Domestic cats that are allowed out to roam free are liable to take risks without realising that they are risks. This is a cause of anxiety for concerned cat caretakers (owners). Or it should be. Despite the concerns, about half of Americans let their cat(s) roam. I don’t think people know the percentage accurately. The other half of the cats are full-time indoor cats. Bird conservationists want all cat owners to keep their cat(s) inside. They claim that about 30 species of wild bird have been wiped out by the humble (for them ‘horrible’) stray cat. They have difficulty in supporting their statements and explaining them in strictly scientific terms.
In America there is a silent battle between bird conservationists who exaggerate the impact of free roaming cats on bird populations and cat owners who believe that it is unfair and wrong to keep cats inside all the time. Some people think a compromise is the answer: a nice enclosure for the cat. This idea has not caught on but there are more of them compared to the past, so perhaps we are moving towards the enclosure as a standard facility in households.
In the UK the percentage of free roaming cats must be nearer 75% or higher. There is less of a battle in the UK, however, with bird conservationists.
Anyway, the Kitty Cam Project was run by biologists at National Geographic and University of Georgia. Or was it biologists at the university supported financially by National Geographic? I am not sure. They fitted specially designed video cameras attached to a collar around the cat’s neck. In this way a free roaming cat’s movements, when he or she went out, were recorded and then analyzed.
The videos shows us the prey caught. They also show us what cats get up to in the way of risky behavior. I find it interesting to know what a group of domestic cats got up to when outside and on their own. Although, we should remind ourselves that the project concerns one group of 55 cats in one part of the USA, Athens in Georgia. The results would probably be different in other parts of America and certainly different in other countries.
This is where Athens is:
The Untoward or Unappreciated Risks
This chart shows the risk to health that this group of America domestic cats took when free-roaming:
I can’t find a picture of an American storm drain. Are they roadside drains for draining away rain water from the roads. I find it odd that a domestic cat would go down a storm drain. What is the reason? It is probably to do with hunting prey, namely, rats. But if someone can tell me in a comment that would be nice.
The total number of occasions when these risks took place are as follows:
- Crossing 2 lane road 178
- Non-aggressive meeting with strange cat 28
- Eating stuff not provided by owner 20
- Entering storm drain 19
- Climbing tree 13
- Climbing roof 7
- Contact with medium sized wildlife 1
- Crawling into car engine compartment 1
Male cats were more prone to risk taking. Unsterilised male cats were the worst risk takers and they traveled over a wider range. The suburbs were more dangerous than rural environments. Older were cats more at risk perhaps because they were more vulnerable due to their age. The sex of the cat and their age did not effect hunting behaviour but it affected risk behaviour. The risk of injury and hunting was more likely during the warmer seasons.
The project managers recommended ways to minimise the risks. As expected, these are really common sense suggestions.
Ways to Minimise Risks
- Restrict roaming time especially for younger male cats and especially during warm seasons.
- Supervise outdoor time.
- Use a leash.
- Use an enclosure.
- Provide fresh water (outside) which might help to stop roaming cats drinking dangerous liquids on their travels.