null Study shows how playing with your cat every day can reduce how much they hunt wildlife

Study shows how playing with your cat every day can reduce how much they hunt wildlife

A blog by Alice Potter, our cat welfare expert.

The impact of domesticated cats upon wild bird populations is subject to intense debate. On an individual level, predation on wildlife is likely to cause considerable suffering which is of course concerning to both animal charities like ourselves and many cat owners too. And sadly, our wildlife centres see first hand the injuries cats can inflict on wild animals. However, restricting a cat's natural behaviour can also have detrimental impacts on their individual health and wellbeing. It's not an easy subject to tackle!

Here at the RSPCA, our purpose is to promote kindness to all animals and therefore we recommend that cat owners take appropriate steps to reduce their cats predation on wild birds and other animals whilst meeting their cats physical and mental needs. Helpfully, a new study - by the University of Exeter - has found some simple, effective and non-restrictive ways that cat owners can reduce how much their cat hunts.

Have fun playing with your cat

The researchers found that just five to ten minutes of daily play with an owner resulted in a 25% reduction in hunting. In this study, play involved owners simulating hunting by moving a feather toy on a string and wand so cats could stalk, chase and pounce.

cats and wildlife
In the study, owners also gave cats a toy mouse to play with after each 'hunt', mimicking a real kill. This finding is great news for cats and positive for wildlife populations too. There are already so many reasons to spend time playing with your cat, such as helping to strengthen your bond and to help prevent boredom and inactivity - and now research suggests it may help protect some wild animals too - a hugely positive finding.

Make spending time playing with your cat every day part of your routine. It's not unusual for cat owners to think their cat isn't very playful or interested in toys but sometimes it just takes a little time to get them engaged. Most cats enjoy playing with a fishing rod type toy - these are fun for your cat as you can really bring them to life. Follow the study and let your cat stalk, chase, pounce and allow them to grab a crinkly toy mouse at the end.

If/when your cat loses interest in playing, stop and put the toys away but be sure to offer play as frequently as your cat wants to engage. Check out our youtube videos for tips on playing with your cat and how to make a DIY fishing rod toy. These fun activities are simple and effective ways to reduce how much your cat hunts and come at little to no cost! 

Consider a change in diet

The new study also found that introducing cats to a grain-free diet with proteins that come from meat reduced the number of prey animals cats brought home by 36%. It's not currently clear what element of the meat protein diet leads to a reduction in hunting. Martina Cecchetti, the PhD student who conducted the experiments said:

Some cat foods contain protein from plant sources such as soy, and it's possible that despite forming a 'complete diet' these foods leave some cats deficient in one or more micronutrients - prompting them to hunt.

However, meat production raises clear climate and environmental issues, so one of our next steps is to find out whether particular micronutrients could be added to cat foods to reduce hunting.

If you plan to change your cat's diet, it's important to do so gradually to avoid stomach upsets. Mix a little of the new food in with your cat's existing diet and then gradually increase the amount of new diet (and reduce the old) over at least one week. If you're unsure what diet is best for your cat, ask your vet for advice.

Colourful ruffled collars help reduce predation on birds

If your cat is comfortable wearing a collar, the researchers recommend that they wear a colourful ruffled collar cover over a quick-release collar. Results from their study found that the 'BirdsBeSafe' collar covers reduced numbers of birds captured and brought home by 42% (but had no effect on the hunting of mammals).

These collar covers can be removed when your cat is indoors so that they can fully groom themselves. We can't stress enough though the importance of only using quick-release safety collars on cats. Sadly our rescue centres see many cases where cats have been very badly injured through wearing an elastic collar and so they really must never be used.

We also recommend keeping cats inside during dawn and dusk as this is when wildlife is most active. And if you feed birds in your garden, then do please check out our advice on how to help keep birds safe from pets.

It¿s undeniable that the balance between keeping wildlife safe with the need for cats to express normal behaviours is an extremely challenging one to which, we believe, there is no single simple solution. However, it¿s important to remember that cats are innately motivated to hunt, it¿s a totally natural behaviour and one for which they should never be punished or treated cruelly for.

This new research helps give cat owners ways to protect wildlife whilst still being kind to their cats. We hope it will empower and inspire cats owners to make some small changes for the benefit of wildlife. So...fishing rod toys at the ready!

The paper, published in the journal Current Biology, is entitled: "Provision of high meat content food and object play reduce predation of wild animals by domestic cats Felis catus."

Find out more about caring for cats

Cats make affectionate and playful pets and thrive best when they're cared for considering their dietary, environmental and health and welfare needs.

Find out how to look after cats and kittens.

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