What Does It Mean When A Cat Hang Around Your House?

Cats Are Territorial

Cats have a natural instinct to patrol a territory and feel ownership over it. According to Prins Petfoods, cats are territorial animals that defend a certain area against intruders. In their own territory, they can eat, sleep and play safely.

Cats often patrol their territory in one direction, which is why you may notice them going out one door and meowing to come back in another, as noted by SureFlap. This patrolling behavior allows them to feel in control of their domain.

According to Four Paws, territorial behavior is a natural part of a cat’s instinct as a highly territorial creature. They often feel the need to defend and patrol their area.

Looking for Food

Stray and feral cats will hang around houses where they have found food in the past. According to Will a stray cat you’re feeding come back if scared off? on Quora, “Cats are known for their curiosity and territorial behavior, so they may return to a familiar food source even after being scared away.” Once cats associate a location with finding food, they will often return repeatedly looking for more. If a homeowner has been putting food out for strays, those cats may linger near the house expecting more handouts. What Happens When You Feed Feral Cats? explains, “If you feed a feral cat, the cat will usually wait until you leave to approach the food. After a few days of feeding, a feral cat isn’t any more likely to let you approach, but they do associate your location with a food source.”

Seeking Shelter

Outside cats looking for warm, dry places to sleep may linger near houses. Cats tend to seek out sheltered areas like sheds, garages, porches, under decks, or any covered space that protects them from the elements. According to research by University of Lincoln, outside cats prefer enclosed spaces that retain heat and provide insulation.[1] Barns, crawl spaces, and abandoned buildings also offer refuge. Outdoor cats will return to sheltered spots that they find particularly safe and comfortable.[2]

Social Interaction

Despite their solitary reputation, cats are actually quite social creatures. In the wild, feral cats often form social groups or colonies consisting of bonded females (called queens) and their kittens. Within these colonies, cats communicate with each other through body language, vocalizations, and scent markings. They may groom each other, play together, share food resources, and cooperate in raising kittens.[1]

Domestic cats similarly enjoy social interaction and relationships. When cats hang around a house, it may indicate that they are looking for human attention and companionship. Cats often bond closely with their human families. They communicate their affection through actions like head-butting, kneading, purring loudly, rubbing against legs, and bringing “gifts.” Cats also form attachments to other household pets, especially dogs, and can play together, groom each other, and snuggle.[2]

So when a cat lingers around a home, it may simply want to socialize and make friends with the human and animal residents. With a little patience and care, these visiting cats can potentially be adopted into loving homes.


Houses provide safety from predators for outside cats. Cats that spend time outdoors face threats from other animals like coyotes, foxes, hawks, and dogs. Staying close to a house allows cats to retreat to a secure location if threatened.

According to CatFriendly.com, cats feel safest when they have access to elevated hiding spots and enclosed spaces (CatFriendly.com). Houses offer areas like attics, crawlspaces, and high shelving where cats can perch and observe their surroundings while protected. Having a home base gives outside cats a place to escape if chased or cornered by predators.

Unneutered Males

Unneutered male cats are driven by the instinct to mate, so they may hang around a house that has unspayed female cats in heat. When female cats go into heat, they release pheromones that alert unneutered males in the area that a potential mate is nearby [1]. This can lead unneutered male cats to come around and hang around the house.

Unneutered male cats are compelled to seek out female cats in heat to mate with. Their hormones drive them to roam and try to find receptive females [2]. So if there are unspayed females nearby going into heat, an unneutered male is likely to pick up on the scent and want to stay close by.

The hormones that push unneutered males to mate can cause them to exhibit territorial behaviors like urine marking when they encounter competition from other males. They may hang around an area frequently to ward off other males. Unneutered male cats are more likely to fight with each other due to their territorial drive.

Pest Control

Cats are natural hunters with a strong prey drive. Their instinct is to hunt and kill rodents, insects, birds, and other small animals. This behavior originates from their ancestry as desert-dwelling hunters.

One reason a cat may hang around a house is to hunt rodents who are attracted to human food sources and shelter. Mice, rats, voles, and other rodents can find easy pickings around homes where food is stored and trash accumulates. Cats are excellent hunters of these pests due to their lightning-fast reflexes and ability to squeeze into tight spaces.

According to the Spruce Pets, cats are able to enter small holes and hidden areas in search of rodents that humans can’t access. Their excellent night vision and keen sense of hearing also make them skilled nocturnal hunters. They are able to hear rodent sounds and movement within walls or under floors that humans can’t detect.

While cats don’t hunt rodents solely to protect humans, their natural predatory behavior can be beneficial in eliminating rats, mice, and other unwelcome guests around a home. One study by University of Georgia researchers found that the presence of a predator cat significantly reduced rodent populations on farms (source: Quora). So a cat hanging around a house may indicate there are rodents to hunt.

Signs of Illness

Sick cats unable to care for themselves may linger near houses for help. According to https://pethelpful.com/cats/How-To-Tell-If-A-Stray-Cat-Is-Healthy, signs of illness in stray cats may include vomiting, diarrhea, runny nose or eyes, wounds, and deformities. Cats with severe upper respiratory infections may have discharge from their nose and eyes. Open wounds could be signs of an abscess or fight with another animal. Deformities like limping or malformed limbs likely indicate past injuries.

Additional signs of illness per https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/recognizing-signs-of-illness-in-cats include dull coat, weight loss, changes in litter box habits, altered personality, and lethargy. A sick stray cat may seem more docile and approachable as it loses its natural fear and caution. This is a cry for help from a vulnerable animal in distress.

Bored and Curious

Well-fed pet cats may explore outside their home out of boredom. Cats are naturally curious creatures and have a strong desire to investigate their surroundings. If cats are kept primarily indoors with limited stimulation, they can become restless and wander outside simply to satisfy their curiosity. Outdoor exploration provides mental stimulation and allows cats to patrol their territory. According to Petplan, roaming and investigating is normal cat behavior as they love keeping up to date with their environment.[1]

Providing adequate playtime, toys, cat trees, and other enrichments indoors can help curb boredom and satisfy a cat’s need to roam. But ultimately their curious nature may still lead them to take occasional outdoor adventures. As long as the cat is neutered/spayed and any potential dangers have been addressed, letting a bored cat explore outdoors under supervision can provide a healthy outlet for their curiosity.

[1] https://www.petplan.co.uk/pet-information/cat/advice/understanding-your-cat’s-roaming-behaviour/

What To Do

If an unknown cat is hanging around your house, here are some tips for deterring unwanted cats while helping strays humanely:

  • Don’t feed the cat or provide it with shelter, as this can encourage it to stick around. Cats are resourceful and can find food and shelter elsewhere.
  • Use humane deterrents like spraying the area with citrus-scented cleaners, placing citrus peels around your property, or using motion-activated sprinklers.
  • Block access to potential shelter areas like under your porch or deck. Make sure there are no openings where a cat could sneak in.
  • If the cat seems friendly, check if it has an ID tag and contact the owner. You can also take it to a vet clinic to scan for a microchip.
  • Contact local shelters and rescue groups to report a stray cat. They may be able to assist with trapping, veterinary care, and finding placement.
  • Consider using a humane trap to catch the cat if it’s stray or feral. Get it spayed/neutered and vaccinated before releasing or finding it a home.
  • Be patient and give deterrents time to work. The cat will likely move on once it realizes your yard is not a source of food or shelter.

While discouraging unwanted cats, also be conscious that they are living beings. Use humane options that don’t harm them in the process. With some creativity and perseverance, you can maintain your property while also acting ethically.

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