British cat owners have a variety of responses to their cat’s hunting behaviour. Some are very concerned about the impact that their cat makes on wildlife through hunting. Others are less concerned. However, both groups prioritise the welfare of their cat over the negative environmental impact that might occur through hunting. This means that they let their cat roam freely because they believe it is better for their cat’s welfare and allows them to behave more naturally.
A study found that many cat owners in Britain are concerned about their cat wandering outside but they allow it to happen in the interests of the cat’s welfare which is somewhat ironic because a cat’s welfare is compromised when they roam outside because of the dangers of doing so. There are conflicting objectives.
In Britain, hunting and bringing mice and birds into the household is seen as a natural behaviour beyond the control of the cat’s owner. It is argued that this needs to be challenged.
See no way to stop feline hunting except for keeping cats inside
Cat owners who were particularly concerned about the hunting of wildlife by their cat and who wanted to limit it felt that they could not do so without keeping their cat indoors which they rejected as an option. They were unaware of alternative options such as wearing a brightly coloured collar. If they did know about this preventative measure, it might still be doubtful that they would take up the option (my thoughts).
Not all domestic cats hunt
Owners in the survey provided a wide range of answers with respect to questions about their cat hunting. They said that some cats are keen hunters, catching many birds and small mammals weekly while others were unconcerned and stayed indoors most of the time.
This is useful for people like me because when ornithologists make estimates about predation of birds by domestic cats they take the entire cat population as a starting point when they should take a proportion of it. We do not have an accurate figure which tells us the percentage of cats that hunt, incidentally.
There appears to be some speciesism. Killing mice was seen as pest control but killing birds was seen as something to be avoided.
Owners do not take responsibility for the cat’s hunting
Perhaps the most important conclusion that can be drawn from the study is that cat owners in Britain do not, in general, take responsibility for their cat’s hunting habits. They are concerned about their cat’s behavior but accept it as part of natural behaviour. Clearly, more can be done, I would argue (as would wildlife conservation groups) to educate cat owners in Britain to take more responsibility.
As for myself, I built my cat a back garden enclosure but this does not stop him attacking birds. It kept him safer but did not address the issue of bird predation.
The Times newspaper suggests that cats should be microchipped so that owners can take responsibility for the birds they kill. They are citing the study that I’m referring to. I don’t see how micro-chipping cats can help owners take responsibility for their cat’s hunting. Cat owners already know how many birds and mammals their cat kills. If you wanted to force responsibility on cat owners you would have to have some sort of obligatory database matching up identified individual cats with the animals that they have killed. Simply micro-chipping cats would not achieve this.
Need for change
The study recommended that more research should be carried out to get cat owners to take more responsibility for their cats and to work with conservation organisations to find solutions to minimising domestic cat predation. Today, there is a greater awareness of the impact of cats killing birds. The environment has become more important to people.
More work needs to be done as well on assessing the impact on bird populations by domestic cats. We need more figures and more accurate data. The RSPB, some time ago, said that there was no evidence to suggest that domestic cats endangered bird species populations but no doubt ornithologists would disagree. The RSPCA say that there is a debate as to whether hunting had a detrimental effect on bird populations. However, Sam Watson said that it was likely to cause suffering.
I have to agree that cat owners need to take more responsibility for the behaviour of the domestic cat companions in Britain. This includes predation on birds and mammals.
The study by Exeter University interviewed 48 cat owners from urban, suburban and rural areas in Oxfordshire and Cornwall, UK. The study has been published in the journal People and Nature. It was sponsored by the conservation charity Songbird Survival. They say that hunting can be reduced with bells and bright collars. It appears that they want cat owners to take more responsibility for pet ownership as it would benefit wildlife and cats.
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