Cat owners concerned about hunting behaviour but reluctant to act
Owners worry about their cats hunting wildlife but are reluctant - or feel unable - to control it, researchers have found.
In an exploratory study published in the journal People and Nature, researchers at the University of Exeter interviewed cat owners about their pets' roaming and hunting behaviour, what worried them, and what they felt responsible for.
Hunting mice and birds was seen as natural behaviour outside owners' control. Those who did want to limit hunting felt this was difficult to achieve without locking cats indoors -- and hardly any owners thought this was a good solution.
"We found a spectrum of views on hunting, from owners who see it as positive for pest control to those who were deeply concerned about its consequences for wild animal populations," said lead author Dr Sarah Crowley, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute on the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall.
"However, because hunting is a natural cat behaviour, few owners believed they could effectively control this without negatively affecting their cats' welfare."
Current methods of preventing cats from catching wild prey include fitting them with collars with bells, and keeping them indoors at night.
"Cat owners understandably make their pets' health and wellbeing a priority, and many feel that cats need free access to the outdoors," commented Professor Robbie McDonald, head of Exeter's Wildlife Science group and leader of the research.
"At the same time, having such independent pets creates extra anxieties for owners about both their cats' safety while ranging free, and their impacts on wildlife.
"We are working closely with cat owners and cat welfare organisations. Our aim is to find practical ways of reducing hunting, while enhancing cat health and welfare."
RSPCA cat welfare expert Sam Watson added: "While there is still lots of debate as to whether cats have detrimental effects on wild bird populations, on an individual level predation attempts by cats are likely to cause considerable suffering, so we would welcome any practical solutions which would help to avoid this."