How can you stop your cat from chasing wild animals?
Domestic cats are a major threat to wildlife, including birds and small mammals.
But according to a new study published Feb. 11 in the journal Current Biology, some simple strategies can help reduce cats’ environmental impact without restricting their freedom.
The study shows that pet cats hunt less when their owners feed them a diet high in meat protein. It also helps to play with them every day in a way that cats mimic hunting.
How can you stop your cat from chasing wild animals and still let them roam free?
“Keeping cats indoors is the only surefire way to deter hunting. Some owners are concerned about the welfare implications of restricting their cat’s outdoor access,” said lead author Robbie McDonald of the University of Exeter.
“Our study shows that owners can change what the cats want to do themselves using completely non-invasive, non-restrictive methods.”
Besides keeping cats indoors, methods such as putting cats in brightly colored collars can help protect birds from preying on cats. But these collars don’t protect mammals, and some cats find them uncomfortable or prone to losing them.
So in the new study, McDonald and his colleagues decided to try some new strategies, including puzzle feedings, meaty diets and games, all of which have the potential to reduce predation while enriching cats’ lives other way.
So what works best? More meat reduces hunted animals by 36%
Researchers enrolled 219 households in south-west England in the 12-week trial to test the effect of such strategies on hunting by cats. In total, the study included 355 cats.
The evidence shows that diets that derived protein from meat reduced the number of prey items brought to cat owners by 36%.
“Some cat foods contain protein from plant sources, such as soy, and it’s possible that despite forming a “complete diet,” these foods can leave some cats deficient in one or more micronutrients – prompting them to hunt,” said Martina Cecchetti, the graduate student who conducted the experiments.
More play also helps, reducing hunted animals by 25%
In the “Play” group, cats were able to use a spring toy that their owner dangling from a string and a wand, stalking, chasing, and pouncing. The owners also gave the cats a mouse-like toy to play with after each “hunt” that mimicked a real kill. The study reports that just five to 10 minutes of such play per day reduced predation by 25 percent.
The use of puzzle cuds did not have the desired effect. In fact, pet feeder owners found their cats were bringing home even more prey items than before. The reasons for this are not yet clear. It’s possible that in a brief trial, cats and owners had trouble using the puzzle food bowls and the cats were simply hungrier, the researchers say.
So how can you stop your cat from hunting wildlife? Owners need to play an active role
Nevertheless, the new findings show that limiting cat predation is as much a function of what owners do with their cats as it is of the cats themselves. In future studies, the researchers hope to find ways to further reduce cat predation. They are interested in finding out if certain micronutrients could be added to cat food to reduce hunting without as much meat.
“We also plan to investigate whether different game types have different effects and whether combination strategies reduce this can keep hunting,” Cechetti said.
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Study:“Providing meat-rich feed and Playing with objects reduces wild animal predation by domestic cats Felis catus”Authors: Martina Cecchetti, Sarah L. Crowley, Cecily E.D. Goodwin and Robbie A. McDonaldPublished in: Current Biology Published date:11. February 2021DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.12.044Image: by Dimitri Houtteman on Unsplash