Pet disturbance

Pets can both help and hinder wildlife

From the point of view of wildlife and birds, many pets (and humans) are predators

Research shows that just the presence of predators can cause birds to stop feeding or abandon nesting, eggs, and fledglings. Whilst predator-prey relationships in the wild are natural, domestic animals can upset the balance of these cycles and cause harm to the delicate ecosystem.


33% of UK households own a dog, with over 12.5 million dogs here in the UK.  Dogs can be a little rough and cause harm to wildlife when charging around having fun – especially when out and about.​

Image by Joe Caione


Over 27% of UK households have a cat; that is over 12 million cats! Cats take over 100 million wild animals in the UK every year; of these at least 27 million are songbirds. Our latest research project with the University of Exeter studies the effects of predation from cats and practical solutions for cat owners, you can read about the research project and published papers here.


For some quick tips to protect your garden songbirds, see below:

  • Try to keep your cat indoors during the breeding season (March-August) to limit their effect on breeding songbirds. Dusk and dawn are the most active times for wildlife and limiting cat activity during this time would yield the most benefits.

  • Consider making a cat enclosure to allow your cat access to outside but separate it from wildlife. enable your cats to enjoy the outdoors but keeps them safe from cars, fights with other cats and diseases.

  • Use a brightly coloured collar from These collars have proved to be highly effective in reducing the number of birds killed by domestic cats. Use a quick-release ID collar – not only useful if your cat gets lost but great for hanging bells to alert prey, or special bibs to hinder hunting ability

  • Feeding your cat a high meat protein grain-free diet has been shown to reduce all prey brought back to the home by over 35%

  • Playing with your pet for just 5-10 minutes each day with a fishing pole toy allows cats to recreate their hunting behaviours in a safe environment and helps to reduce prey brought home by 25%

  • Make sure your cat is neutered – this will reduce your cat’s desire to wander far, reduce fighting, reduce hunting instincts and, of course, stop them having any more kittens

  • Ensure your cat is vaccinated – there are so many diseases which cats can transfer between wildlife; keeping up with vaccinations, flea and worm treatments will help

Image by Uriel Soberanes
28  Wearing a 'Birds-be-safe' collar.jpg

Small Pets

Vegetarian animals such as rabbits (1.1 million), guinea pigs (0.8 million) and domestic fowl (1.2 million) are less of a problem for birds.  Make sure they are vaccinated to stop the spread of diseases.  Often a by-product of feeding these animals is an additional food source for wildlife and birds.

Larger Pets

Larger animals like horses, pigs, goats, and sheep kept in buildings such as stables offer a range of food and nesting opportunities for many birds. 

  • Spilled food is an excellent extra resource for wildlife 

  • Dung makes a great resource for insects, as well as an addition to the compost heap and garden 

  • Stables offer a myriad of places for insects to live and birds to make nests. Swifts, house martins and swallows are often found at stables.  The animals attract insects for food, the human presence reduces predators and stables make a safe place to access and nest

Image by Clint Patterson


Cecchetti, M., Crowley, S.L., Goodwin, C.E.D., McDonald, R.A. (2021) Provision of High Meat Content Food and Object Play Reduce Predation of Wild Animals by Domestic Cats Felis catus. Current Biology. 31:1-5.


Cecchetti, M., Crowley, S.L., Wilson-Aggarwal, J., Nelli, L., McDonald, R.A. (2021) Spatial behaviour of domestic cats and the effects of outdoor access restrictions and interventions to reduce predation of wildlife. Conservation Science and Practice. 4(2):


Cecchetti, M., Crowley, S.L., Goodwin, C.E.D., Cole, H., McDonald, J., Bearhop, S., McDonald, R.A. (2021) Contributions of wild and provisioned foods to the diets of domestic cats that depredate wild animals. Ecosphere. 12(9):


Cecchetti, M., Crowley, S.L., McDonald, R.A. (2020) Drivers and facilitators of hunting behaviour in domestic cats and options for management. Mammal Review. 51(3): 307-322.


Crowley, S.L., Cecchetti, M., McDonald, R.A. (2020) Diverse perspectives of cat owners indicate barriers to and opportunities for managing cat predation of wildlife. Frontiers in Ecology and Environment. 18(10): 544-549.


Crowley, S.L., Cecchetti, M., McDonald, R.A. (2020) Our Wild Companions: Domestic cats in the Anthropocene. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 35(6): 477-483.


Crowley, S.L., Cecchetti, M., McDonald, R.A. (2019) Hunting behaviour in domestic cats: An exploratory study of risk and responsibility among cat owners. People and Nature. 1(1):18-30.


PFMA (2022, March 18). Pet population 2021. Pet Food Manufacturers Association.

Woods, M., McDonald, R.A., Harris, S. (2003) Predation of wildlife by domestic cats Felis catus in Great Britain. Mammal Review. 33: 174– 188.