How To Stop Your Older Cat From Running Away

If your older cat has become restless, reduce her flight risk with these helpful tips.

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An older cat may grow restless with age and want to run away. MiMaLeFi/iStockphoto/Thinkstock
Joanne McGonagle

When our cat Hazel began yowling in the middle of the night, we knew it might be age related. She was over 17 when she became restless at night, and we knew Hazel was going to need extra love and attention to keep her feeling safe and secure.

Hazel was brought indoors at about 1 year old after showing up in a friend’s garden with her kittens. We found homes for the kittens, and our friend kept her. For a few months, she was permitted to roam outside at night before becoming an indoor-only cat. When our friend went to assisted living, Hazel came to us.

We knew changing her home and losing her companion was going to be very stressful for Hazel. She was over 16 at the time and quite set in her ways. Because she wanted to go outdoors, we worried that a desire to run would be stronger as she adapted to her new environment.

In order to keep Hazel happy, we made sure to provide her with an enriched environment as well as opportunities to slink off and spend some quality time alone. Here’s how you can do the same and keep your senior cat from running away:

1. Provide Varied Sleeping Spots

We brought her toys and a blanket from our friend’s home so Hazel would be comforted by her own things. We provided her soft and warm beds on the floor level for easy access and much needed alone time. We added a couple of cave-style beds for her to snuggle inside, in the living room so that Hazel could see what was going on in the house but still feel safe and secure.

A choice of beds and their locations will give your older cat options to suit her mood. raspirator/iStockphoto/Thinkstock

2. Keep Everything Fresh

We added another litter box to make it more convenient for Hazel. We had a litter box placed in the bathroom as well as the new one off the laundry room, closer to the kitchen. We added a water fountain to keep fresh water available and made sure to keep her food fresh, to entice her to eat and stay hydrated.

3. Monitor Your Senior Cat’s Health

At her last vet visit, we learned that Hazel had an issue that would likely cause her health to decline over the next year. Her doctor didn’t think she was in pain, and she didn’t seem to show any signs of suffering. We knew to keep a closer eye on her because if a cat is in a lot of pain, she may want to run and hide.

This seems counterintuitive to our own desires, but your cat might be trying to remove herself from anything that she associates with the pain. If the pain is too intense, she may fear for her life and go into hiding as a defensive survival mode. Our cats are hardwired to not show pain and to hide in silence when frightened or threatened.

4. Take Care When Coming And Going

We were on high alert when we opened and closed the door to the house just in case Hazel would decide to sneak out. We made sure all the windows were securely closed too.

5. Understand Your Cat’s Behavior

We made sure we were gentle and loving in our interactions with her. It is important not to punish your cats by yelling, swatting or scaring them. When frightened, cats go into total defensive mode and will seek out a hiding space where they might remain for a long time. Your cat most likely won’t even meow or come to you when called if she is afraid. This defensive mode is instinctual as a protection from predators. People assume cats don’t care or like them when they won’t come when called, but this is not true. Cats are misunderstood. Your cat is doing what she is hardwired to do, and that is hide in silence until there is no perceived threat.

6. Train To Be Trapped

If after all your efforts to provide an enriched environment, your cat still exhibits runaway behavior, you might consider training her to enter a humane trap. You can do this by placing food inside the humane trap and propping the door open so the trip mechanism will not close when your cat steps on the trigger plate. By placing food inside the trap, your cat will associate the trap with food and safety, so if your cat should slip out, she will be more likely to enter the trap and you will be able to bring her back inside. Your cat should wear a collar with identification and contact information and be micro-chipped to make contacting you and helping to return your cat easier.

In general, keeping your behavior calm and reassuring is the best solution for a senior cat. Providing an enriched environment with private spaces, food and love will go a long way to deter her from wanting to run.

Article Categories:
Behavior and Training · Cats