How to discourage your cat from killing wild animals
Living in the country, my cats have brought in just about every species of British wildlife over the past few years – mice, birds, bats, rats, rabbits, even a woodpecker – and a weasel! The impact that this kind of predatory hunting can have on local wildlife populations - and particularly wild birds - is a subject of intense debate. It is upsetting to find a dead mouse on your carpet, not knowing if you could have done more to prevent their death – but your cat is only acting on their instincts and restricting their natural behaviour can have a negative impact on their individual health and wellbeing too, so there is no easy solution to this problem. Which is why we were interested to read about a recent study, by the University of Exeter which suggests some simple, effective and non-restrictive ways that cat owners like me can discourage their pets from catching and killing quite so many small fluffy creatures.
Photo by Petrebels on Unsplash
1. Play with your cat
The researchers found that just five to ten minutes of daily playing with your cat will cause a 25% reduction in hunting. For the purposes of the study, cat owners simulated hunting with a feathery toy on a string so that their cats could stalk, chase and pounce. The cats were then given a toy mouse to play with after the chase, to mimic a ‘real kill.’
There are already many reasons that you should be playing with your cat anyway. It helps to strengthen your bond with them, prevents boredom and keeps them active – so with these findings you should definitely make sure that you make time to play with your cat every day as part of your routine. Think of it as time saved not removing dead animals from the rug – or worse trying to find a live one that they have brought in and let go.
You might think that your cat isn't very playful or interested in toys – particularly if you have an older cat - but sometimes it just takes a little time to pique their interest and engage with them. Pretty much every cat enjoys playing with something on a piece of string. These appear to bring the toy to life and you can encourage them to chase it around and engage in hunting activities such as stalking and pouncing, without killing anything.
Once your cat has finished playing they may simply lose interest and walk off. If this happens, stop and put the toys away but make sure that you offer to play with them as frequently as they want to and make it part of your routine.
Photo by Felice Wölke on Unsplash
2. Change their diet
The study also revealed that introducing your cat to a grain-free diet - with proteins that come from meat - reduces the number of prey animals cats brought home by 36%. It's not yet clear what element of the meat protein diet leads to this reduction in hunting, but there was a clear correlation amongst the test subjects. Speaking about the study, PhD student Martina Cecchetti, who conducted the experiments said:
“Some cat foods contain protein from plant sources such as soy, and it's possible that despite forming a 'complete diet' these foods leave some cats deficient in one or more micronutrients - prompting them to hunt.
“However, meat production raises clear climate and environmental issues, so one of our next steps is to find out whether particular micronutrients could be added to cat foods to reduce hunting.”
Photo by Maurice Garlet on Unsplash
3. Get a colourful ruffled collar
The researchers also tried different types of collar on the cats to see if this made a difference to their predatory ways. They recommended that cats wear a colourful ruffled collar cover over a quick-release collar. They used a specific type of collar cover called ‘'BirdsBeSafe' which reduced the number of birds captured and brought home by 42% - although it is worth noting that the collar had no effect on how many mammals were killed.
The BirdsBeSafe collar cover is a large fabric ruff and makes your cat look a little bit like a clown but it can be removed when your cat comes back indoors so that they can groom themselves properly.
Photo by Tetiana Shyshkina on Unsplash
4. In from Dusk til Dawn
In addition to the findings of the survey, the RSPCA recommends that, where possible you should keep your cat indoors from dusk til dawn as this is when most small furry mammals (and your cat) are active. If your cat prefers catching birds and you have bird feeders set up in your garden they also offer some advice on how to keep birds safe from your pet attacks.
It can be a bit of a balancing act, keeping you cat happy and expressing normal behaviours, whilst also protecting wildlife and there is no single, simple solution. Cats are instinctively motivated to hunt and they should not be punished for doing so. So this study comes as a piece of welcome news, highlighting some practical steps that we can take in order to make sure that our cats are happy, without compromising their innate, natural behaviour.
If you’d like to find out more about the paper, it is published in the journal, Current Biology, and titled: Provision of high meat content food and object play reduce predation of wild animals by domestic cats Felis catus.
Is your cat a bit of a mouser? Perhaps you’ve found some useful ways to stop them from killing wild animals – as always, let us know in the comments section below!
Main Photo by Kim Davies on Unsplash