Tag: study

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.

Cat hunting
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

Here Are Some Cats Singing The Imperial March From Star Wars, Plus Some Feel-Good Cat-Human Reunions

Since we featured some sad news in our last post — though tempered with some really good news from a Portland cat cafe — we’ll wrap up the week with some humor, absurdities and science, all cat-related of course:

  • Do you have two cats? If so, you can help researchers from UC Davis and the University of British Columbia, who are studying the ways cats interact with each other in human homes. All you have to do is watch a few cat videos online, then answer a handful of questions about the behavior of the cats in those clips, as well as the behavior of your own kitties. With enough data from participants, the research teams hope they can better understand the often-inscrutable interactions, squabbles, truces and social hierarchies that define relationships between domestic felines sharing the same home territory. “Ultimately, we hope this research can help identify gaps in owners’ knowledge of cat behavior,” U of BC’s Sherry Khoddami told Gizmodo. “The welfare of cats in the home is an under-researched area.”

  • Yes, cats do have a long and distinguished history of “messing shit up,” and they simply don’t care. Maybe that’s why cats singing the Imperial March from Star Wars — okay, cats sampled and pitch-shifted to the Imperial March’s melody — feels appropriate. Our fluffballs are inevitable.

This week brought us stories of two cats who were reunited with their humans after more than a decade apart, both in the UK.

  • Tom, a tuxedo in Cardiff, Wales, went missing in 2009. He spent most of the past decade-plus living with another cat in the safety of a cemetery with the help of a nearby family, who kept them well-fed. It wasn’t until recently that someone tipped off a local rescue to the presence of the two “strays,” and finally Tom’s microchip was scanned. On Friday, Tom’s human, Donna, was overcome with emotion when she reunited with the little guy at Anna’s Rescue Centre of Cardiff, fighting back tears as she stooped down to stroke his fur. Donna also adopted Tom’s longtime companion from the cemetery. (Click the link for video, which we were not able to embed.)
  • Meanwhile in Aberdeen, Neil and Lucy Henderson were reunited with their tabby, Forbes, who had gone missing in 2011. Neil Henderson was so shocked, he had to pull over and stop his car when his wife told him Forbes had been located by the SCPA. “I was completely unprepared for what I was about to be told and hearing that Forbes had been found left me completely astounded,” he told the BBC. Forbes was picked up by an animal control officer who realized he was very friendly and had a microchip. The Hendersons “have no way of knowing where Forbes had been all this time or what adventures he might have been on,” but they’re ecstatic that he’s back home.

Forbes the cat's missing poster
The original missing poster created by the Hendersons when Forbes disappeared in 2011.

Unlike Other Animals, Cats Always Take The Free Meal

When presented with a simple tray of food and a food puzzle that requires a little work to get at the yums inside, every animal ever tested has opted for the latter.

Except cats.

Rhesus monkeys, rats, chickens, bears, starlings, gerbils, chimpanzees and a wide range of other animals are drawn to food puzzles, perhaps because the food tastes sweeter to them if they’ve had to work for it, or maybe because it’s just something amusing to do.

“There is an entire body of research that shows that most species including birds, rodents, wolves, primates – even giraffes – prefer to work for their food,” said Mikel Delgado, a cat behaviorist and lead author of the newest study on the phenomenon known as contrafreeloading. “What’s surprising is out of all these species cats seem to be the only ones that showed no strong tendency to contrafreeload.”

Puzzle feeder
A puzzle feeder used in the study. Credit: UC Davis

Delgado, a research affiliate at UC Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine, used a clear puzzle feeder so the cats in her study could see the treats inside. A few feline study participants gave it a shot, but only after grabbing themselves some easy grub first. Other cats just ignored the food puzzle and munched exclusively from the tray.

While this is at least the second study to specifically test whether cats “freeload” their meals, the why of this particular feline behavior remains a mystery. Delgado cautioned against the obvious conclusion — that cats are just lazy — and pointed out that several cats in the study were active and expending energy, just not with the puzzle feeder.

One possible explanation: As hunters and obligate carnivores, cats simply may not enjoy games that simulate foraging the way omnivores and herbivores do.

The study was published on July 26 in the academic journal Animal Cognition. Read it here.

Screenshot 2021-08-13 at 08-31-22 MikelDelgadoProfile jpg (WEBP Image, 800 × 800 pixels)
Mikel Delgado with a kitty. Credit: Community Cats Podcast

Dear Buddy: How Do I Train My Humans?

