Tag: outdoor cats

Reason #488 To Keep Your Cats Indoors: They Hunt Whether They’re Hungry Or Not

A new study from the UK debunks the claim that cats need access to the outdoors to supplement their diets with wild kills.

Cats who spend a significant amount of time outdoors and regularly kill local wildlife still get 96 percent of their nutrition from meals provided by their humans, according to research by a team at the University of Exeter.

The scientists connected with cat owners through ads on social media, TV and in print publications, specifically seeking out “cat owners living throughout southwest England whose cats regularly captured wild animals and brought them back to the house,” the study’s authors said.

They gave the owners a questionnaire to collect some basic information on the kitties — age, sex, breed, whether they had unrestricted access to the outdoors, and how much time they spend outside — then split the 90 participating cats into six groups.

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A domestic tabby cat stalking in the grass. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

To set a baseline, the scientists trimmed small sections of whisker from each of the cats, then trimmed a second sample at the end of the study.

By comparing stable isotope ratios in the whisker samples, they were able to determine what the cats were eating. Despite regular access to the outdoors and successful hunts, pet food accounted for the vast majority of their diets.

As a result, the researchers concluded, outdoor cats hunt because they’re driven by predatory instinct, not hunger.

“When food from owners is available, our study shows that cats rely almost entirely on this for nutrition,” said Martina Cecchetti, the study’s lead author.

“Some owners may worry about restricting hunting because cats need nutrition from wild prey, but in fact, it seems even prolific hunters don’t actually eat much of the prey they catch,” Cecchetti said. “As predators, some cats may hunt instinctively even if they are not hungry – so-called ‘surplus killing’ – to capture and store prey to eat later.”

A second component of the study was designed to find the best mitigation strategy to change the behavior of outdoor cats.

Each group was given a different strategy: In one group, cats were outfitted with bells on their collars, while another group wore reflective break-away collars and cats from a third group were fitted with BirdBeSafe collars. The other groups were told to make habit changes inside the home. For example, one set of cats was fed a higher-protein diet without grain filler, another group was fed with puzzle feeders, and the last group was given extra interactive play time.

While high-protein diets and play time helped cut down on hunting, the BirdBeSafe collars had the biggest impact on hunting success. The collars come in bright colors designed to stand out to avian eyes, taking away stealth and the element of surprise from cats.

The study was sponsored by Songbird Survival, a British non-profit that funds bird conservation research and looks for ways to mitigate the dwindling numbers of many avian species.

Susan Morgan, Songbird Survival’s executive director, said her group hopes cat owners will do their part to help: “Pet owners can help us reverse the shocking decline in songbirds via three simple, ‘win-win’ steps: fit collars with a Birdsbesafe cover; feed cats a premium meaty diet; play with cats for five to ten minutes a day to ‘scratch that itch’ to hunt.”

Of course there’s an obvious solution the study didn’t include: Keeping cats indoors. While keeping cats indoors is common in the US, cat ownership culture in the UK is different — another subject for another post.

Read the full text of the study here. Header image credit Pexels. Body images credit BeSafeCollar.

Previously:

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A pair of young mountain lions in Florida. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/WOConservation

Does Your Cat Tolerate A Collar?

Even indoor cats should wear collars, according to a pair of veterinarians who spoke with PopSugar.

Megan McCorkel, a veterinarian who writes for Better With Cats, said collars can make a difference if the unexpected happens and your cat gets outside:

While it might not seem as necessary to put a collar on an indoor cat as an outdoor cat, accidents can still happen, Dr. McCorkel said. Even indoor-only cats can venture out of the house unexpectedly. However, because indoor-only cats don’t have the street savviness of outdoor felines, they might be in a bit of panic when they first get out, she explained. Luckily, a collar helps people realize that your stressed-out kitty doesn’t belong outside, prompting them to return your lost cat home safely and quickly. “I think of a collar on an indoor cat like an insurance plan,” Dr. McCorkel said. “I hope I don’t need it, but when I do, I’ll be glad it’s there.”

The last time I tried to put a collar on Buddy was six years ago, and he was miserable with it on. At the time I tried the gradual approach, leaving it on him for short spurts and giving him extra treats and praise when he had it on.

Eventually I left it on Bud for the better part of a day. He whined and cried and never forgot it was around his neck.

Finally he managed to contort himself so he could get a hind paw underneath the collar and pull on it with his front paws. He trilled with anticipation, sliding it up his neck toward his ears — then lost his grip, and the collar snapped back like a rubber band.

I will never forget his shriek of unmistakable frustration in that moment. I knew he was miserable, and I took the collar off immediately.

Screenshot_2020-12-05 Cat-wearing-a-collar-Vets-Now webp (WEBP Image, 1333 × 1000 pixels) — Scaled (96%)

Right now I’m not worried about him getting outside because I live in an apartment building, meaning Bud would have to get through three or four sets of doors, and primarily because he wants nothing to do with the outdoors. As an indoor cat, Buddy gets overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells outside, and that’s when he’s on his harness with me as his safety blanket. He enjoys sunbathing on the balcony, but he won’t even step out there unless it’s a perfect 75-degree day.

