Ah, cats. They can be so very whimsical. We feed them, pet them, play with them; we supply them with scratching posts, cat trees and cosy beds… and yet they insist on running off to the house up the road to bother the neighbours for yet more food or attention. On this page, we’ll discuss the reasons your cat may be sneaking off and how you can stop it.
How to stop cats going to the neighbours? You can try feeding your cats more, providing more play and attention, preventing your cats from leaving your home or garden or asking your neighbours to cooperate by shooing them away. You might also need to resolve situations at home that are making your cat more likely to leave.
- Why is your cat moonlighting at your neighbours’ house?
- How can you make it harder for her to run off?
- What should you do to keep your cat at home?
Stay tuned to find out what might be behind this behaviour. If you’re seeking solutions, keep reading.
Cats that moonlight: what you need to know
How to stop cats going to the neighbours? This can be a rather vexed question. It often depends on your situation and why the cat is roaming abroad. Some cats are just looking for free food.
A cat who is bored or lonely may seek out the company of other cats or people. Others may simply be nosy and curious, seeing your neighbours’ property as mere extensions of their own territory.
In some cases people may actively encourage your cat to visit, putting out food, playing with and petting your cats, which makes them want to keep going back.
In other cases your cat’s presence may be less welcome, especially if she’s fouling your neighbour’s garden, consuming food left for their pets or getting into fights with other cats.
It can be hard to find out that your pampered kitty has been getting food and affection elsewhere; you may be concerned that your cat might not come back at all. Generally speaking, it’s unusual for a neutered, well-fed cat to move out completely — although it can happen if there are problems at home and the new household is especially cat-friendly.
Under normal circumstances, your cat is far more likely to enjoy a visit and then return to you when she’s bored. In some cases a cat may form an attachment to a particular person or place outside of the home and have trouble letting go; I see this dynamic a lot when people take on a kitten from a neighbour’s litter.
If you’ve recently moved to a different address in the same neighbourhood, your cat may try to return to your previous address even though you don’t live there anymore. (My family lost two cats this way when I was a child — we moved over the road and nothing we did would induce them to stop going back to the old house as soon as we let them outside.
Eventually, they hid from us when we came round with the cat carrier.) Preventing this kind of behaviour can be tricky unless you opt to keep your cat indoors permanently. I tend to encourage people to do this in any case, whether the cat is roaming or not.
Outdoor kitties are vulnerable to all kinds of risks, although I understand other owners’ reluctance to keep their cats inside all the time. There are options you can pursue, however, which we’ll look into in the following sections.
- Effective Tips: How to Help a Cat with Separation Anxiety
- Why is My Cat Bald? Cat Health And Feline Alopecia. Hair Loss In Cats And Skin Conditions.
- What to Do if Your Cat Eats a Skink. Cat Health And Skink Toxicity Explained.
- Why Does My Cat Sit in Front of the Heater? Cat Behavior And Feline Instincts. Warmth Seeking.
- What Do You Call a Cat That Loves to Swim? Feline Aquatic And Swimming Obsession In Cats
Why does my cat keep going to the neighbour’s house?
We’ve now touched on some of the reasons this can happen but let’s take an in-depth look. One major cause can be delayed de-sexing. Frankly, there’s no excuse for not doing this — it’s a basic responsibility for a caring pet owner.
If you’re planning to breed from your cats you should keep them inside, where they can’t become pregnant or make anyone else’s cat pregnant. If you aren’t, then you should get your cats de-sexed.
A cat who hasn’t been spayed or neutered is much more likely to roam than one who has, especially the toms. Cats are highly territorial and once they’ve decided that space is “theirs” it can be hard to disabuse them of this notion, although de-sexing can help.
Sometimes the roaming behaviour begins after a major disruption of the cat’s routine and space. A new baby, redecorating, the introduction of new pets into the household, someone moving out — all of these can unsettle your cat. A change in diet can sometimes prompt wandering.
Sometimes we have to restrict our cats’ eating more than they would like and they respond by trying to get extra food elsewhere (undoing all our good work and making themselves sick). Another thing that cats may crave is attention. Without sufficient affection and play, a cat who’s been socialised for the human company can’t be happy.
If you don’t spend time with your cat and someone outside your household is playing with them, giving them the affection they’re missing at home, they’re very apt to return to those people. It should go without saying that everyone in your household needs to be treating the cat well.
Speak to any family members who are prone to tease, shout at or otherwise upset the cat. Train your dogs to leave her alone and intervene if another cat in the home is bullying her.
How do I address these problems?
The first question I would always ask, if a cat is roaming, is: Have you had your cat spayed or neutered? It can’t really be overemphasised how important this is. An entire cat is much more apt to stray and become territorial than one who’s been fixed; spayed or neutered cats are less likely to wander off, especially if they’re being well-fed.
This brings us to the next possibility: food. While it’s vital not to overfeed cats, you shouldn’t underfeed them either. If your cat is genuinely hungry some or all of the time, then, of course, she will look elsewhere for food. Talk to your vet and make sure you’re giving your cat a nutritionally sufficient diet.
You may want to switch brands if your cat is unenthusiastic about her current food. Don’t worry too much about giving treats as long as they don’t make up more than 10% of your cat’s total food intake. Do make time to play with your cat.
Our culture has stereotyped the cat as a cold, aloof creature who doesn’t need interaction; this is neither accurate nor healthy. Cats need attention and affection just like people; set aside a few minutes a few times a day to entertain your cat with teaser toys, lap time, training — whatever her favourite activities are.
Make sure her environment is enriched with fun toys and kitty play equipment such as cat trees and scratching posts. If the issue is territorial, speak to your neighbours and ask them to shoo your cat away if she comes around. I normally advocate against punishing cats but a spritz of cold water and a sharp tone won’t harm her and will definitely encourage her not to go back.
I don’t want my cat to wander off but she hates being cooped up inside. What should I do?
At a bare minimum, you should ensure your cat never goes out without a very visible breakaway collar that has your mobile number on it.
That way, if she gets into your neighbour’s garden, she won’t be mistaken for a stray and be sent to a shelter. I’m a firm advocate for keeping cats indoors if it’s at all possible. A cat who gets into your neighbours’ homes and gardens can also get into trouble, running under cars or falling afoul of the local dogs.
Some cats simply can’t adjust to life as an indoor kitty, however; fortunately, there are compromises that can keep your pet safe and happy. If you have a garden, you may be able to escape-proof it. This depends on how determined and inventive your cat is — I’ve seen people carefully close off every gap or opening around and under their fences, only to have their cat leap nimbly over the top.
You can take steps to make your garden more inviting than your neighbours’ by putting in a drinking fountain, supplying an outdoor litter-box, leaving forage-feeder toys out for her to play with and generally enriching her environment. If this fails to keep her at home, you might want to consider building an actual enclosure.
Constructing one yourself from scratch is not expensive and takes very little time; there are also some very appealing ready-made structures on the market.
For some cats, harness and lead training is a great solution. It depends to a degree on your cat but in many cases, a patient approach, with plenty of time to get used to the harness, will work very well. Once your cat is harness-trained you can take her on lots of outdoor adventures, with no danger that she’ll run off.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.