The Nightly Visitor. Why a Stray Cat Keeps Showing Up at My Door


It’s not uncommon to see cats roaming neighborhoods or appearing in backyards at night. With their excellent night vision and curious nature, cats often wander around outside after dark exploring new areas. Sometimes a cat will repeatedly come to the same yard or house night after night. This recurring feline visitor can leave a homeowner wondering, “Why does this cat keep coming to my house?”

Cats are highly intelligent, territorial creatures driven by instinctual behaviors. Understanding the common reasons behind this nighttime phenomenon can provide insight into why a certain cat insists on dropping by after hours.

Territorial Behavior

Cats are territorial animals by nature and will patrol areas they consider part of their domain. According to How to Deal with Territorial Cats, some cats view the area around a person’s house or yard as part of their territory, especially if there are resources like food or shelter available.

Territorial cats will often patrol the perimeter of their domain and mark it with scents from glands around their face and hindquarters. They may also vocalize or exhibit aggressive body language to defend their territory from other cats. A cat coming to your house repeatedly at night may be trying to patrol its territory and keep other cats away.

Territorial disputes are common when new cats enter an area or when indoor cats are let outside. Intact male cats are especially prone to territorial behavior, which can lead to fighting with other males. Neutering your own cats and preventing them from roaming freely outside can help reduce territorial marking and fighting.

Food Source

Cats have an excellent sense of smell and can easily learn to associate certain locations with finding food. It’s possible this cat has wandered onto your property and discovered sources of food, whether intentionally provided or not.

Make sure you are not unintentionally providing food that might encourage the cat to return. Even small amounts of food left outdoors, unsecured garbage cans, or even food bowls for your own pets can attract stray cats.

Be very cautious about actively feeding stray cats that approach your home. While it may seem like a kind gesture, you can inadvertently encourage recurring visits from the cat or even attract additional strays over time. It’s best not to provide food for unknown cats coming onto your property.

Instead, inspect your home and yard for any accidental food sources the cat may be accessing. Make sure all garbage cans are secured and your own pet’s food is not freely accessible. This can help discourage the stray cat from routinely returning simply for food.

Safety and Shelter

Cats often seek safe and secure locations to rest or sleep at night when they feel most vulnerable. As crepuscular animals that are active during twilight hours, cats tend to sleep and rest more at night and will look for shelter that makes them feel protected.

Your house or yard may be appealing to the cat as a source of safety and shelter after dark. Structures like porches, decks, or sheltered areas in your yard could be providing a sense of security that draws the cat in. Cats often feel safest when they can find an enclosed, covered space that still allows them to survey their surroundings. So your home’s features and yard may simply be meeting that need for safety that all cats have.

According to the Dumb Friends League, some cats seek shelter at night because they feel unsafe roaming when more people, animals, and traffic are present during the day. Your home becomes a safe zone when the cat feels most vulnerable to threats. By sleeping or hiding on your property at night, the cat likely feels protected.


Some cats are highly social animals and actively seek out human interaction and companionship[1]. Stray and feral cats can be socialized to enjoy being around people through gradual exposure and positive reinforcement[2]. If the cat visiting your home seems comfortable around humans and enjoys petting, it may simply be drawn to your home because it craves social contact.

Cats are intelligent creatures that can form bonds and relationships with people[3]. If you and your family have been friendly to the cat, fed it treats, and given it affection on its previous visits, it likely now associates your home with pleasant social experiences. The cat may see you as a source of companionship and return nightly hoping to receive more petting, play time, and your calming presence.




Outdoor Access

Some cats learn that sneaking out at night when doors open is an opportunity for outdoor access. As creatures of habit, they may repeatedly try this method if successful in getting outside in the past [1]. Owners should be vigilant about not letting cats dart outdoors at night when entering or exiting the home.

It’s also possible that the cat visiting you is an indoor/outdoor neighbor’s cat. Cats are natural roamers and may wander into nearby yards, especially when let outside at night. Discuss with nearby neighbors if they have an outdoor cat that could be visiting you [2].

Separation from Family

Young cats are often separated from their families when they go up for adoption. Kittens can typically be safely separated from their mothers around 8-12 weeks old, according to the BC SPCA [1]. However, separating kittens too early can put them at risk for developmental, social, and health issues. Kittens learn important social skills from their mothers and littermates during the first couple months of life.

If a kitten is separated too young, it may not develop proper social skills and have trouble relating to other cats or humans later in life [2]. Early separation can also lead to behavioral problems like inappropriate elimination outside the litterbox.

It’s possible this cat visiting your home was recently separated from its family and adopted. The cat may be seeking comfort and companionship after losing its family unit. Your home may represent a source of food, shelter, and social interaction for a lonely cat adjusting to a new living situation.

Pest Control

Cats are natural hunters with a strong prey drive. At night, cats rely on their excellent night vision and hearing to hunt small animals like mice, voles and rats. Particularly in rural areas, cats will patrol yards and properties looking for rodents to catch and kill [1]. Yards and gardens provide excellent hunting grounds for cats, with lots of places for prey to hide. The cat visiting your home is likely viewing your yard as prime real estate for finding rodents to hunt.

It’s important to note that hunting is not always about catching prey, but can be part of a cat’s natural patrolling behavior. Simply prowling, exploring and marking territory can satisfy a cat’s primal hunting urges [2]. So even if the cat does not appear to catch anything, it may still be patrolling your yard as part of its nightly hunting ritual.

Health Concerns

It’s important to watch for any signs that the visiting cat may be suffering from illness, injury, or malnutrition. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, some symptoms that warrant a vet visit include vomiting, diarrhea, sudden weight loss, shedding or matted fur, open wounds or abscesses, visible parasites like fleas or ticks, abnormal breathing, and discharge from the eyes or nose.

You may be able to lure the cat close enough to inspect its health. The ASPCA recommends tempting the cat with smelly foods like tuna, sardines, or canned cat food. Place the open can a few feet away and wait patiently nearby as the cat approaches and starts eating. Slowly move closer, avoiding direct eye contact, and see if you can inspect the cat for any signs of illness or injury. Call your local animal control or rescue organization if the cat appears to need medical treatment.

Preventing Recurring Visits

If you want to deter the cat from returning repeatedly to your home, there are some humane techniques you can try. One option is to place outdoor lion repellents around the perimeter of your property. These use scents that cats dislike, like citrus, lavender, pepper, or vinegar, to make the area unappealing (1). However, take care not to spray these directly on the cat.

In cases of an unowned, stray cat that keeps coming back, you may need to consider having the cat humanely trapped and brought to an animal shelter. But be sure to first check for identification or signs the cat is owned before resorting to trapping. The shelter can then evaluate the cat’s health and temperament and look for placement or adoption opportunities (2).

When preventing recurring cat visits, it’s important not to take any actions that could endanger the cat. Avoid using harmful chemicals or traps that could injure the cat. Focus on humane deterrents as a first approach.




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