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Domestic Cats Hunt To Satisfy Their Killer Instinct And Not For Food

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The domestic cat hunt due to their predatory instinct and not for food according to a study (Pic. Courtesy Twitter/@ Mammal_Society)

The preying of wild animals by cats who are domesticated has turned out to be a major reason for harming biodiversity conservation. Cat hunting is known to not only lead to decline but also in some case extinction of certain species.

The quantum of prey hunted and eaten as meals by these cats is difficult to put in numbers. Given this, a team of researchers took to another method. In a study, scientists of University of Exeter analysed the diets of domestic cats. This was done using stable isotope analysis of the creature’s whiskers and specimen of provisioned and wild foods.

The study and its details were published in the Ecosphere, a journal, according to an article sci-news-com.

Sharing details of this study, Dr. Martina Cecchetti from the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter said: “Predation of wild animals by domestic cats, in combination with their global distribution and abundance, constitutes a hazard for the conservation of biodiversity in a range of ecological contexts. In particular, cats living on islands are often considered to be invasive, non-native species that are responsible for the decline, extirpation, and, in some cases, extinction, of endemic species.”

Revealing more on the objective of the study she added: “Our aim was to improve understanding of the factors that might drive domestic cats that are kept as companion animals and are fed regularly, to hunt wild prey. We sought to understand the importance of wild foods to the diets of cats that regularly captured wild prey and to ask whether this prey likely contributed to the cats’ macro- or micro-nutritional needs.”

The result of this was indeed amazing as it was found that cats who caught wild animals regularly were still dependent on provisioned foods for their major portion of nutrition.

The scientists in order to know what the regular hunters of wildlife ate, used forensic science evidence from the whiskers of the cats. From each cat involved in the study, they trimmed a whisker twice -- once at the start and once at the end.

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The analysis of the stable isotope ratios in the whiskers enabled identification of sources of protein from varied provisioned and wildlife foods.

When the results came through, it was found that nearly 96 per cent of diet of these cats was from the food given by their owners and what came from eating wild animals was restricted to three to four per cent.

This result suggested to the scientists that it was the primordial predatory instinct which made some of these domestic cats hunt wild prey rather than hunger.

Cecchetti observed: “When food from owners is available, our study shows that cats rely almost entirely on this for nutrition. Some owners may worry about restricting hunting because cats need nutrition from wild prey, but in fact it seems even prolific hunters don’t actually eat much of the prey they catch.”

She added: “As predators, some cats may hunt instinctively even if they are not hungry — so-called ‘surplus killing’ — to capture and store prey to eat later.”

Apart from this analysis, the researchers also studied how varied methods and measures adopted to curb cats killing wild prey were effective. These methods and measures included bells, Birdsbesafe collar covers, meat-rich diets, providing food using a puzzle feeder and regular play.

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Examination of the cats’ whiskers found that those cats which had the Birdsbesafe collar cover ate less wild prey possibly because they could catch fewer birds only.

Dr. Susan Morgan, the Chief Executive of Songbird Survival, which was a sponsor of this study made some significant observations.

She said: “This study reassures owners of cats who hunt that the motive to hunt is instinctive, not driven by nutritional needs. Furthermore, pet owners can help us reverse the shocking decline in songbirds via three simple, ‘win-win’ steps: fit collars with a Birdsbesafe cover; feed cats a premium meaty diet; play with cats for five to ten minutes a day to ‘scratch that itch’ to hunt.”

Hoping that cat owners would take these steps, she remarked: “In the UK, we’ve lost half our songbirds in 50 years, but we can all help to stem this tide.”