Secret Lives of Wandering House Cats Revealed: Cat Tracker Study

The results of a massive, longitudinal, multi-country research study tracking the outdoor movements of pet cats have revealed the secrets of where–and how far–they wander. Understanding where pet cats allowed to go outside wander is important for keeping them, and native wildlife, safe. In this latest Cat Tracker study nearly a thousand pet cats across four countries wore GPS trackers for a week to shed light on how far they range and where they go.

There’s No Place Like Home

Pet cats (as opposed to feral, or wild cats) tend to keep their wanderings restricted to a relatively limited area. More than half the cats stayed within about 2.5 acres of their homes (the area of two American football fields).  Across countries, three-quarters of the cats spent almost all of their time in backyards and other human-modified places.  The researchers suspect this is because pets get fed at home and have no need to explore far and wide to find their next meal. Additionally, most house pets are neutered or spayed, so there’s no urge to search for a mate.

“I was surprised at how little these cats moved.  Most of them spent all their time within 100 meters [330 feet] of their yard.”

-Dr. Roland Kays, lead study author, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Additional Findings

Male pet cats travel more widely than females, intact pet cats wander more than neutered and spayed cats, younger cats explore more territory than senior cats, and country cats wander more than city slickers.

cat wanderings

Watch the video here to see where pet cats tend to wander when not at home.

Pet Cats’ Hunting Behaviors

The study results revealed that just because outdoor pet cats tend to stay close to home does not mean they do not harm wildlife.  Outdoor pet cats were active in hunting small animals, reptiles (mice, rats, lizards) and birds, albeit in a limited area.  In the present study pet owners reported that their outdoor pet cats killed an average of 3.5 prey a month.

“The more pet cats outside, the more stress and fatalities local wildlife species can encounter. The ecological impact of house cats roaming outside can be even more dire when there are threatened or endangered wildlife living nearby.”

Troi Perkins, data collection researcher

Dangers to Wandering Pet Cats

The study revealed that approximately 10 percent of cats abandoned the garden and spent most of their time in natural habitats, placing them at increased dangers for encountering predators like coyotes and dingoes.

Another danger wandering pet cats face is cars.  The average cat crossed roads four-and-a-half times during the six days of tracking.  By the end of the study several pet cats had been run over by vehicles.

√ Read more Cat Wandering Fun Facts from the study here.

√ Learn more about the Cat Tracker project here.



Journal Reference: Kays, R., et al. (March, 2020). The small home ranges and large local ecological impacts of pet cats, Animal Conservation Journal,