Domestic cats hunt wildlife less if owners play with them daily and feed them a meat-rich food, new research from the UK shows.
The study—by the University of Exeter, England and published in Current Biology—found that introducing a premium commercial food where proteins came from meat reduced the number of prey animals cats brought home by 36 per cent, and also that five to 10 minutes of daily play with an owner resulted in a 25 per cent reduction.
“Previous research in this area has focused on inhibiting cats’ ability to hunt, either by keeping them indoors or fitting them with collars, devices and deterrents,” Professor Robbie McDonald said.
“While keeping cats indoors is the only sure-fire way to prevent hunting, some owners are worried about the welfare implications of restricting their cat’s outdoor access.
“Our study shows that—using entirely non-invasive, non-restrictive methods—owners can change what the cats themselves want to do,” Professor McDonald added.
“By playing with cats and changing their diets, owners can reduce their impact on wildlife without restricting their freedom.”
Play in the study involved owners simulating hunting by moving a feather toy on a string and wand so cats could stalk, chase and pounce. Owners also gave cats a toy mouse to play with after each ‘hunt’, mimicking a real kill.
It is not clear what elements of the meaty food led to the reduction in hunting.
The study—based on a 12-week trial of 355 cats in 219 households in south-west England—also examined the effect of existing devices used to limit hunting by cats.
Colorful ‘Birdsbesafe’ collar covers reduced numbers of birds captured and brought home by 42 per cent, but had no effect on hunting of mammals.
Cat bells had no discernible overall effect—although the researchers say the impact on individual cats varied widely, suggesting some cats learn to hunt successfully despite wearing a bell.