Pet owners and conservationists worry about cat hunting behaviour

Pet owners and conservationists worry about cat hunting behaviour
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Pet owners’ worries about cat hunting behaviour have been assessed by researchers at the University of Exeter in a new study.

The study found that many pet owners worry about cat hunting behaviour as their pet wanders the streets, with a potentially damaging effect on wildlife, but this is combined with the perception that cats hunting mice and birds is an unavoidable instinct.

The opinions of pet owners

The lead author Dr Sarah Crowley, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute on the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, said: “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.”

“However, because hunting is a natural cat behaviour, few owners believed they could effectively control this without negatively affecting their cats’ welfare.”

Is cat hunting a problem?

There are up to 11 million cats in the UK.  Cat hunting occurs variously, with some cats catching multiple birds and small mammals each week, while many others stay indoor and hunt infrequently.

However, conservationists are still concerned about the effect that even a minority of cats hunting might have on wildlife. They are especially concerned about declining species like house sparrows.

Can cat hunting be prevented?

The current methods used to prevent cat hunting include fitting them with collars with bells and bright colours, or keeping them indoors at night.

Professor Robbie McDonald, head of Exeter’s Wildlife Science group, who is leading the research, commented: “Cat owners understandably make their pets’ health and well-being a priority, and many feel that cats need free access to the outdoors. 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.”

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