How do we stop our cat returning to our old house?

Keffish

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My girlfriend and I moved to a new house 8 weeks ago with two British shorthair brothers. They'd lived with us at the previous house (a quiet crescent off a fairly busy road) with us for seven years from kittens. They used a cat flap and enjoyed day and night freedom. We had a decent size back garden and there were many other gardens for them to explore as well as a green out front. Both cats are neutered, microchipped and wear collars.

Our new house is in a quiet close with a similar size back garden and even more green areas than before. When we moved in, we kept Pixel and Widget inside for two weeks and in the third week let them explore the garden during the day. We always accompanied them apart from when they darted off to investigate adjoining gardens. However, they would always return when called - and we still kept them in at night.

At the end of the third week we had a cat flap installed and they were allowed out at night. For nearly five weeks they’ve been coming and going fine. Both cats seemed happier than ever, and Pixel far calmer than the previous house. They seemed to be settling in well until last Wednesday evening, Pixel went missing. This was extremely unusual for him as he tends not to be away from his biscuit bowl for too long and needless to say we were extremely worried. He turned up three days later, on Saturday evening at our old house, which is about 800 metres away as the crow flies (but many gardens and two roads in between).

He was incredibly pleased to see us when we collected him. He willingly went into his box and we drove him home where he ate, drank and slept plenty over the next couple of days. We kept him in on Saturday night and Sunday night opened the cat flap again, but he didn’t want to go out and just wanted to stay close to us. We gave him lots of attention and tried to make him feel like this was his home. He seemed perfectly happy, but then last night (Monday) he went missing again.

As I write this on Tuesday night, he’s still missing. We asked the new owners to call us again if they see him and they reassured us that they will. We’re assuming that’s where he’s heading, but obviously, once again we’re stressed and worried.

Why did it take him five weeks to decide he wanted to return to the old house? Has he been scouting the area working out how to get back all that time? Have I mistaken his seemingly calm demeanour for depression? How can we convince him to accept his home and establish new territory? Or will he just keep returning to the old house every time we let him out?

Meanwhile his brother, Widget, appears to be adapting fine. He’s notifying the local cats that this is his garden, lounging on the shed roof and generally seems happy. He was never as adventurous as Pixel, and we’re fairly confident he won’t wander off, but are we also misreading his mood?

Sorry about the barrage of questions there, but we’re really worried about what we should do to stop Pixel going back over and over again.

Any tips will be most welcome.

Thanks.
 

FeebysOwner

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I agree with Furballsmom Furballsmom , buy or build a catio. No sense in continuing this saga of having him gone and hoping to find him, or hoping he comes back. You will lose him in the end if this doesn't stop. See link below for more information about catios/cat enclosures.
https://catiospaces.com/catios-cat-enclosures/
 

Mamanyt1953

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With a cat that determined, the only long-term answer is going to be either cat-proofing your garden so that he cannot leave, or building a catio for him. If this continues, eventually he won't make it back home. A garden can be cat-proofed by fencing, with an 18" 45 degree overhang facing INTO the fenced area, with special attention given to areas that abut the home.
 
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Keffish

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Thanks for the reply guys. Thankfully he returned of his own accord around midnight last night which is certainly a relief. :)

This is a cat that's experienced the freedom of roaming all his life. He is very much an outdoor cat. Enclosing the garden won't work; it's large and there are too many exit points. Catio's a possible solution but I wonder whether such an extreme measure will be good for his overall long-term mental health? I also have to think about his brother - so, effectively I need a solution that works for both of them.

One of the reasons we moved to a more leafy and green area was to get away from the busy-ish road and what was a very overcrowded cat area with aggressive toms that came from a house a few doors down. We wanted to give the cats a better quality of life, and I'd like to think there must be a way to help him establish that this is his territory now. I am heartened that he came back last night anway and take this as a good sign.
 

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Catio's a possible solution but I wonder whether such an extreme measure will be good for his overall long-term mental health? I also have to think about his brother - so, effectively I need
I'm confused, how could this be considered extreme?

His mental health, and his brother's, is benefitting from being outside, not from roaming. His physical health And. His. Life. is at extreme risk every single day you let him roam. Cars, cat haters, antifreeze, dogs...

A Catio can be as large and as involved as you have the resources, space and tools to make it.

The specific post in the thread I'm linking to below has two photos, the second one showing a large enclosure that the owner has built;


Here are a couple other examples from that thread;


 
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Keffish

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Thank you for your advice. I just don't think that's a solution for us.
 

Mamanyt1953

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Other than that, since cat-proofing the garden won't work, about all you can do is cross your fingers. I do wish there was a better answer.
 

ArtNJ

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You've clearly made your decision re: conversion to indoor only, and that is your perogative. However, just so you know, huge numbers of stray and feral cats get converted to indoor cats and do absolutely fine (after say about two to three weeks of whining to go out). I've done two conversions myself. I have one converted cat now. He still follows us if we go near the door and will escape for a bit if allowed, but he is extremely loving with the humans and plays vigorously with the younger cat. Happy, healthy and doing great all around. There is no lasting mental health issue as you worry about, at least not usually.

