Pet cats killing far more wildlife than owners realise

Pet cats killing far more wildlife than owners realise

Cats are increasingly earning themselves a reputation as wildlife killers with estimates of animals killed every year by domestic cats numbering into millions, a new UK study has found.


According to researchers at the University of Exeter and Queen Mary University of London, cat owners fail to realise the impact of their pets on wildlife.

The study on the attitudes of cat owners suggests that proposals to keep cats indoors in order to preserve wildlife would not be well received.

Researchers studied cats from two UK villages, Mawnan Smith in Cornwall and Thornhill near Stirling. They found that although cat owners were broadly aware of whether their cat was predatory or not, those with a predatory cat had little idea of how many prey items it typically caught.

Regardless of the amount of prey returned by their cats, the majority of cat owners did not agree that cats are harmful to wildlife and were against suggestions that they should keep their cat inside as a control measure.

They were however willing to consider neutering which is generally associated with cat welfare.

The results, published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, indicate that management options to control cat predation are likely to be unsuccessful unless they focus on cat welfare.

"Our study shows that cat owners do not accept that cats are a threat to wildlife, and oppose management strategies with the exception of neutering. There is a clear need to directly address the perceptions and opinions of cat owners," said Dr Jenni McDonald from Exeter's Penryn Campus.

"If we are to successfully reduce the number of wildlife deaths caused by domestic cats, the study suggests that we should use cat welfare as a method of encouraging cat owners to get involved," said McDonald.

"This study illustrates how difficult it would be to change the behaviour of cat owners if they are both unaware of how many animals are killed by their pet and resistant to control measures," co-author Matthew Evans, Professor of Ecology at Queen Mary University of London, said.

A total of 58 households, with 86 cats, took part in the study. Owners' views regarding their cats' predatory behaviour was assessed by comparing predictions of the number of prey their cat returns with the actual numbers bought home.

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