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It is said that no matter how far you take away a cat from home, it always come back from anywhere. Is that true?

Obviously, this pre-supposes that:

  • Home is some place that the cat lived in for a while

  • Home is a geographic location, NOT "where the owners are".

    This is about cat's homing abilities, as opposed to some psychic connection with the owners.

  • Taking "away" is limited to land-based travel.

    E.g. not topologically separated by geographical/spacial features impassable by a cat unassisted (ocean, vacuum of space, etc..)

  • Anyone got access to read this? sciencemag.org/content/237/4822/1556.1.citation Jon Amy, "Feline Navigation" Science 25 September 1987: Vol. 237 no. 4822 p. 1556 DOI: 10.1126/science.237.4822.1556-a – Oddthinking May 19 '11 at 15:14
  • It's now how far but how fast. Beyond ~18k mph and they aren't coming back. – Rusty May 19 '11 at 15:21
  • @Oddthinking - It's just a letter to the editor about cover art used on the magazine. Despite the title, it has no insights into cats' navigational skills. – Rex Kerr May 19 '11 at 18:34
  • Here's an old 1922 study which seems legit and confirms some homing ability. jstor.org/stable/6677 – LTR Sep 24 '17 at 17:25
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There were no legit studies of this that that I could find on Google Scholar. The only study I know of was by some parapsychologist who claimed it was because of some psychic connection, so take that for what it's worth.

However, there are apparently several documented confirmed examples of that happening - the most famous one was OK->CA move by a family which left the cat (Sugar) in CA and returned back home to OK. Sugar came to OK on her own. Details and the cite are here: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showpost.php?p=12092530&postcount=5

The common stories of Sugar the family finding cat all seem to leave out one thing. Apparently the cat used to live on the farm in Oklahoma where it returned to from California (assuming the identification was correct that it was the same cat). This version is told in a 2006 book called Understanding and Training Your Cat or Kitten tells a version that makes it slightly less mystical in terms of the cat's people finding skills. The authors cite a 1970 young adult non-fiction book for the story (The Strange World of Animals and Pets by Vincent H. Gaddis and Margaret Gaddis; this book in turn recounts that the event took place in 1952.)

As far as plausible mechanisms (discounting the psychic connection), none have been researched as far as cats, but we know that birds orient both by magnetic sensing and by the sun. Whether the cats can have a similar mechanism, or whether any of the rare known cases are just unlikely random events that happened, does not seem to be known.

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No, if you put a cat on the moon not only would it not make it home, it would die.

EDIT: Improved question, improved answer.

Cats have impressive memories for directions that often enable them to find their way home after travelling long distances. This superior navigation ability is believed to derive from two things: using the angle of the sun for navigation (which can be done even on cloudy days because the cat uses polarized light for wayfinding) and being sensitive to the Earth’s magnetic fields. This latter hypothesis was borne out when it was found that attaching a magnet to a cat will disrupt his navigational skills.

A story that dramatically illustrates the phenomenal feline navigational ability is that of Howie the Persian, who crossed 1,000 miles of brutal Australian outback to find his family. Howie had been left in the care of his owner Kirsten’s grandparents while Kirsten went on an overseas trip, but had disappeared from their home while Kirsten was away. A year later, a mangy stray showed up on Kirsten’s doorstep. Upon cleaning up the filthy, skinny, injured animal, they realized that it was Howie, who had fought his way back through a vast expanse of harsh desert and wilderness to return to the family he loved.

Source: Cat Facts, by Marcus Schneck and Jill Caravan. Barnes & Noble Books: 1993.

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    Do you have any references to back up such a claim? – David Hedlund May 19 '11 at 14:53
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    @David, there were some early studies proving this, but Mother Goose (1765) demonstrated the the the cat data had been "fiddled" and experiments in a petri dish had been "run away" with a spoon. She further demonstrated, with a bovine animal model, it was not the case for all mammals. – Oddthinking May 19 '11 at 15:10
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    @David, "France launched Felix the astronaut cat into space on October 18, 1963. The cat had electrodes implanted into its head to measure neural impulses. Felix was recovered alive, but the next cat in space was not." Felix was 'recovered'. The other one died. Neither found their own way home. – Jamie May 19 '11 at 15:32
  • @Jamie Was that a Grateful Dead reference ? – Rusty May 19 '11 at 16:00
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    This is not really an answer to the question. I concede that the question is not worded carefully, but I think the intent is still clear. Please improve your answer, as it stands now it is more of a comment. May I also remind everyone that voting is supposed to put the most helpful answer to the top. – Mad Scientist May 19 '11 at 17:27

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