I assume the cat is chipped. If not, he should be.
 

vyger

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800 meters is about 2500 feet which I am figuring is less than a half a mile. That is really not very far for a cat. My nearest neighbor is about that far away and their cat comes over and visits sometimes. Cats have a remarkable sense of where they are and often roam over large territories. They are predators and wandering, hunting is what they do if left to their own devices.
I think in addition to getting him chipped you should also get a GPS locator collar. That way you might me able to find him when he wanders. A second thing you can do is train him to come to a whistle. That way if he is within hearing range, which for a cat is a pretty big distance, you can whistle him home. I don't have a physical whistle, I just pucker up and blow and all the cats come running. They know it usually means something good is waiting.
 

di and bob

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I thought that letting my incredibly stubborn cat outside because he loved it so much would help too, and save his sanity and mine. And he did fine for a few years. Then I found him on the road. It just isn't worth it, there are too many dangers out there. Build a catio and keep them indoors. He's disappeared twice, you have been incredibly lucky.......
 

Norachan

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One of the reasons we moved to a more leafy and green area was to get away from the busy-ish road and what was a very overcrowded cat area with aggressive toms that came from a house a few doors down. We wanted to give the cats a better quality of life, and I'd like to think there must be a way to help him establish that this is his territory now.
If your old home was only half a mile away then of course he is going to keep moving backwards and forwards between the two houses. And crossing those busy roads and coming into contact with those aggressive cats. If you want to keep him safe then enclosing your garden or making an catio is the only option. I'm sorry to be so blunt about this, but outdoor cats don't live very long. He will eventually get into a serious cat fight or end up dead on the road.

I have over 20 former free-roaming cats that now live in my house and have access to an enclosure. They're all perfectly happy here and I don't have to worry about them getting injured or disappearing and never coming home again.

Check this company out. They can either install a fence or catio for you or suggest one you can install yourself

Pet Fencing Solutions: Cat Fence, Cat Enclosure, Catio, Cat Run
 

Talien

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A half mile is nothing for a Cat, he probably still sees it as part of his territory so he'll keep wandering over there whenever he feels like it. If he has to cross a couple busy roads that will more than likely be where you'll find him one day.

If you're absolutely sure you can't enclose the garden and a catio is not an option then the only other choices I can think of are keep him inside 24/7, or something like this.
 

alphakitty

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Thanks for the reply guys. Thankfully he returned of his own accord around midnight last night which is certainly a relief. :)

This is a cat that's experienced the freedom of roaming all his life. He is very much an outdoor cat. Enclosing the garden won't work; it's large and there are too many exit points. Catio's a possible solution but I wonder whether such an extreme measure will be good for his overall long-term mental health? I also have to think about his brother - so, effectively I need a solution that works for both of them.

One of the reasons we moved to a more leafy and green area was to get away from the busy-ish road and what was a very overcrowded cat area with aggressive toms that came from a house a few doors down. We wanted to give the cats a better quality of life, and I'd like to think there must be a way to help him establish that this is his territory now. I am heartened that he came back last night anway and take this as a good sign.
Keffish,

I had a cat that would do that also, take off, not come home for days. There was something that the rascal enjoyed back at the other house. Although I disagree with the others who believe that your cat will eventually not return. There's just something over at your old residence that your kitties likes to visit or maybe had some kittie pals, they are social beings and they do also have buddies.

Aside from trapping the little guy inside a cage, I don't know if there is any reasonable behavioral modification that can effected??

As I've said previously, everything dies from something, just can't live in fear of it. Every time I let my cats out, I grit my teeth, because I know something one of these days one of them isn't going to return, or maybe it'll be me?

Best of Luck to you and your kittie family.

Alpha Kitty
 

Dacatchair

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I would also be nervous about the risks of your cat crossing a couple busy roads to visit his old stomping grounds, and generally speaking I agree that as long as a cat is happy, safer is better. But I don't agree that it is always easy to keep cats happy and contained, not everyone is able to do this, and in some areas, cats often live reasonably long happy lives, even if they roam.

For example, this large study done in the UK found that in a population of spayed and neutered cats where 90% had free access to the outdoors at least part of each day, the average lifespan was 15 years, which is exactly the same as indoor only cats in the US. https://researchonline.rvc.ac.uk/id/eprint/8438/1/8438.pdf

I am really uncomfortable when people make dire predictions for free roaming cats as if this is always or almost always what will happen, because in many situations this simply is not true. But free roaming cat probably are at greater risk, and I understand people wanting to encourage people to reduce this if possible.
 
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tarasgirl06

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My girlfriend and I moved to a new house 8 weeks ago with two British shorthair brothers. They'd lived with us at the previous house (a quiet crescent off a fairly busy road) with us for seven years from kittens. They used a cat flap and enjoyed day and night freedom. We had a decent size back garden and there were many other gardens for them to explore as well as a green out front. Both cats are neutered, microchipped and wear collars.

