More food and play stops cats hunting

If cats eat and play, mice live to see another day...
18 February 2021


Cat with yellow eyes looking at the camera


Changing a cat’s diet and playing with your pet more can reduce a cat's desire to hunt, a new study has shown...

Cats, as in days gone by, are a natural way to control pests. But this natural ability to hunt can be very damaging to local wildlife. And not all owners appreciate the living presents that cats bring home.

Some resort to bright colours and bells on collars to alert potential prey animals to the cat's approach, but not all owners approve, which is what prompted a group at the University of Exeter to explore other options.

According to team member and ecologist Robbie McDonald, "I think what we're doing here is not inhibiting them. We're actually just providing the answer, if you like, to the stimulus that is making them go out hunting."

Cat owners across the southwest of England with animals that were prone to hunting volunteered to be involved in the project. Some introduced a higher protein diet from premium food and others played with their cats for 5 – 10 minutes a day. Compared with control pets which were treated the same, both of the intervention groups showed a reduction in the number of animals killed by as much as 36%.

The team also found that bell-toting collars reduced the number of birds killed but there was no effect on how many mammals the cats killed.

"We thought we would manipulate the diet by providing them with a meatier food and then we also enriched their environments. The owners were indulging in active play for five or ten minutes a day, and that's all it took," says McDonald.

The simple solution provided could be a more acceptable way of controlling the impact cats have on wildlife than using collars that could be harmful to cat welfare.


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