How do animal homing devices work?

Here is a small article on homing pigeons:

How do dogs, cats and for that matter these pigeons complete an accurate trip for the first time. I understand routine trips that are learned, but what about the first time? The word instinct is too general.

I’ll give an example. I have these $1500 Hybred cats that are part Asian leopard. If I let them roam free they would be stolen. I keep them indoors, in a cage outdoors or on a leash. One day I drove over to a freinds house to show them my cat. I walk him on a leash and he breaks away. I’m 5 miles from my house and sick to my stomach. I look for him day and night, not to be found. 3 days later he shows up at my house. He never saw the 5 mile point A to Point B trip before.

How did he know to make his way back home? What homing senses did he use?

If there is ever a 6 sense this has to be it, I would think.

In the case of pigeons they memorise the landmarks along the way. Homing pigeons can’t simply be taken someewhere totaly foreign and still have any reasonable chance of making it home. They need to spend some time getting used to the area first.

They may be part leopard cat, but they are certainly not part Asian leopard which are the same as African leopards and quite incapable of hybridising with house cats…

No homing senses. Luck played a large role. Cats, and especially Toms, have territories and your cat would have been forced to keep moving by the reisident Toms. That movement eventually brought him close enoiugh to your house for him to smell it. Cats have phenomenal senses of smell, and in clean conditions a cat would have no trouble smelling his own home form a mere 5 miles away. Even in a city he may well have been able to smell it at that range, and certainly within a couple of miles.

There’s no need for any mysterious sixth sense, the cat simply wandered around until he got close enough to home to smell it.

Mine are part asian leopard, I have papers, look here: - Secret of homing pigeons revealed - Feb. 6, 2004

Not that it is the reason, it’s just that is what mine are bred from. These are hybred F 1’s. Which mean: A first generation cross is called an F1.

Umm, how does a story about pigeons prove that your cats are part leopard?

Unless there has been some breakthrough in inter-generic hybridisation that has totally slipped under my radar your pets are hybrids of Asian leopard cats and house cats.

Leopard cats are no more leopards than sausage dogs are sausages. It’s just a descriptive name.

It has nothing to do with it. The gentlemen stated they were not part Asian Leopards, and I was simply showing the bread line of the first generation that I purchased. The fact I have papers proves to me they were first generation when I was breeding them.

I don’t think he wandered back to my house for 5 miles by accident. I think they have some type of homing sense. I have heard dogs traveling hundreds of miles to a family that moved into a new home and left them.

It must be unknown.

I’m sorry but you are making no sense whatsoever.

Let’s just clear this up shall we? Do you now undertstand that your cats are not part Asian leopard, and in fact have aboslutely no Asian leopard, nor are they part African leopard? They may or may not have some leopard-cat in their ancestry, but do you undertsand that that is not the same as being part leopard?

And what evidence is that based on? We know that cats have a sense of smeel that is quite capable of ddetecting tehir own odour from several miles away, why do you feel the need to invoke mysterious sixth senses?

Uh huh. So not only do animals have a mysterious homing sense, thye have an ability to project that into the future to identify homes they have never lived in? You are proposing that my dog can find its way to a house that I own;t even buy until 2025. Do you realise how absurd that sounds?

Or, more rationally, it doesn’t exist. Animals have a lot of senses that are better than humans and some have senses that apparently humans lack, but none of those is supernatural, or unknown, or mysterious.

This is incorrect. While homing pigeons use landmarks (and olfaction) for short-distance navigation near the home loft, they can be taken to completely unfamiliar sites hundreds of kilometers away and still find their way home.

Pigeon navigation

Birds use a variety of multiply-redundant techniques to navigate. They have both a “map,” telling them where they are relative to where they want to go, and a “compass,” which permits them to determine the direction to travel in order to get there. They are known to use landmarks, olfaction, celestial cues, and magnetism to navigate. The relative importance of these different cues may vary between species.

This site has some additional information about bird navigation and the methods they use to find their way.

This article discusses homing in mammals, especially bears. In mammals in particular (most of which have much better senses of smell than birds), odor cues may play a very large role in navigation. While entirely speculative at this point, it is possible they may also use magnetic cues like birds.

It is most likely that the cat in the OP, whatever its identity, was using odor cues to orient, especially since it had sometimes been kept outside near its home. Five miles should be within the capability of many carnivores. It seems that bears at least can do much better than this, although they and canids generally have better senses of smell than felids.

Asian Leopard Cat
What a pretty puss!

Anecdotal braindump: Pigeons get lost if you strap a magnet to their heads. Cats get lost even without magnetic interference, though every now and then some cat somewhere performs some amazing feat of navigation and endurance, and often dumb stubborness when they insist on returning to an old address. I’ve heard that having to cross a water course stuffs a cats homing skills somewhat, so maybe in the feline case a scent trail is important.

In his defense, it’s not the first time I’ve heard it. I’ve seen it reported in newspapers* and people have told me stories about pets being lost by owners who were moving and then have had the pet show up at their new home. My mind insists the last I heard a tale of this ilk, it was about a cat.

I had always speculated if these stores have any merit that perhaps the animal was following a faint scent trail left by the car/van, and found places where the family had stopped to rest and tracked them that way.

*Of course, this may be an example of an urban legend getting reported as fact which happens every now and again.