Our new house is in a quiet close with a similar size back garden and even more green areas than before. When we moved in, we kept Pixel and Widget inside for two weeks and in the third week let them explore the garden during the day. We always accompanied them apart from when they darted off to investigate adjoining gardens. However, they would always return when called - and we still kept them in at night.

At the end of the third week we had a cat flap installed and they were allowed out at night. For nearly five weeks they’ve been coming and going fine. Both cats seemed happier than ever, and Pixel far calmer than the previous house. They seemed to be settling in well until last Wednesday evening, Pixel went missing. This was extremely unusual for him as he tends not to be away from his biscuit bowl for too long and needless to say we were extremely worried. He turned up three days later, on Saturday evening at our old house, which is about 800 metres away as the crow flies (but many gardens and two roads in between).

He was incredibly pleased to see us when we collected him. He willingly went into his box and we drove him home where he ate, drank and slept plenty over the next couple of days. We kept him in on Saturday night and Sunday night opened the cat flap again, but he didn’t want to go out and just wanted to stay close to us. We gave him lots of attention and tried to make him feel like this was his home. He seemed perfectly happy, but then last night (Monday) he went missing again.

As I write this on Tuesday night, he’s still missing. We asked the new owners to call us again if they see him and they reassured us that they will. We’re assuming that’s where he’s heading, but obviously, once again we’re stressed and worried.

Why did it take him five weeks to decide he wanted to return to the old house? Has he been scouting the area working out how to get back all that time? Have I mistaken his seemingly calm demeanour for depression? How can we convince him to accept his home and establish new territory? Or will he just keep returning to the old house every time we let him out?

Meanwhile his brother, Widget, appears to be adapting fine. He’s notifying the local cats that this is his garden, lounging on the shed roof and generally seems happy. He was never as adventurous as Pixel, and we’re fairly confident he won’t wander off, but are we also misreading his mood?

Sorry about the barrage of questions there, but we’re really worried about what we should do to stop Pixel going back over and over again.

Any tips will be most welcome.

Thanks.
Three words: KEEP HIM IN. Responsible, caring people do, anyway. Keep them safe! and healthy.
 

danteshuman

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I always heard that when you move, you keep your cat inside for at least 2 weeks (so they can learn where there new home is.) So step one would be to keep them indoors (or on a harness walk) for 2 weeks (since he keeps running off.) I agree, a 1/2 mile is nothing.

A catio would be ideal but I know some countries are used to letting their cats run free. I hope it all works out and that your cats learn to love their new home.
 
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Keffish

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Thank you all for your thoughts and suggestions on our cat conundrum. Over the last 10 days I have been monitoring Pixel’s behaviour and now have a better idea of his movements after attaching a GPS to his collar.

His adventure starts around 9:30pm in the evening when he does an initial 15-minute loop that takes him about 100 metres from the house. He comes back, eats biscuits and goes out again. This time he travels purposefully 800m through gardens and across one road to the area where we used to live. He does a quick recon and returns directly through gardens to reach home about midnight. We’re generally asleep by then, but he appears to be in or close to our house until 1:30am. Then he sets off again...

He takes a very similar route, 800m, directly back to his old haunts. When he reaches his destination, he zigzags about doing the kitty things he’s probably always done. As the sun rises (about 4:30am – 5:00am at the moment) his GPS signal barely moves until sunset when he makes the return journey and arrives home about 10pm. Total distance covered is 5.8km.

Upon his return, he eats, drinks and sleeps for the next 24 hours. Effectively he’s gone for a day and then back for a day.

I’ve done a bit of research and whilst this kind of distance is considered high for a domestic male, neutered cat; it’s not unheard of.

“KEEP HIM IN!” some have cried and alluded to our irresponsibility as cat owners. I think that's a little bit unnecessary and insensitive, and needless to say, I would argue the opposite: we cannot in all good faith confine a cat that enjoys the outdoor life so much. We (think) we know our cat – he is not a stay-at-home kind of guy. My opinion is that keeping our cat indoors would not make him happy.

And we understand the risks.

I think most cat owners who have outdoor cats understand this. Of course, you can think about the terrible things that could happen to them, and it’s scary. Continually listing them in your head is not constructive or healthy. We prefer a more positive perspective and try to imagine the adventures he’s having, living his life to the full. I know when he comes in chirping, squeaking and quacking about the things he's been up to, that he's clearly been having the time of his life.

The stark reality is the data we've gathered quantifies the risk; the distance he's covering and the road (thankfully quiet at night) he crosses makes it higher than we would like, yes, but we at least now have better knowledge and a clearer understanding of his movements, and crucially, by continually returning, he's demonstrated he knows where his home is.

So, with this in mind, we will let him enjoy the great outdoors for now. Obviously, we would prefer it if he stayed closer to home, and it will be interesting to see whether, as we move into autumn and winter, he reduces his roaming. We will be monitoring the situation!
 
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