People and Nature have published our second research paper. The study investigates cat owners’ views on their pet’s hunting and roaming behaviours, alongside the concerns of conservation and wildlife organisations over large cat populations contributing to declines in the numbers of birds, small mammals and reptiles.
Hunting behaviour in domestic cats: An exploratory study of risk and responsibility among cat owners
Sarah L. Crowley, Martina Cecchetti and Robbie A. McDonald
Authors Sarah Crowley, Martina Cecchetti and Robbie McDonald from the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter interviewed cat owners about their pets’ roaming and hunting behaviour, what worried them, and what they felt responsible for.
The researchers carried out detailed interviews with 48 cat owners in the United Kingdom to investigate how they feel about their pets’ hunting behaviour, to find out whether or not they feel they have a responsibility to manage it, and to learn about the techniques they use to reduce the amount of wildlife their pets hunt and catch.
Hunting, and the resulting corpses on the kitchen floor, were seen as natural behaviour outside owners’ control. Those who did want to limit hunting felt this was difficult to achieve without locking cats indoors – and hardly any owners wanted this.
“However, because hunting is a natural cat behaviour, few owners believed they could effectively control this without negatively affecting their cats’ welfare.”
“Cat owners understandably make their pets’ health and well-being a priority, and many feel that cats need free access to the outdoors,” said Professor Robbie McDonald, head of Exeter’s Wildlife Science group (https://wildlifescience.org), who is leading the research.
“At the same time, having such independent pets creates extra anxieties for owners about both their cats’ safety while ranging free, and their impacts on wildlife.”
“We are working closely with cat owners and cat welfare organisations. Our aim is to find practical ways of reducing hunting, while enhancing cat health and welfare.”
Sponsorship for the study comes from the independent bird conservation charity SongBird Survival and is overseen by an advisory group comprising veterinarians, cat behaviour and welfare experts, and representatives from SongBird Survival, International Cat Care and the RSPCA.
“We are very concerned about the significant adverse impacts that free-ranging domestic cats can have on our songbirds and other wildlife,” said Robert Middleditch, SongBird Survival’s Chairman.
Sam Watson, RSPCA cat welfare expert additionally said:
“While there is still lots of debate as to whether cats have detrimental effects on wild bird populations, on an individual level predation attempts by cats are likely to cause considerable suffering, so we would welcome any practical solutions which would help to avoid this.
“We hope further study can help find ways to reduce the impact that cats may have on wildlife whilst also maintaining and boosting the welfare of our cats.”