Reform School For Cats

The study also found that bells on collars made no difference to the number of animals killed by a cat. Photograph: GluePromsiri/Getty/iStockphoto

I am a cat person by nature. I have lost count of how many cats I had as pets since early childhood and well into adulthood, but I do remember our last two cats from three decades ago. Boris, a black cat with a tip of white on his tail, learned to jump up into my cradled arms if I stood in front of him and made a certain noise. His sister Mimi was named for the plaintive mi-mi cry she made when she climbed up onto the bathroom sink and rubbed her mouth against the faucet head, wanting us to turn the water on to drip out so she could drink. They lived long lives as indoor cats who did no harm to anyone or anything (that we knew of).  But when we learned how many birds, among other wildlife, that cats kill per year we decided not to adopt any more cats; we switched to dogs. Now, all these years later, I am happy to see there is hope for reformed cat behavior:

Meaty meals and play stop cats killing wildlife, study finds

Millions of pet cats are estimated to kill billions of animals a year but grain-free food can change cat behaviour

Feeding pet cats meaty food and playing with them to simulate hunting stops them killing wildlife, according to a study.

Eating grain-free food led to the cats depositing a third fewer mouse and bird corpses on doorsteps, while just five to 10 minutes of play with a toy mouse cut the killing by a quarter.

There are 7.5 million cats in the UK and they are estimated to kill about 100 million animals a year. The toll is billions in the US and 230 million in Australia. Mammals such as mice, rats and rabbits make up two-thirds of the UK kills, a quarter are birds such as sparrows and blackbirds, and the rest are frogs and lizards.

Concern for wildlife has clashed with the reluctance of cat owners to keep their pets indoors, to inhibit what they see as their natural behaviour or to make them wear deterrent devices on collars that may become snagged. The new research is the first to tackle the root causes of why well-fed cats still hunt and the scientists said the results were good for wildlife, cats and their owners.

The research found that bells on collars made no difference to the number of animals killed, perhaps because the cats learned to hunt with them. Another measure – puzzle balls filled with dry food that falls out through holes as the cats bat the balls around – was found to increase hunting by a third. These cats may simply have been hungry, the scientists said.

“Cats like the thrill of the hunt,” said Prof Robbie McDonald, at the University of Exeter in England. “Previous measures like bells tried to stymie the cat at the last minute. What we did was try to head them off at the pass by addressing some of their needs or wants before they think about going out hunting. Our study shows that with entirely non-invasive, non-restrictive methods, owners can change what the cats themselves want to do.”…

Read the whole article here.

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