Is the dead mouse on your doorstep a token of your cat’s love? Perhaps a trophy attesting your cat’s hunting prowess? Or are you horrified by the furred or feathered “gifts” your feline brings you?
It’s questions like these, and the risks associated with being outdoors to both cats and wildlife, that led researchers at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom to explore owner attitudes about feline roaming and hunting behaviors.
The vast majority of cats in the UK are allowed outdoors. By comparison, the trend among American owners is to increasingly keep their kitties indoors. Even so, millions of cats are still on the prowl in neighborhoods across the U.S.
The dangers of the outdoors
Indoor cats live an average of 10 to 15 years, while their outdoor counterparts generally live 2 to 5 years, according to the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. That’s because outdoor cats are at greater risk of injury from cars and other animals, serious diseases such as feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus, toxins and other dangers.
Outdoor cats also hunt and kill wildlife. For instance, the American Bird Conservancy estimates that outdoor cats kill about 2.4 billion birds each year in the United States alone.
To determine how best to approach cat owners about reducing cat roaming or hunting, researchers asked more than 50 cat owners from rural and urban areas of the UK to rank 62 different statements. From this, researchers distilled five basic types of cat owners, based on their views of feline roaming and hunting. Which type are you?
5 types of cat owners
Concerned Protector: A cat is more than a cat; it’s part of the family. The benefits of being outdoors do not outweigh the risk of my cat being lost, stolen or hurt by cars or other animals. I’m more concerned about the safety of my cat than if my cat is hunting. My kitty can remain indoors overnight or even permanently, as long as I provide stimulation to make up for what it misses from not going outdoors.
Freedom Defender: Cats have always been independent hunters, so it’s cruel to deprive them of that experience. It’s more important for cats to be outdoors, doing what wild creatures naturally do, than it is for them to be indoors. I’m not responsible for any hunting my cat does outdoors. Hunting is a sign that my cat is healthy, plus it keeps the rodent population under control.
Tolerant Guardian: It’s important for my cat to have access to the outdoors. Although hunting is a natural feline behavior, I’d prefer that my cat didn’t do this. I don’t want my cat to cause wildlife to suffer, so I will take prey away from it. I’m not sure how to prevent my cat from hunting, but I’m not willing to keep it indoors.
Conscientious Caretaker: All cats require outside access, but it’s my responsibility to curb my cat’s natural hunting instincts. I am particularly worried about how my cat impacts the bird population, so I will take whatever precautions I can, short of confining my cat indoors.
Laissez-Faire Landlord: My cat can come and go as it pleases. I’m not concerned about my cat hunting, but if it killed too many creatures, I might consider getting it a collar with a bell on it.
Researchers concluded that the most effective way to convince cat owners to reduce feline roaming behaviors may be to identify the owner’s priorities and providing guidance to support these attitudes. For example, Tolerant Guardians, who dislike hunting but are not sure how to prevent it, could benefit from learning tangible prevention tactics. Likewise, underscoring how indoor cats live longer may convince Concerned Protectors to transition their cats from indoor mostly to indoor only.
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The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.