Cats are cute and cuddly and all kinds of wonderful. But make no mistake. These little balls of fur are natural-born killers. If you’ve ever been presented with a doorstep gift of a half-eaten mouse, you’ll know what efficient hunters cats are. Not to mention prolific… turn one loose, and it won’t be long before the local wildlife population suffers a serious blow to its numbers. Birds, small mammals, amphibians, and fish are all natural targets for cats, with the result that certain endangered species are now under serious threat. If you’re concerned about the consequences of your cat’s killing habit, here are some ways to prevent your cat from killing wildlife.
Keep Them Indoors
As the RSPCA notes, the most effective way to stop your cat from hunting prey is to keep them safely contained at home. Simply shut the door, close the windows, and your local wildlife can breathe a big sigh of relief. The advantages of keeping your cat indoors don’t end with a reduced threat to the shrews and birds of the neighborhood. While cats that are kept indoors can live to the ripe old age of 17 (or even more in some cases), the average lifespan of an outdoor cat is just two to five years old. Disease and injuries are far more prevalent among outdoor cats than their indoor counterparts. Owners who keep their cats indoors are also more likely to spot the signs of illness at an early stage, resulting in faster and more effective treatment. Most cats will adjust easily and quickly to indoor living. You might have to find new ways to keep them entertained, but a few feather danglers and a cat tree should be enough to keep them happy.
Make Time For Games
Despite the advantages of indoor living, some cat owners worry about the welfare implications of reining in their cat’s freedom. If you can’t bear the thought of restricting your cat’s access to the great outdoors, don’t worry too much – there’s plenty of other ways you can keep their murderous instincts in check. As mashable.com writes, cats need plenty of physical and mental stimulation to keep them from seeking entertainment in less wholesome ways. Studies have found that play sessions using a feathered wand toy that lets a cat indulge its natural instincts for stalking, chasing, and pouncing, along with mouse-like toys that let a cat mimic the actions involved in a kill, can reduce predatory levels by around a quarter. The sessions don’t need to be too long – around five to ten minutes of play a day is sufficient. As a word of warning, choose your toys wisely. Puzzle feeders that allow cats to recover treats through play have the opposite effect to the one intended. Although no one’s quite sure why, studies seem to suggest that they only serve to encourage a cat to hunt down and bring home even more prey than before.
Indulge Their Carnivorous Side
During a recent study conducted by a team of researchers in Exeter, England, 355 cats from 219 households were tested to see how certain interventions, including dietary changes, impacted predatory behavior. At the end of the twelve-week study, the researchers concluded that feeding a cat a diet rich in meat-based protein could reduce the amount of prey they bought home by a whopping 36 percent. The team found that protein from plant-based foods like soy didn’t have the same effect. Speaking to the Daily Mail, the study’s lead author, feline ecologist Martina Cecchetti, explained, “Some cat foods contain protein from plant sources such as soy. It is possible that despite forming a “complete diet” these foods leave some cats deficient in one or more micronutrients — prompting them to hunt.” So there you have it. If you want to keep wildlife safe and your cat healthy, skip the soy and stick to the steak.
Try A Special Collar
So far, the jury is still out on whether specially designed cat predation devices like bells on collars work. Some research has suggested they have almost no effect at all, while other research suggests that they can have a positive impact on the consequences of your cat’s predatory behavior. Ultimately, the research on the subject is too limited to draw any decisive conclusions. The only real way to determine their efficacy in your own cat’s case is to try one and see. However, as some research has suggested certain devices may have a potential impact on cat welfare, choose the device carefully and monitor your cat while they wear it. If they don’t seem happy about their new accessory, skip it and move on to another method instead.
Don’t React to Any Unexpected Gifts
Cats don’t like to keep their victories to themselves. If they massacre half of your neighborhood’s wildlife population, there’s a very good chance at least half of the bodies will wind up on your doorstep. If your cat likes to shower you with unwanted gifts, be careful about how you react. First of all, check that the animal is actually dead. Unless a cat plans on eating its victim, it’ll often leave it hanging by a thread rather than finishing the job. If the animal is still alive, check for injuries. Depending on what kind of state your cat has left it in, you may need to take it to a vet.
If it has definitely breathed its last, dispose of the body quickly and as unemotionally as you can. Displaying any kind of reaction to your discovery will only encourage your cat to continue the behavior. It obviously goes without saying that you shouldn’t scold or punish your cat in any way. Regardless of how you feel about their activities, they’re simply doing what they were born to do. Punishing an innate trait is futile, and certainly won’t result in any reduction in predation.
If the bodies start to mount up at an ever-increasing rate and no amount of play or chicken-based dinners are doing the trick, you might want to seriously reconsider your decision to let your cat out. Containment might go against your natural instincts, but it’s the only way to guarantee the safety of the local wildlife.