Sunday 27 June 2021

Why does my cat spend so much time away from me?

The question in the title is asked by a cat owner whose job requires them to work long hours leaving early in the morning and coming home quite late at night. They think that their cat should be particularly pleased to see them when they arrive home but he barely acknowledges her existence. Sometimes he misses meals and he has stayed away for a couple of days at a time.

Outdoor Cat. Photo by Andrew Currie on Flickr.

This, on the face of it, is a classic case of a cat migrating away from the home in which he lives to find a new one. And sometimes, albeit rarely, domestic cats return to the wild, voluntarily. That might seem strange but it does happen. It happened to my mother about 40 years ago when her ginger tabby upped sticks and went to live on the golf course opposite her home. He came back about 15 years later riddled with arthritis for some warmth and attention. She put him down which I think was an extraordinarily cruel thing to do. I don't like my mother although she's been deceased about 10 years now.

Back to the point of this article, sometimes domestic cats do leave their home and find a new home as you probably know. They don't understand the concept of ownership, as you also know, and they might go to where they think life is better. Particularly if the current owner is rarely there. Many domestic cats visit neighbours' homes either to simply visit as part of their meanderings and wanderings and sometimes to feed and perhaps meet another cat to play with. The concept of trespass does not apply to domestic cats incidentally.

Being away from home a lot would encourage this and indeed neighbours sometimes encourage it by feeding neighbours' cats. It's just one of those things and it happens quite a lot. But what can you do about it?

Your lifestyle might not give you many options. If your work demands are high, you will be torn between caring for your cat and earning a living. You may find yourself in the position where you have, through no fault of your own, become a poor cat owner. You may have started off as an excellent cat guardian but end up being rather bad at it through a lack of available time.

You may consider rehoming your cat. You may consider allowing your cat to migrate to your neighbour's home. You might do a bit of research and try find out where your cat is going. I have used a radio transmitter on a collar for my cat. The receiver picks up the transmission. You can locate your cat this way from about 100 yards. It is not as good as a GPS tracking but it is much cheaper and reasonably effective.

My cat was not disappearing and is not disappearing. He loves me tremendously and vice versa. It's just that I wanted to know where he was going and I found out; it was a neighbour's garden where I think he rests. I do feed a neighbour's cat as well who pops in from time to time and plays with my cat. I quite like her visitations because it gives my cat the opportunity to play with a cat rather than me, a human.

But sometimes domestic cats visit a nearby home and eventually stay. At that point they've chosen a new caretaker. This would normally be distressing to the original owner. I'm sure that there have been many difficult discussions between neighbours on this topic. Sometimes neighbours become very fond of a visiting cat and they might surreptitiously try and adopt that cat.

The owner may complain and there may even be civil litigation in the courts about ownership. It's an interesting concept because cat ownership can be very fluid. It can be difficult to pin it down.

What can you do then? Well, you can ask your neighbour to stop feeding your cat if that is happening. Try and keep the peace because you want to have good relationships with your neighbours. There's nothing worse than having a constant row with your neighbour because it affects the amenity of the area in which you live quite profoundly.

You can think about giving your cat better quality food if that is a problem. Give him some treats but not to the point where he becomes obese. You can try and reschedule your work to enable you to work at home more often. The Covid crisis has certainly benefited cats in this regard. These long lockdown periods have been fantastically beneficial to the relationship between people and their pets but when it comes to an end the reverse happens and there will be some distraught cats and dogs suffering from separation anxiety.

Try and play with your cat more. Play is a great healer and it's a great exercise for creating a good bond between human and cat companion.

You might even consider keeping your cat indoors but that probably won't work because once you've allowed a cat to explore the outdoors for a long period of time it is impossible to keep them in in my opinion. Although you might think of a compromise which is a large enclosure around the back garden. This, too, might prove difficult for a cat who has a habit of wandering for hundreds of yards around your property. Back garden enclosures can be constructed for about £3,000-£4000 in the UK.

My cat Gabriel in his garden cat enclosure. He is very active. Photo: Me.
My cat Gabriel in his garden cat enclosure. He is very active. Photo: Me.

It is, though, a difficult problem to resolve because it comes back ultimately to the cat owner and how much time they have to interact with their cat. If they are hamstrung in this regard, they may not be able to find a solution. And cats do have their own preferences and there can be a chemistry between cat and cat and cat person. There may be a breakdown in the chemistry between the owner and their cat. Perhaps the owner was never quite up to the task in any case i.e. he or she was ambivalent about cat ownership.

On that topic, I think that there are many instances of cats leaving their home and going to a neighbour to live for the right reasons. These owners are probably quite pleased that their cat has left them because it resolves a problem that they've been chewing on for quite a long time namely how to get rid of their cat in a moral and humane way?

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