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FRIDAY, February 12, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Lisa George’s tabby cat Minnie was always looking for a bug.
“Minnie loves to hunt,” said George, who lives in Cornwall, England. “Most of the time she brings her prey home and lets it go around the house. We had birds in the bedroom, rats in the trash [which took us three days to catch], Rabbits in the utility room. “
To curb Minnie’s taste for wildlife hunting, George enrolled her in a study at the University of Exeter that tested three novel methods of curbing cats’ predatory instincts: meaty diets, “hunting” game and puzzle Feeder.
The strategy worked for Minnie.
After switching to a meatier meal, George said in an Exeter press release, “I found she barely hunted.” “That went on the whole time she was at this meal. I can honestly say that I couldn’t believe the difference in terms of her hunting behavior.”
But Minnie wasn’t the only cat who hunted less during the 12-week study of 355 outdoor cats from 219 households in south-west England. The study found that two key changes – adding more meat to a cat’s diet and playing with your cat every day – helped curb real-life hunting.
Diets high in meat protein resulted in a 36% reduction in the number of prey cats brought home, according to results published Feb. 11 in the journal Current Biology.
“Some cat foods contain protein from plant sources such as soy, and it is possible that despite a complete diet, these cats may be deficient in one or more micronutrients – causing them to hunt,” said study author Martina Cecchetti, a Ph.D. Student at the University of Exeter, said in a magazine press release.
With the “hunt” game strategy, cats trudged, hunted, and pounced on a feather toy dangling from a string. The cats were given a mouse toy after each hunt to play with to mimic a real kill. Just 5 to 10 minutes of this type of game per day resulted in a 25% reduction in hunting by the cats, the researchers said.
“The mental and physical stimulation of a predatory game is likely to help a cat stay in tip top condition and provide appropriate behavior for its predatory behavior,” said Dr. Sarah Ellis, Head of Cat Advocacy at iCatCare.
So-called “puzzle” bird feeders had no influence on the hunting behavior of the cats in the study.
“Previous research in this area has focused on inhibiting the ability of cats to hunt by either keeping them indoors or equipping them with collars, devices and deterrents,” said study author Robbie McDonald of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute. “While keeping cats indoors is the only surefire way to prevent the hunt, some owners have been concerned about the effects of restricting their cat’s access to the outdoors.
“Our study shows that owners can use completely non-invasive, non-restrictive methods to change what the cats want to do themselves,” McDonald said in the magazine. “By playing with cats and changing their diet, owners can reduce their impact on wildlife without limiting their freedom.”
The results have been welcomed by bird lovers.
“This latest study that we have funded is great news for birds,” said George Bradley of SongBird Survival. “The data shows that cat owners [like me] can take a few small and simple steps to truly improve the health and happiness of our pets and make a big difference to all of our wildlife, especially our beloved songbirds. These easy-to-implement changes will be a win-win situation for birds, cats, and cat owners. “
The Toronto Wildlife Center has more information on cats and wildlife.
SOURCES: University of Exeter, news release, Feb 11, 2021; Current Biology, press release, February 11, 2021