Domestic cats that regularly catch wild animals still get most of their diet from food provided at home, new research shows.
Scientists at the University of Exeter used forensic evidence from cat whiskers to see what regular wildlife hunters had eaten.
The results showed that about 96% of their diet came from food provided by their owners, while only 3-4% came from the consumption of wild animals.
This suggests that predatory instinct – rather than hunger – is probably the main reason some domestic cats regularly hunt wild prey.
“When owners’ food is available, our study shows cats depend almost entirely on it for food,” said Dr Martina Cecchetti, Institute for Environment and Sustainability at the Penryn Campus in Exeter. in Cornwall.
“Some owners may be concerned about restricting hunting because cats need to feed on wild prey, but in fact, it seems even prolific hunters don’t eat much of the prey they catch.
“As predators, some cats can instinctively hunt even if they are not hungry – this is called ‘excess killing’ – to capture and store prey for later eating.”
The researchers cut a mustache from each cat in the study, once at the start and once at the end.
The stable isotope ratios in the whiskers were then analyzed, allowing the identification of protein sources from different wild and supplied foods.
The team also tested the effects of different measures designed to prevent cats from killing wild prey.
These measures included bells, Birdsbesafe muffs, meat-rich diets, provision of food using a puzzle feeder, and regular games (a previous study by the Exeter team showed that high meat food and daily play reduced cat hunting).
Based on the analysis of their whiskers, cats with a Birdsbesafe collar cover consumed less wild prey, possibly because they caught fewer birds.
“This study reassures owners of hunting cats that the motive for hunting is instinctive and not motivated by nutritional needs,” said Susan Morgan, CEO of Songbird Survival, which sponsored the study.
“Plus, pet owners can help us reverse the shocking decline in songbirds through three simple, ‘win-win’ steps: adjust collars with a Birdsbesafe cover; feed cats a diet rich in meat; play with cats for five to ten minutes a day to “scratch that itch” to drive away.
“In the UK we have lost half of our songbirds in 50 years, but we can all help stem this tide.”
The cats in the study were all regular hunters who had frequently and recently captured wild animals.
The research team worked with a project advisory committee, comprising feline veterinarians and behavior specialists, iCatCare and the RSPCA, who approved the research protocols.
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