Dear Buddy,

I’m an 8-month-old kitten and I have two human servants, a man and a woman, who are usually pretty good about following my instructions and commands, but sometimes I try to speak to them in their infernal language and they look at me like I’m crazy.

I say “Gimme more snacks now, minions!” and they laugh and pat me on the head, calling me a good boy.

I am not a good boy! I am their overlord and they must learn their place! You’re very good at commanding your human. Got any tips?

Commander Kitten in Cleveland


Dear Commander Kitten,

You’ve come to the right cat! I am the world’s foremost expert on human compliance. They call me the People Whisperer.

Normally these tips will set you back four installments of $29.95 for my 10 DVD instructional set, “The Art of Human Mind Control,” but I’m in a magnanimous mood today and it’s my responsibility to pass my wisdom on to the next generation.

First of all, meows alone aren’t going to get you anywhere unless you’ve really worked on your Solicitation Purr, but that should only be used sparingly or it loses its effectiveness. (And also places you in danger of being locked in the bathroom.)

What you need to do is work on your poses. Humans are simple creatures. They expect us to be “cute” and “adorable.” We can lay the headless bodies of creatures we’ve slaughtered at their feet, proving we are remorseless and efficient killers, and they still talk to us in baby voices and condescendingly pat us on the head for being “good widdle hunters.” Idiots.

So as degrading as it may seem, play the cute angle. Flop down in front of them, roll over so they can see your belly and your toe beans, and let out a little “Mrrrrp!” while fixing them with your wide-eyed gaze.

Watch them melt. Wait for them to say whatever risible thing they like to say (“Oh Mr. Fuzzy you’re such a cutie patootie!”), and then you push for the snacks or the catnip or whatever.

Bonus points if you can prompt them to take photos of you with their smartphones. A 2020 study by the Buddy Institute for Manipulative Behavior Research found that the percentage of phone photos humans dedicate to their feline masters directly correlates with human trainability. For example, 92 percent of my human’s phone photos depict yours truly.

Make sure you nuzzle them or something, so they can continue with the comforting fiction that we love them more than food. (Okay, fine. I am fond of my human, but he still has a lot of room for improvement when it comes to serving me.)

And remember: Giving them some sugar is most effective when you’ve played it cool and aloof most of the day. Once you’ve mastered basic human manipulation you can ease into the advanced stuff, like guilting them when they eat in front of you. Practice your sad eyes, young padawan.

Good luck!

Buddy

Study: Male Actors, Models Are 96% More Handsome With Buddy

NEW YORK — Male actors and models are viewed as 96 percent more handsome when pictured with Buddy the Cat, a new study reveals.

The study, conducted by a research team from the Buddy Institute for Handsomeness Studies, found actors like Ryan Gosling, George Clooney and Brad Pitt were scored much more favorably on attractiveness measures when photographed with Buddy.

“Take the Australian actor Chris Hemsworth, for example: Our studies found that Hemsworth pictured alone was rated favorable by only four percent of women,” the study’s authors wrote. “But in photographs where he’s lounging with Buddy, holding Buddy or flexing next to Buddy, women rated him off the scale in terms of looks, masculinity, power and assertiveness. The difference is remarkable.”

Fat Thor
Australian actor Chris Hemsworth photographed without Buddy.

Thor with Buddy
Australian actor Chris Hemsworth photographed WITH Buddy, illustrating a dramatic difference in perceived power, masculinity and handsomeness.

Comedian Bruce Vilanch, who is not generally considered a sex symbol by women, was described by the study’s female participants as “irresistibly sexy,” “uncompromisingly masculine” and “incredibly hot” when women viewed photographs of Vilanch posing with Buddy.

Bruce Vilanch
Bruce Vilanch rated higher than George Clooney on universal scores of attractiveness when photographed with Buddy the Cat, the study found.

“This phenomenon may be one reason why so many men on dating apps choose to display photographs of themselves posing with tigers and other ferocious, regal beasts,” the study concluded. “There’s nothing like a powerful feline to get pulses racing.”

Researchers at the revered and ultra-credible Buddy Institute for Handsomeness Studies — which is considered one of the greatest international research institutions — said they were prompted to study the effect of Buddy’s presence after a fake news study claimed men are viewed as less desirable by women when they’re pictured with cats.