Does the cat have a sense of direction?


Do you also know this story read in an animal magazine or in various facts? That of the epic of this cat who left the Côte d’Azur to join his masters as far as the Paris region? Or that of the cat lost on vacation in Alsace who has found his way home in Paris? Travel hundreds of kilometers, without losing the North, over hills and valleys: it seems that these cats have done it. But, at the risk of shattering a myth that is still whole, assuming that these accounts are verified and not extrapolated, rare are the tomcats capable of achieving such feats. However, it remains true that they have a very good sense of direction within a much smaller perimeter, limiting themselves to about fifteen kilometers all the same.

Odyssey of Ulysses, cat then!

Short digression: Do you remember the famous Odyssey of Odysseus in the history of Greek mythology? After having marked the Trojan War by hiding in a horse offered as an offering to the Trojans, the Odyssey recounts his ten-year journey to reach his kingdom of Ithaca, during which he will have to face the worst dangers on land and at sea. He is described as the most cunning, strategist and ingenuous Greek hero. For the anecdote and the transition, the cat who would have made the journey from the Côte d’Azur to Paris would have been baptized … Ulysses, who undoubtedly will have most certainly had to cunning and use stratagems to cross without incident a good part of the ‘hexagon !

How to explain this odyssey?

Well, the extraordinary epic of these few little Ulysses remains a mystery even today. Scientific experiments consisting in removing cats from their territory have revealed in them a real ability to find their way back on a path that is known to them, within a perimeter of about fifteen kilometers, which is already enormous. To picture, this distance corresponds to about 2h30 to 3h of brisk walking. But beyond that, scientists do not explain it.

Let’s try to understand this orientation capacity

It is said that the cat has 7 senses: the 5 of humans which are sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell, but also two others that humans do not have:

  • Jacobson’s organ : The human who would be closest to developing it would be the oenologist because the principle is this: better perceive the aromas in the mouth by using his retro-nasal passages. Explanation: on the palate, Jacobson’s organ allows the cat to swallow odors and combine them with the nose to better analyze them.
  • Deep sensitivity : The cat is endowed with an unparalleled sense of balance. Sensors located in his inner ear allow him to better perceive the positioning of each part of his body in space, hence the fact that he always lands on his feet!

So probably these 7 senses help him to develop this sense of direction that we are difficult to explain. Factors or theories that result from it are just as many avenues to follow in order to better understand.

Observation to facilitate orientation

If the sense most developed in his cousin the dog is flair, and touch in humans, that of the cat is undoubtedly sight. He has binocular vision, which allows him to assess distances and perceive reliefs much sharper than humans. Cats, and even felines in general, have a keen sense of observation, which helps them orientate themselves, and they use the sun to define the path to follow. This is probably the most certain track that we have today to explain this phenomenon, because it is totally verified and proven.

The cat diffuses pheromones

Let us digress again towards Greek mythology with Theseus, prince of Athens, and Ariadne’s thread. The story goes that Ariadne gave a ball of thread to Theseus so that he found his way back into the labyrinth where he fought a terrible Minotaur. Since then, “breadcrumbs” has been used to speak of a common thread to follow the right path. End of digression and return to our tomcats, with the parallel between this breadcrumb trail and pheromones.

Pheromones are chemical molecules emitted by members of the same species which act as invisible messages between them. The cat’s seven senses being extremely developed, it could remember perceived smells, and memorize visual, sound and sensory cues to orient itself. However, if the diffusion of pheromones by the cat is proven, like rubbing marking, the idea that they can help it find its way, like the breadcrumb trail, is a little less so. Info or poison, hard to say.

Misconception: the cat has a migratory capacity

The principle of animal migration consists of a long-distance journey of a periodic nature, which implies a regular return to the region of departure. We obviously think of birds, but other animals migrate, such as certain fish, the sea turtle or the whale. The objective of migration is generally to find a more favorable climate in which to feed, reproduce or lay eggs.

Migrating birds have a sensory system in the inner ear that acts like a magnetic compass. But it is proven that cats do not have this aptitude or predisposition. They are certainly not migratory animals.

How to act when leaving the house?

Whether it’s the big move or going on vacation, the cat can sense the turmoil in the house. While it is proven that he has a good sense of direction, not all have such sharp landmarks. It would therefore be better to take a few precautions to prevent him from getting lost.

Keep it away

It would be better to lock the cat in a secure room while the luggage is being prepared, away from noise and traffic. With all the necessary food, hygiene and comfort, it will avoid stress and bad reactions due to unusual agitation.

Discover the places step by step

If your cat is used to roaming around, it would be better to be vigilant by not letting him go out too early. Here again, whether it is a new home or a vacation home, it will first have to take its visual cues indoors, and mark its territory. As soon as he feels calm, after a few days, you can then let him apprehend the exterior, perhaps on a leash at first. It will also be important to watch out for the possible presence of other animals around, which could scare your cat away.

The GPS collar

It is a connected object which makes it possible to geographically locate the cat, or other pet for that matter. This is the principle of classic GPS. If he were to get lost, the necklace would allow him to be found immediately!

The visit to the vet

Having it tattooed or chipped is essential as soon as you adopt your little tomcat. And for good reason, if he were to get lost, and to be taken in by charitable souls or by the pound, he could be quickly identified and you would be contacted to come and recover him.

Lost cat, act quickly!

Quickly contact the surrounding pounds, animal shelters, veterinarians who could have received him in emergencies dropped off by Good Samaritans. It is also advisable to prepare posters for neighborhood mailboxes with a photo and descriptive details of the animal, including specifying any distinctive signs that could help identify it.