16 January 2013

How do lost pets find their way home?

[The cat] showed up, skin and bones, paws rubbed raw and too exhausted to meow, in Barb Mazzola's Palm Beach Gardens yard...Mazzola coaxed her into a cat carrier and took her to the vet, where she was scanned for a microchip. The chip came back to match the Richters, who got a call from the pet tracing agency on Saturday. The couple couldn't believe it. Holly had travelled about 190 miles in 62 days. Since Holly was an inside cat, they had no idea how she found her way, ending up less than a mile from home.
I have heard stories like this one for years, some of them about dogs that have traveled across the United States.  There are suggestions that pets can navigate using smells (for short distances) or celestial clues (sunlight, stars) or magnetic fields for longer trips.  Perhaps a simpler explanation is that the process is entirely random - that they just wander and that 99% of them die or are adopted en route, so that the 1% we hear stories about are just the statistical outliers.

I don't have time to research this.  Does anyone have knowledge or data?

Video and text via Nothing To Do With Arbroath.

Addendum:  The New York Times has picked up the story.  Lots of speculation, no answers.


  1. I suspect (in the main) we just hear the outliers with happy endings to cause us to wonder how.

    Sure some species like pigeons are good at finding their way home, kept pigeons for a little while and one day during exercise they got buzzed by a hawk and scattered, within 2 days all but 3 returned and about 2 weeks later one of the 3 turned up.

  2. This is a pretty amazing story from Duluth. A volunteer is driving the dog all the way to Florida to reuinite it with its family.

  3. It's a great question!

    Mental map making, Surveillance/observation of the terrain, Sense of smell, Hearing, Magnetic fields, Position of the sun?


  4. Love guides them. Yes, I know it's corny but let's give it a chance =)


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