The lost cat may no longer return, but, as many owners of adventurous cats testify, they rarely return home. Thanks to advanced navigation abilities, hypersensitive feelings and crystal clear memories, cats can find their way home even in unfamiliar places. Returning back is often only a matter of time – in the end, much loses its novelty, and the cat recalls that there is no better place at home. How can cats orient themselves so accurately without any external tools?
Feline natural data
We still don’t know exactly what makes cats such experienced researchers, but they do it first-class. People have approximately 5 million odor-sensitive nerve endings in the nose. Impressive, right? But not when you are a cat, because it has 19 million of these receptors. Using only smell, a cat can find a way out of many situations.
When your cat rubs about something, it is probably because she is happy or that way she gives off the smell to the item. The presence of a smell on an object signals to other cats that the object belongs to it. It also allows the cat to recognize its own smell, so that it can easily find an object in the future simply by smelling it. Leaving its smell throughout its territory, your cat can find its home by smell over short distances and not get lost.
Cats that have not been neutered will spray urine with pheromones around their entire territory. If your cat is familiar with the odors left by other cats in the neighborhood, she can use them to map territories and her surroundings.
Scientists’ navigational research is ongoing, and it is possible that cats, like birds, by their nature can detect the Earth’s gravitational field. This would give them a sense of direction even without appropriate visual cues. Birds need this during the flight. It is possible that cats also have this skill, but to a lesser extent than birds.
People rely on visual landmarks. Cats also use landmarks for navigation, although their extremely high level of spatial intelligence adds a new dimension to this ability. Cats are experts in moving and remembering how to move, based on the position of their bodies relative to various objects. The paths that our cats walk in the neighborhood may seem incredibly confusing, and yet each time they follow them the same way, intertwining with the branches of this particular bush and jumping between these specific fence posts.
The earth is covered with magnetic fields – invisible forces that repel and attract each other, depending on whether they are positively or negatively charged. Magnetic fields arise deep in the core of the planet and radiate to the surface, where they are affected by tides and other magnetic forces from space. Each place on the planet has its own unique magnetic signature, based on the strength of the field at a given moment in time and space. We humans may need a special tool to detect this, but many animals can find magnetic north using only their mind and body. Among these animals are cats.
Many scientists believe that magnetic compounds are connected to the cat’s central nervous system, which uses them to create the sixth sense: magnetoreception. Magnetic compounds are drawn toward magnetic north, but they can also detect field strength information in any direction. Magnetoreception is not just a compass, it is a complete GPS system. It is not known for sure whether cats can sense a magnetic field, but if they can, it will help explain why they are such clever navigators.
When cats can’t get home
Although it is well known that cats are excellent navigators, this does not apply to every single individual. Some cats have problems just finding their way around the house, not to mention navigating the outside world. This is especially true for domestic cats. A pet cat who has lost her way will not know in advance how to return to her territory, or how to avoid the dangers that await her on her way home.
Street cats tend to find their way home much better, thanks to experience. The cat that is allowed to walk is an expert on how to get home. In particular, wild cats tend to have exceptional homing skills as needed. They are real experts in crossing their territories to find food and shelter, and any cat that can not do this will not live long enough and continue its kind. Thus, breeding in the wild occurs between the most experienced feline trackers, who then pass on their talents and knowledge to the next generation.