Many cat owners worry about their pets wandering the streets, but perceive cats hunting mice and birds to be unavoidable instinct, researchers at the University of Exeter have found. Their findings are published today in the journal People and Nature.
Owners often dislike their feline companions’ compulsion to catch wildlife but feel unable, or unwilling, to control it.
The researchers interviewed cat owners about their pets’ roaming and hunting behaviour, what worried them, and what they felt responsible for.
Hunting, and the resulting corpses on the kitchen floor, were seen as natural behaviour outside owners’ control. Those who did want to limit hunting felt this was difficult to achieve without locking cats indoors – and hardly any owners wanted this.
“However, because hunting is a natural cat behaviour, few owners believed they could effectively control this without negatively affecting their cats’ welfare.”
Cats vary in the amount they hunt, with some catching multiple birds and small mammals every week, while many others stay indoors or rarely lift a predatory paw.
With up to 11 million cats in the UK, some conservationists are nevertheless concerned about the effect even a minority of hunting cats might have on wildlife, especially declining species like house sparrows.
Current methods of preventing cats catching wild prey include fitting them with collars with bells and bright colours, and keeping them indoors at night.
The researchers interviewed 48 cat owners from urban, suburban and rural areas in Cornwall and Oxfordshire.
Sponsorship for the study comes from the independent bird conservation charity SongBird Survival and is overseen by an advisory group comprising veterinarians, cat behaviour and welfare experts, and representatives from SongBird Survival, International Cat Care and the RSPCA.
“We are very concerned about the significant adverse impacts that free-ranging domestic cats can have on our songbirds and other wildlife,” said Robert Middleditch, SongBird Survival’s Chairman.
“We are therefore delighted to have commissioned this important project, and believe that working with cat owners to find practical solutions, while promoting responsible pet ownership, can benefit both vulnerable wildlife and cats.”
Read the full study:
Crowley SL, Cecchetti M, McDonald RA. Hunting behaviour in domestic cats: An exploratory study of risk and responsibility among cat owners. People Nat. 2018;00:1–13. DOI: 10.1002/2575-8314.006
Alex Morrison, Press Officer, University of Exeter, Tel: +41 01392 724828, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Founded in 2001, SongBird Survival is the only charity in the UK solely dedicated to halting the alarming decline of song and other small birds – birds, such as corn bunting, willow tit, tree & house sparrow. It does so by funding independent scientific studies that aim to shed light on the reasons why around 50% of our songbirds have disappeared over the past 50 years. These studies will help determine how land can be managed more sustainably, with a view to restoring a rich, balanced and resilient population of birds similar to that enjoyed in the 1970s to help keep a healthy dawn chorus alive.
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