I’ve made the determination that it’s not worth making him suffer. That could change in the future when my living circumstances are different.

What about your cats? Do they tolerate collars? Do you think they’re necessary?

Study: There Are 5 Types Of Cat Owners

When it comes to attitudes about hunting and impact on local wildlife, there are five broad categories of cat owners, a new study says.

Four out of the five aren’t particularly worried about their cats killing birds and small mammals, the University of Exeter researchers wrote in the study, which was published in Frontiers In Ecology and the Environment, a research journal.

  1. Concerned Protector. These are people who keep their cats indoors to keep them safe from the world. Their main worries are cats being stolen, lost or killed. They don’t have strong feelings about hunting behaviour and wouldn’t keep their cats indoors solely to stop them hunting.
  2. Freedom Defenders believe cats should be able to roam where they please, like wild animals. Cats hunting is a good sign of normal behaviour and helps control the rodent population. They oppose any restrictions of cat access to the outdoors.
  3. Tolerant Guardians believe that the benefits of roaming outweigh the risks of the cat being injured or lost. They love wildlife and cat hunting is the least attractive part of cat ownership, but it is just what cats do. They’re not sure how cat owners can effectively reduce hunting behaviour.
  4. Conscientious Caretakers believe cats should have access to the outdoors but they don’t oppose some containment. Hunting by cats really bothers them, and they particularly worry about birds. They believe owners should have have some responsibility managing their cat’s hunting behaviour.
  5. Lasseiz-faire landlords believes it’s natural for cats to want to go out into the natural world and if they fall foul of it (dogs, bigger cats, SUVs) that’s natural too. They’ve never seriously thought about the effects of cats on wildlife populations. They’d be more likely to manage their cat’s hunting behaviours if it was killing things all the time.

You can take a short quiz (16 multiple choice questions) to find out what kind of cat caretaker you are. For what it’s worth, the quiz says I’m a “conscientious protector,” which sounds about right.

cat-predation

In his mind, of course, Buddy is a fierce, powerful feline and a mighty hunter. In reality he’s hilariously inept at the hunting games we play, and no matter how many times I’ve brought him outside on his harness, he goes into sensory overload every time, spending the first 20 minutes nervously huddled before he relaxes, his tail shoots up and he starts to enjoy the new sights and smells.

Fortunately I don’t have to deal with a cat who pines for the outdoors. Bud has no desire to go out there on his own, and he won’t even step onto the balcony if it’s too hot, too cold, raining, snowing or especially windy.

Most of all it’s too dangerous out there between traffic, potential predators like coyotes, train tracks, other cats and people who will abuse or kill cats just because they can. I don’t want to lose my little Bud.

Dear readers, if you take the test, please let us know which category it placed you in.

UK Cat Positive For COVID: ‘Don’t Kiss Your Pets’

A female Siamese has become the first cat to test positive for COVID-19 in the UK.

The cat almost certainly caught the virus from her COVID-infected owners, authorities said. Christine Middlemiss, the U.K.’s top veterinary official, echoed the CDC in urging people not to freak out:

“There is no evidence to suggest that pets directly transmit the virus to humans,” Middlemiss said. “We will continue to monitor this situation closely and will update our guidance to pet owners should the situation change.”

Owners who have COVID-like symptoms should social distance from their own pets, says Margaret Hosie, a virologist at the University of Glasgow: “Don’t kiss your cat. Don’t have the cat sleeping in a bed with you, and don’t share food with the cat.”

If your cat is anything like mine, good luck trying to tell him he’s not sleeping in your his bed.

Kleptomaniac cat collects goggles

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Avery with his stash of swimming goggles. Credit: BBC

A cat in Bristol, UK, has an odd obsession with swimming goggles. The four-year-old moggie, Avery, has stolen eight pairs so far this summer.

Avery’s human, Sally Bell, said she’s checked with her neighbors and no one’s told her they’re missing goggles, so Avery must be wandering further than realized.

“He doesn’t play with the goggles, he just leaves them for me. In fact, the pair he brought home the other day had a dead mouse with them – two presents at once,” Bell told the BBC. “I feel so bad in case it’s children who are being brought new goggles and they’re getting into trouble because they keep going missing.”

Terrible human beings are terrible

Someone is shooting cats with pellet guns in a Wyandotte, Michigan, neighborhood. Four cats have been killed and a fifth had a leg amputated after he was shot, WDIV reports. There’s a reward for information leading to the shooter’s arrest, and police want to hear from anyone with information about the cat shootings.

Meanwhile, the Humane Society of Utah is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of a sicko who tied a cat down, tortured it and set it on fire.

A woman found Sterling the cat on July 21 and brought him to the veterinarian. Little Sterling made it through surgery and remains under the care of the vet, who’s providing pain medication and making sure the tough kitty is being “loved and spoiled.”

“This level of cruelty should unnerve the community,” said the Humane Society’s Rachel Heatley. “In the interest of public safety, an individual who is capable of torturing an animal needs to be identified and taken off the street as soon as possible.”

