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Do Cats Really Have a Special Homing System?

Cats are creatures of mystery. But one of their most enigmatic features is their ability to travel long distances to locate their home or pet parents.

Amazing tales

Take Holly, the amazing Calico. During a fireworks display on the way back from vacation, she bolted from her pet parents' RV. After 62 days, she was found emaciated and wobbly in a yard one mile from her family home. Thanks to a microchip, her astonished pet parents confirmed that the skinny, nearly lame cat was indeed their Holly. She'd traveled a miraculous 190 miles from Daytona Beach, FL to her permanent address in West Palm Beach.

If you think that's incredible, how about Ninja, who disappeared just after moving with his family from Utah to Washington State. A year later, he was found back at his former Utah home—an 850-mile trip!

These are just two of countless amazing tales of cats all over the world dating back to the early 20th century. But how do they do it?

Mystery solved?

The real answer is no one really knows. But scientists have been fascinated with animal homing systems for centuries. The first known study, done in 1922, was done with a mother cat who made her way back home seven times from different locations up to three miles away.

Since then, many studies have been done, all proving that cats—and many other animals, like dogs, birds, reptiles and insects—have an uncanny ability. Some birds and insects seem to steer by the sun and stars. Dogs can travel via scent. Their noses are powerful radars that can easily take them dozens of miles.

Cats, on the other hand, seem to navigate by the earth's magnetic field. An ability that's not uncommon in mammals. One theory says that the iron in a mammal's blood helps guide them via the earth's magnetism to find their direction.

But studies also show that the stronger the bond between pet parent and pet, the more likely they are to find their way home.

That doesn't mean pet parents shouldn't be careful when moving or traveling with a pet. For all the miraculous stories, there are many more pets who remain lost for good. So be sure to consider a microchip if you plan to take your furry friends long distances. And be sure to keep them safely contained.