Britons accept domestic cat hunting but some don’t like it

By and large, Britons accept the fact that their domestic cat hunts and kills prey but there is a percentage who don’t like it because, for example, they see it as unnecessary and cruel. But others see it as an expression of natural behaviour and therefore fully accept it. And if cat owners don’t like it, they don’t see what they can do to stop it except confine their cat to the home which is less likely to happen in the UK than, for example, in Australia where there is a much greater sensitivity towards domestic cat predation on wildlife.

In this article I explore the attitude of Brits in the UK to their cat’s killing of native species. Incidentally Britons don’t perceive the domestic cat as an invasive species as the Australians do. I certainly don’t.

There is quite a stark difference between Australians’ attitude towards the protection of native species from cat predation and Britons’ attitude. There is quite a strong ambivalence about it in Britain. For example, a minority of British cat owners believe that hunting by their cat is not a problem and that it is desirable. And I’m referring to your typical homeowner not farm cats. These people felt this way because their cat is expressing natural behaviours, feeling relaxed and comfortable in doing what they should be doing. Clearly, these cat owners have no regard for the conservation of wildlife in this context. Their argument would seem to be that they need to let nature take its course and if people live with a top predator, they need to let predation take place otherwise you restrict natural behaviour which can lead to stresses and health issues.

Cat stalking during hunting. This is a copyright free image on the Internet
Cat stalking while hunting. This is a copyright free image.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats


Other British cat owners are more concerned about their cat’s hunting because they see it as cruel and unnecessary. By human standards it does look cruel and in terms of food consumption it is unnecessary because they are fed (cats don’t hunt because they are hungry). But in terms of the need to express natural behaviour it is necessary or a substitute needs to be in place i.e. play, which may partly help. With respect to cruelty, this is a human concept because from the cat’s perspective hunting is not cruel but entirely normal and instinctive.

Most participants in a study on this topic (see below) felt that hunting behaviour is problematic because it impacts wildlife. However, the top prey animal for the domestic cat is the mouse and some Britons argue that the country isn’t short of mice. This attitude mitigates the desire to do something about domestic cat hunting. If a cat is killing mice, although it is disagreeable because mice are sentient creatures, there’s lots of them and some people consider them to be pests.

As for birds, there’s a different attitude because it appears that Britons engage in speciesism by preferring birds over mice. Although not all cat owners have this attitude. Perhaps there is the underlying belief that the original purpose of the domestication of the cat, namely to control the rodent population is still a viable purpose and it makes the domestic cat a working cat and therefore useful. This also mitigates against the disagreeableness of hunting.

For some cat owners the most difficult aspect of cat guardianship is their companion’s hunting behaviour. One said “absolutely the worst thing is hunting because obviously that’s a bit gross and you end up, occasionally, with a live mouse or whatever…”

Cat hunting birds
Cat hunting birds. This is my cat with a pigeon. Pic: PoC.

It appears that we can divide Britons into two camps on this topic: those who feel that they have no responsibility for managing hunting behaviour and those that feel they have some responsibilities. One problem with those in the second camp is that their responsibilities to curb hunting conflicts with other responsibilities such as allowing their cat to behave naturally. And in any case, they feel that it is impossible to control domestic cat hunting because they are autonomous. We are referring of course to cats allowed to go outside which is very common in Britain. Once they are outside “you don’t know where they are, and you don’t know what they are doing”.

And cat owners in the UK see the domestic cat as quite wild. They understand that they are not fully domesticated, which is true. They are barely domesticated. If you adopt a domestic cat you buy into that knowledge and I think this is a reason why a lot of Britons accept hunting behaviour. You accept it before you adopt. Even those who were highly concerned about hunting might say something to the effect, “I think you can take personal responsibility to a point, when you can.”

There are also those cat owners who do see the wider picture and believe that something needs to be done to protect wildlife from domestic cat predation collectively. This is because many articles have been published on the Internet about the enormous numbers of wild animals killed by domestic cats in the UK and in any other countries. Cat owners have been bombarded with stats. Some will no doubt feel uneasy about the information but as mentioned above they don’t know how to go about dealing with wildlife conservation other than keeping the cat indoors which they are not prepared to do in the interests of what they believe is cat welfare. Also, the figures bandied around are estimates. Are they accurate and believed?

New law: outside cats must wear wide, brightly coloured collars
The photo is copyright Birdsbesafe. This product proved successful in preventing cats preying on wildlife.

There are some methods which I’ve discussed which help to curb domestic cat hunting such as wearing a bright colour which allows prey animals to pick up the presence of cat and escape. Bells on collars are sometimes used but it seems that domestic cats learn to avoid the bell ringing when stalking. Although no doubt it does save some animals. I’m sure that many cat owners rescue animals from the jaws of their cat, as I do. This is one way of helping to save wildlife but how many of these animals survive after their rescue?

Also, like me, concerned cat owners might watch their cat in their backyard stalking an animal at which point they make a noise which distracts their cat and alerts the prey animal to the cat’s presence. This is a minor form of wildlife conservation which is nonetheless effective.

There is an argument that cat owners should not feed birds because they attract them to the garden where their cat might attack them. There is also an argument that if cat owners play a lot more with their cat it might disincentivize their cat’s motivation to hunt. Cat owners don’t play enough with their cat in my view.

The conclusion from a study which I’ve referred to in writing this called, “Hunting behaviour and domestic cats: An exploratory study of risk and responsibility among cat owners“, is that the majority of Britons accept the hunting of their domestic cat companion, some reluctantly and some without much compunction. They see it as natural behaviour and they buy into that possibility when they decide to live with a cat.

As a consequence, in United Kingdom, any government intervention through regulations on cat ownership to reduce hunting of wildlife would be resisted by cat owners because these sorts of new laws would not chime with the country’s societal values.


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