he has been visiting there a lot.

I kept the cat inside for four days (he was very unhappy about it!) and let him roam again, now with a transponder attached. I live at the edge of a large green area - there is a monastery with a large surrounding land holding, and beyond that, a forest starts - and I saw that while my cat does visit a few gardens, he spends most of the time in the meadows and forest, and walks about 15 km per day. My house is at the very far corner of his territory. I think that it's not the case of other people feeding him, but that he is surviving on his own hunt.

He started returning for a couple of hours per day, sometimes eating, sometimes ignoring the food and just cuddling and sleeping. This lasted about a week, then I had to travel for three days. He only returned the first day, then disappeared again and has not been inside the house. I returned yesterday and called him from my patio, but he didn't return.

I will now go look for him again, and probably be able to catch him, since I know where he goes, and the owner of that other garden can help. But I'm not sure what to do after that.

One person advised me to keep him inside for six weeks. I would hate to do that, since 1) he suffers when he can't go out, and 2) my yearly vacation is upcoming, as well as a couple of weekend trips, and I don't want him to be stuck alone in the small flat. Also, the vet and a couple of experienced cat owners, one of whom knows my cat, advised against it.

Is there something I can do to convince the cat to continue living here? I'd like to see him return at least once per day, ideally also spend some hours here.

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  • 1
    Have you ever considered walking your cat on a leash? Yeah, I know it's nuts, but ... My wife does this with our cats. They get the outside time, but are indoor cats. It sounds like yours wouldn't like the restriction, though. By the way - how can you ask this question without telling us your cat's name? ;)
    – Steve
    May 8, 2023 at 21:17
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    it is spring and your cat does the same thing as everybody else does spending more time outside enjoying life,my kitten 9mo did catch his first live prey a couple of days back and today he forgot to eat before going outside,he got things to do and places to be.spring is the best time of year for a cat to explore and hunt,the low temperature means your cat can be acctive for a longer time without getting too hot. May 9, 2023 at 4:37
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    If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it's yours. If not, attach a transponder... May 9, 2023 at 17:45
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    My family had a similar thing with our cat when I was little. He went missing for a few days. We went up and down the street. He had found a house where the owner took him for a stray and started feeding him better than we had (I guess). May 9, 2023 at 19:37
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    There must be a real cultural divide going on here, because IMHO letting housecats roam around outside is bordering on immoral. A housecat will not "suffer" if you don't let it out to go murdering.
    – T.E.D.
    May 9, 2023 at 19:38

4 Answers 4

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My parents have a similar cat - adopted from a feral mother, but she learned to hunt and fend for herself before we got her. She loves roaming outside, but she also likes some cuddles and the free food she gets at our home.

And IMHO that is the best way to convince your cat. Offer a safe place to rest, some food and cuddles when he wants them and always an open door. Don't lock him up or he'll connect your home with negative experiences. He is a free spirit and he's not stupid. He will return when he wants whatever you offer, but he'll avoid you if you cause him frustration by imprisoning him.

For him it's a simple tradeoff. He wants to roam, but he also wants your company and food, because it's more convenient. If you lock him up, he may decide that he values his freedom more than your convenience.

You can expect him to return more often to you when the weather gets colder again. Maybe you can also establish a little ritual of feeding him the good food once a day. My parents' cat decided she likes to sleep half a day on their sofa, but that was a recent development and her decision alone. Hopefully your cat will try new routines as well and it'll work out for you both.

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    I'm afraid this advice is not really applicable. Besides contradicting what people who have experienced this told me about locking (it does not lead to resentment), 1) he does not prefer my food. For the days that he did return, he rarely ate here, even if I served him. 2) It's also impossible to apply. Since the cat is not here, I cannot offer neither food nor cuddling. I'll have to lock him again. Of course I'll let him out at some time (and I plan to do so earlier than six weeks) but the question is what to do during the locked-up time and afterwards, as neither food nor cuddling work.
    – rumtscho
    May 9, 2023 at 6:02
  • @rumtscho Ah, sorry, that wasn't clear from your question (or I skipped over it?). That is indeed a difficult question.
    – Elmy
    May 9, 2023 at 7:08
  • @rumtscho in my simple psychologic scheme getting trapped is not a nice experience and I would not return to places I connect bad experinces with. Trapping the cat sounds really destructive to me... May 11, 2023 at 6:47
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In addition to @Elmy's answer:

  • Cats have mating season in spring and roam further (though where I am I'd have expected that somewhat earlier).
    This behaviour is typically less strong for neutered cats, but often still exists to some extent.

    If this is the main reason, he will just come back (and go off again next year).

  • A cat that is mostly indoors will likely not be an expert hunter like a completely feral cat. Still, he may now be a sufficiently good hunter to manage on his own this time of the year.

    Here, you may tempt him with nice feed.
    We have the heuristic for farmyard cats that have a mouse hunting "job": feed them sufficient so they decide to stay with you, but not so much they don't hunt any more. In your case, you can try to discourage hunting by feeding him well. But as you likely know "cats would buy mice"...

  • Your description looks to me as if he did not yet have much of an own territory before, but recently established himself in a larger area. And rather than staying inside in his very small original territory, he now also has to look after his slice of the meadows and forest.

    Personally, I wouldn't try to interfere with this. Other people think differently, and keep their cat indoors all the time. So up to you. But I guess from the description that he likes his freedom, and that is certainly adequate behavior for a cat.

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Apart from being sure that cats get their vaccinations (which, of course, they don't like, any more than the rest of us), and hoping that they don't anger neighbors by "trespassing", my approach (having been a happy "dad/mom" to several cats) is to let them go off and do what they want to do, at least if they're not just kittens. I don't at all insist that they conform to certain roles that I have in mind. Happily, a few of them were quite cuddly... while also definitely wanting periods of outdoor barbarism. :)

So, maybe, a point is to not have unreasonable expectations for cats (or people, similarly, in my experience). :)

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There was a great post I read once about raising human children that I think applies really well here:

The idea is that there are 4 stages of parenting:

  1. The Commander
  2. The Coach
  3. The Counselor << I believe you are here
  4. The Friend/Consultant

Reference: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/the-four-phases-of-parenthood

Each stage has a different parenting style, and I think what you're experiencing now is a shift from the Coach stage to the Counselor stage.

  • Notably, during this transition, parents will find that their child begins to rely on them less and less, so they should transition their parenting model from one of actively-teaching to simply being there whenever their child seeks guidance.

Parents often find it difficult to let go of their active engagement in their child's development during this period and letting their child explore and learn naturally on their own. I believe what you're feeling now is probably something very similar.

  • But! It's important for parents to allow their children to proceed with this development, and not try to lock them down and keep them as children forever. Doing so would be detrimental to the child's mental health, and your long term relationship with them.

I suspect your cat is going through a very similar kind of transition period: He no longer needs your "active" support but will still seek you out whenever he needs you.

Let him come to you on his own accord as he sees fit. If he outgrew his reliance on your support, then it is what it is.

  • Don't push your affections on him, else it will backfire and he'll grow to resent you.
  • Rather, let your relationship progress naturally and eventually you'll reach the Friend/Consultant phase. Here, you'll no longer be seeing each other very often, but you can be sure that whenever your paths do cross, your meetings will be filled with warm feelings and affections for each other.

All the best, and happy cat parenting!

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