Wanted: Cat Owners Whose Pets Walk on The Wild Side

Wanted: Cat Owners Whose Pets Walk on The Wild Side

At the University of Exeter we’re carrying out research to help cat owners reduce the amount of wildlife their pets catch, without compromising cat health and welfare. This spring, we’re conducting a big experiment – and we need your help! We’re looking for cat owners in south-west England, whose cats regularly hunt wildlife, to become researchers and help us find solutions to the tricky problem of carnivorous kitties. 

Credit: Helgi Halldórsson

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.

In a recent study, we found that while many cat owners dislike their feline companions’ compulsion to catch wildlife, they were also unsure how best to manage hunting. Some participants were particularly concerned about their cats killing birds and were looking for effective and practical ways to limit this behaviour without resorting to keeping cats indoors, something a lot of owners were uncomfortable with.

Credit: Martina Cecchetti

Cat-owning volunteers can contribute to our spring study in a number of ways.  They will be asked to keep a basic log of the prey their cats return with, and some will track their cat’s movements using GPS collars, as seen on TV’s Secret Life of Cats. We’ll then be asking most volunteers to test one of a range of practical techniques designed to reduce hunting, some of which can also improve their cat’s health and welfare. These techniques include giving the cats colourful patterned collars that make them conspicuous to birds, fitting existing collars with deterrents such as bells, upgrading their pet’s diets and introducing so-called puzzle feeders as a different way of providing food. We’ll also be running online working groups for our participants to share and discuss their experiences of the experiment.

Guidance and all equipment will be provided, and all methods employed will be approved by our Project Advisory Group, which includes representation from International Cat Care and the RSPCA.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

Cat owners from Bristol, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset or Somerset (UK) can sign up here:

https://wildlifescience.org/catowners.

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One thought on “Wanted: Cat Owners Whose Pets Walk on The Wild Side

  1. weggieboy says:

    Cat deprivation of wild small animals is well known, of course, and I’m not sure what needs to be studied here. The main thing that needs to be done is train cat owners to get over the notion it is a good idea to let their cats run wild…because they WILL be cats and they WILL decimate birds, hedgehogs, and a variety of other wildlife is allowed out unsupervised. Sorry for the sermon, but I’d bet mlost of these free range cats are unspayed or neutered, too, and their kittens are regularly adding to the problem of over-filled animal shelters, the problem of doing anything with feral kittens, and a host of other problems we seem unwilling to acknowledge are humnan-made. (Good thing I live thousands of miles from Hyde Park! LOL!)

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