My Cat Did not Recognize me Outside

Maria Bayote

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This morning one of my cats escaped without my husband noticing, as he left early for some appointment. When I woke up, Barley was not on the coffee table (its his favorite spot) but I assumed he was somewhere else in the house. I did a lot of house chores first and decided to go to the rooftop to hang some washed rugs. It was then in the corner of my eye I saw a speck of orange. It was my Barley at the foot of the stairs of the apartment building! My heart raced and went to him hurriedly but he got afraid and ran further and further down the stairs. So I took it slow, yet at the back of my mind I was in panic mode because he was already near the exit and outside is a very busy street. When he looked at me, it was without recognition. His eyes were opened wide in fright. As I was about to grab him, he ran again away from me but luckily he decided to go back up. It was this time that he was already meowing so loud for the first time since he came into our lives. I finally managed to catch him and take him back inside.

It got me thinking: why did he not recognize me outside our flat? He was obviously scared of me. I just got lucky I caught him back to the house. Do cats only recognize their human if inside their home?

Now he rests between my legs.
 

Kieka

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Probably a combination of scared and you were out of context. Like seeing your teacher at the mall in elementary school. Plus cats dont have the best vision; your voice sounds slightly different outside and your smell is mixed up in everything else. It all just makes it harder for them to identify and place things/people. It's fairly normal and nothing to worry about.
 

ArtNJ

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My guess is that for an indoor only cat, it is just another manifestation of something you have seen many times -- that cats don't always respond to stress well, and their human can't comfort them directly when they are stressed.

I've found that when a cat gets outside, the key is to act like its no big deal, you are delighted to see your cat and just want to gentle and gradually come over and get him some scritches. Either that or just bring the treat bag outside and shake it. Less than ideal from a reinforcement perspective, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
 
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Maria Bayote

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I used to have the same trouble with Beau. As you said, Barley appeared to be scared, but I don't think it was of you. There's suddenly so much to take in that I think it becomes overwhelming.
He has always been an indoor only cat since we rescued him off the street years back. He is never interested going back out. My thinking is that probably “outside” is a terrible place for him and he got too stressed.
 
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Maria Bayote

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My guess is that for an indoor only cat, it is just another manifestation of something you have seen many times -- that cats don't always respond to stress well, and their human can't comfort them directly when they are stressed.

I've found that when a cat gets outside, the key is to act like its no big deal, you are delighted to see your cat and just want to gentle and gradually come over and get him some scritches. Either that or just bring the treat bag outside and shake it. Less than ideal from a reinforcement perspective, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
When he saw me, he ran down the stairs. Even when I decided to approach him slowly and called his name like the way I speak to him inside our apartment, I saw no recognition there in this eyes. Even when I caught him he tried so hard to wriggle off from my hold. The funny thing is; as soon as I put him down on our apartment floor he became his old self, like there was a switch that turned him back on.
 
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Maria Bayote

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Probably a combination of scared and you were out of context. Like seeing your teacher at the mall in elementary school. Plus cats dont have the best vision; your voice sounds slightly different outside and your smell is mixed up in everything else. It all just makes it harder for them to identify and place things/people. It's fairly normal and nothing to worry about.
I am just so happy I got him back. Otherwise my husband would come home to a very upset and angry wife. 😁
 

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Reminds me of one of my cats when he ended up outside. He was just around the side of the house, I live on an acreage and some of my other cats go out so no big deal, and panic from me or anything. When I went to get him, called his name and his eyes were wide, he flattened to the wall, and even hissed, lol. As soon as he was back inside he was completely back to normal. He is the most docile cat normally so it was actually funny that he got all worked up outside. My husband and I joked that he went outside and turned instantly feral temporarily, lol.

As others have said, a normally indoor cat can just get completely overwhelmed when they end up outside. Cats are very territory oriented so when taken out of their normal territory (inside) suddenly it's a big scary world full of unknown sights, sounds, and smells which triggers their fight or flight response.
 

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I am so happy that you got him back. I agree that a combo of stress and context probably got to him, but I firmly believe that cats do not recognize owners in unfamiliar settings. In fact, I am sure of it from my experience. Dogs are the same; sadly some pets dogs have been known to attack their friend the pet cat when they see the cat outside the house as they believe it is prey.
 

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I’m so sorry you both had that freight! My Mackie does the same thing and will actually growl and claw. He is terrified of outside but will still go out ever once in awhile if a stranger comes in. I have found that propping the door open and getting on the opposite side of him as I talk calmly will lead to him re entering the house. He does it cautiously though. He remains jumpy for a little while afterwards. The last time it happened he did seem to recognize me but still was scared and insisted on coming in on his own. He’s a big guy and was all fluff. I now put him shut up if the door near him will be opened for any chores by strangers. In his mind, I think the front door just leads to another safe room until he gets out there and discovers it’s a very big world. I’m so glad Barley is safe! Husband too!
 

pearl99

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I had the same thing happen with a cat I had for 12 years. She was indoor/outdoor, in the days I did that in the past, and before I made her be indoor only. She rarely recognized me outdoors even though she would see me doing yard work often.
I kind of thought it was that vision is not too great in cats, and they have so much to see and smell it's just too much, that she thought I was an unknown human.
 

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When he saw me, he ran down the stairs. Even when I decided to approach him slowly and called his name like the way I speak to him inside our apartment, I saw no recognition there in this eyes. Even when I caught him he tried so hard to wriggle off from my hold. The funny thing is; as soon as I put him down on our apartment floor he became his old self, like there was a switch that turned him back on.
This has happened to Mingo and me several times. Mingo is a door-dasher, but the minute he gets out, he drops to the ground in terror. I can't walk well or pick him up well, so he often crawls away. Once when I did get him, he tore into me with claws and teeth, even biting my head and screaming like he thought he was going to be killed. I couldn't hold him long as bloody as I was, and he wriggled out of my hands. BUT, he ran for the door back into the house and calmed down the minute I let him in. It's good to know that he thinks the house is a safe place, but that was a bad way to find it out.

I think when they get scared so badly, everything else is blanked out. They are terrorized and don't see anything else but fright.
 
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