A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Cats’ Roaming Secrets Revealed

New study shows they go further than thought

One of the cats who was fitted with a radio collar. Photo by Jeff Horn.

When Fluffy is given free rein to roam outdoors, she goes a lot farther than you may have imagined.

According to a new study, housecats stake out a territory that can cover five acres or more. And feral cats can have a much larger range – more than 370 acres in some cases.

Animal protection groups urge people to keep their cats from roaming. They recommend good fences or catteries for cats who go outdoors. Cats are predators, and most small animals have no defenses against them. Bird organizations say that millions of birds are killed by cats in the United States every year.

The new study documents where cats go and what they do when people aren’t around. The researchers used radio telemetry and activity-tracking devices to observe the haunts and habits of dozens of cats, both owned and un-owned in parts of the central Illinois neighboring cities of Champaign and Urbana.

One of the feral cats tracked in the study turned out to have a range of 1,351 acres, across the lawns of family homes, a college campus, farms and forests.

The area marked in red shows the 1351-acre range of one of the feral cats. The small yellow dot indicates the range of one of the house cats. Photo by Jeff Horn.

“That particular male cat was not getting food from humans, to my knowledge, but somehow [he] survived out there amidst coyotes and foxes,” said Jeff Horn, who conducted the study for his master’s thesis. “[He] crossed every street in the area where [he] was trapped. [He navigated] stoplights, parking lots. We found [him] denning under a softball field during a game.”

Even with these large distances, feral cats like this one spent an average of 86 percent of their time snoozing. And housecats spent 97 percent of their time asleep or inactive.

The study is important to both cat protection groups and wildlife organizations, who argue that cats should not be allowed to roam freely.

In one group of 39 cats, the researchers reported that one of the 12 house cats died during the study period after being struck by a car, while six of 23 feral cats died or were presumed dead. Coyotes killed two, one was found in a dumpster, and three just disappeared.

“If your cat goes outside and there’s no way for you to know what happens to it, it’s very difficult for you to make educated choices,” said Nohra Mateus, a veterinarian and epidemiologist who co-authored the study.

What do you say? Do you keep your cat indoors or with access to an outdoor cattery? Or is she free to roam? Let us know in a comment here or on Facebook.

What you can do: Check out this article by veterinarian Liz Stelow, where she discusses the growing interactions in the suburbs between cats and coyotes.