Tag: urban wildlife

Cat Food Is Loaded With Mystery Ingredients, Study Says

We’ve all heard the oft-quoted factoid claiming domestic cats kill billions of birds and small animals every year, and unsurprisingly that number is contested and controversial.

One reason skeptics doubt those numbers is because researchers didn’t observe cat behavior and extrapolate the ecological impact — they handed out questionnaires to owners and asked them how often their cats brought dead animals home. To get accurate results, researchers have to be confident people are answering honestly and have reliable memories. It’s really not the best way to do a study.

So a team at North Carolina State University came up with a better way to measure cat predation on wildlife: They’d take hair samples from more than 400 cats, which would reveal how much of their diets consist of cat food versus prey.

Hair analysis can reveal different isotopes, so the team would be able to directly note each cat’s diet by distinguishing between pet food isotopes and those from prey animals. As the team explained:

A common way to understand the composition of animal diets is to collect samples of fur, nails, or blood from an animal and analyze its carbon and nitrogen isotopes. All organic materials contain isotopes of elements that get locked into body tissues, following the basic principle that you are what you eat. For example, the ratios of nitrogen isotopes present in carnivores are dependably distinct from those of plant eaters. Similarly, researchers can distinguish the types of plants that an animal eats by measuring the ratio of carbon isotopes.

It was a good idea, but the study was derailed by an unexpected discovery: No one knows what the heck is in pet food.

Cat food manufacturers fill their products with mystery ingredients, the team found, which means one bag of kibble or one can of wet food doesn’t have the same ingredients as the next, even if they’re the same flavor from the same company.

Cat Eating
Although they can meow in protest, our cats can’t tell us their food tastes different. (Source)

Additionally, pet food manufacturers can — and do — change what they put in their products without notifying customers or acknowledging the changes on the packaging.

As a result, the research team couldn’t identify which isotopes were from cat food and which ones were from hunted meals.

“We really thought this was going to be an ideal application of the isotope methodology,” said scientist Roland Kays, a co-author of the study. “Usually these studies are complicated by the variety of food a wild animal eats, but here we had the exact pet food people were giving their cats.”

That discovery essentially rendered the study useless for its original purpose, but like all good scientists, the North Carolina State team realized that failure reveals just as much as success, even if it’s not necessarily what you’re looking for.

They published their results in the journal PeerJ, explaining what they’d learned.

“This isn’t what we aimed to study, but it is important in as much as there are hundreds of millions of cats (perhaps more) on Earth,” said Rob Dunn, a professor in NC State’s Department of Applied Ecology and co-author of the study. “The diets of cats, dogs and domestic animals have enormous consequences for global sustainability, cat health and much else. But they are very non-transparent. In short, at the end of this study we are still ignorant about why some cats kill more wildlife than others, and we have also found we are ignorant about something else, the shifting dynamics of ‘Big Pet Food.'”

kitteneating
A happy kitten. (Source: ICanHazCheezburger)

As veterinarian Shawn Messonnier put it in an editorial for Pet Age, “the pet food industry remains shrouded in mystery about what’s really inside the pet food bag and how it’s created.”

Calling for more transparency in the manufacture and packaging of pet food, Messonnier pointed out ingredients can have a drastic effect on the health of our furry friends.

“For pet parents, a big leap of faith is required of them because unlike fresh human food, you can’t visually verify the ingredients used, their sources, freshness or the safeness of their handling,” he wrote. “Label language can be difficult to discern, too, so people rely mostly on the observations and opinions of friends and family they trust. Inevitably, people hope what goes in the bowl will translate into well-being and happiness for their dog or cat.”

Dramatic Photos Show Cat Narrowly Escaping Coyotes

Allyson Seconds was driving through midtown Sacramento on Thursday morning when she saw flashes of fur weaving between cars in traffic.

“I pulled over thinking I’d seen two loose dogs crossing the street and went into rescue mode,” the Sacramento woman recalled. “When I saw they were coyotes I grabbed my phone and took just these four shots of them running and jumping up at a tree.”

Seconds didn’t didn’t understand why the coyotes were so worked up until she reviewed the shots.

“I didn’t realize at first that it was a house cat they were after until I looked at the pictures,” she wrote. “That’s one lucky cat!”

The swift tabby managed to stay a stride ahead of his canid pursuers before going vertical and beating a quick retreat up a tree.

This photo shows the telltale signs of a terrified cat: Kitty’s tail is raised, rigid and three times its normal size while its ears are pinned back against its head.

Cat dodges coyotes
A tabby cat narrowly escapes the jaws of two coyotes on Feb. 6 in Sacramento. Credit: Allyson Seconds
Cat vs Coyotes
The coyotes were right on kitty’s heels. Credit: Allyson Seconds

The next two photos show the end of the chase: In the first we can see just a flash of fur as the cat scurries up the tree, and in the second shot the coyotes look miffed at being outplayed by a domestic cat.

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Credit: Allyson Seconds

 

As for Seconds, she understands what so many people and local media reports get wrong. There aren’t “more” coyotes, as if they’ve suddenly decided to start becoming prolific breeders. The reason those of us in urban and suburban neighborhoods see them more often is because we encroach on their habitats with every development, cul-de-sac and ugly strip mall we build.

It’s a story that is sadly repeated across the globe as animals as varied — and endangered — as mountain lions, tigers and orangutans find fewer contiguous plains, jungles and forests to hunt and forage within.

“This is not even close to a coyote damning post,” Seconds wrote on Facebook. “Housing developments and more homeless living at the river are certainly driving them inland from their more suitable terrain but guess what? The coyotes are adapting to city life and we are seeing more and more of them in all corners of our town. They aren’t going anywhere.”

She signed off by making a suggestion we’ve advocated many times on this blog.

“And as for those worried about their cats for reasons illustrated in my photos? Time to start keeping kitty inside.”