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Sterling survived and is recovering from his wounds. Credit: Humane Society of Utah

Why We Should Lie To Our Cats

Sometimes you’ve gotta fib to protect the ones you love, which is how I found myself lying to Buddy the first time he wanted to go outside and ineptly chase hunt birds.

“I’m sorry, Bud, I can’t let you do that,” I said, doing my best to sound serious and authoritative.

“Why not?” Buddy asked, pawing at the door impatiently.

“Because it isn’t safe.”

Buddy was exasperated. “I’m 10 months old! I can take care of myself!”

“You don’t understand. It’s not for your protection.”

I lowered my voice conspiratorially and nodded toward the birds outside. “It’s for them. Mice too. Squirrels. Even coyotes.”

Comprehension dawned on the little guy’s face.

“To protect them from me?”

“Precisely,” I said gravely. “It wouldn’t be fair, unleashing a beast of your size and power on those poor unsuspecting creatures. It’d be like that scene in Jurassic Park when they lowered a cow into the velociraptor cage.”

Buddy nodded.

Jurassic Park: Raptor feeding time

“That makes sense.” He eased onto his hind legs and raised his front left paw, flexing. “I mean, I am really ripped. These guns must be intimidating.”

“They most certainly are,” I agreed. “So ripped! So you can understand why I can’t let you out.”

“Illegal, you say? Like actually illegal?”

“A $500 fine if you even step out the front door.”

“Damn.”

After that he didn’t ask to go outside anymore and was satisfied with telling people that the local Council of Dangerous and Awesome Animals had specifically forbidden Buddy the Beast from stalking the neighborhood unless chaperoned by a human with his huge muscles restrained in a harness.

Ed Sheeran’s cat: A preventable tragedy

I recalled this totally accurate and real conversation after reading news that musician Ed Sheeran’s cat, Graham, has died. I clicked on the story expecting to read about a loyal cat who’d stuck with Sheeran over the better part of two decades before succumbing to old age.

That’s not how Graham died.

Sheeran’s five-year-old cat had his life cut short when he was hit by a car on July 31.

Graham, Ed Sheeran's cat
Graham, Ed Sheeran’s cat, as a kitten. He’s pictured sitting on a Les Paul guitar.

Allowing cats to roam free is the norm in the UK, even in busy neighborhoods. Cats are killed in traffic — or meet other unfortunate ends — regularly. Even a rampage by an alleged serial murderer of cats, who was said to kill more than 300, didn’t dissuade them from keeping their cats safely indoors, nor did the subsequent (pardon) copy-cats.

The usual excuses paint cats as one step removed from wild animals, creatures who range several miles in their “natural” states as outdoor kitties.

The problem is, that’s not true.

Domestic cats don’t belong in the wild

Cats are domesticated animals. They’ve evolved over 10,000 years from African and Eurasian wildcats, to the human-friendly mousers who protected grain stores, and finally to the companion animals we all know and love.

They are second only to dogs, who were domesticated 30,000 years ago, as animals who are uniquely attuned to human presence, able to read our expressions, detect our moods from our pheromones and parse the subtleties in our vocalizations.

Cats belong with humans. They have no “natural habitat.” As domesticates who are genetically distinct from their wildcat ancestors, there’s no place in nature for them.

In other words, cats belong in human homes, benefiting from human companionship, protection and care.

They’re not as fast, agile or nimble as their wild cousins, and while some can adjust to rough living, most don’t: The lifespan of a feral cat is a pitiful two to five years compared to the 16 years or so an average, well-cared-for indoor cat can live. For feral cats eking out an existence on their own, as opposed to living in a colony, the average lifespan is less than two years.

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Window perches allow cats prime views of the outdoors without exposing them to danger.

It’s our responsibility to protect our cats

The point is that we’re not doing cats any favors by letting them roam outdoors unsupervised. In addition to being ill-equipped to deal with nature and predators, they’re also defenseless against maladjusted and hostile humans who do things like intentionally poison flower beds. They’re particularly vulnerable to vehicle traffic. They’re easy meals for large birds of prey, wild canids and other mid-sized animals.

So what’s the solution? Simple: Be a good caretaker.

An indoor life shouldn’t be boring. It’s our responsibility as caretakers to provide our cats with attention, affection, toys and stimulation.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, cats aren’t antisocial animals. They want to play, to interact with people, to simulate hunts with wand toys and laser pointers. They feel safe snoozing and purring in human laps. That’s not just the opinion of cat lovers, it’s backed up by solid research showing cats value human companionship.

A happy indoor life

If we give them the attention we’re supposed to, there’s no reason why our cats should be bored indoors. And an indoor life doesn’t have to be completely devoid of nature. That’s why there are customized cat perches, catios and harnesses, allowing domestic cats to watch and enjoy the outdoors without exposing them to the many dangers outside.

The Grahams of the world shouldn’t die early because of our misguided belief that cats need to roam like tigers. Keep your buddy indoors, give him the attention he needs, and he’ll have a long and happy life.