Categories: hunting

Cat owners in denial about cat hunting

Are UK cat owners really in denial about the level of killings by their cat? This is the conclusion of a recent study. It discovered that 60% of owners disagreed that domestic cats were harming wildlife while 13% strongly disagreed.

Cat predation

I am surprised that the cat owning participants disagreed because often they won’t know anything about the general impact on wildlife by cat predation. Even the scientists aren’t sure. They could have said they are not sure or don’t know so it appears to me that they were being defensive.

Dr Jenni MacDonald of the University of Exeter said:

“Our study shows that cat owners do not accept that cats are a threat to wildlife and oppose management strategies with the exception of neutering.”

Dr MacDonald said there is a need to address the perceptions and opinions of cat owners (she means correct their misconceptions!).

The study involved a relatively small number of cats over four months: 86 cats in 58 households in two villages each: Mawnan Smith in Cornwall and Thornhill in Stirling.

The Mawnan Smith cats brought home 325 prey items, mainly small mammals such as mice and voles. These are the typical prey of domestic cats. Birds accounted for 26.5% of prey items. The sparrow was the most common. It has to be said that the house sparrow has suffered a large decline in population size in the UK over years. The reason is unknown but cats must be a contributing factor. It just depends how much of a factor. We don’t know. The major cause is likely to be due to human activity of some sort.

The study seems to be limited because it appears to only have measured prey returned to the home. Sometimes prey is not returned.

Strangely the number of animals killed by cats in Thornhill was not shown in the study.

The average number of prey items returned to the home at Thornhill was from zero to 4.75 per month depending on the cat and for Mawnan Smith it was from zero to 10.25 (ten cats did not prey on animals).

“Owners proved to be remarkably unaware of the predatory behaviour of their cat.”

How can that be if the cats are bringing their prey into the family home?

The participants said they objected to taking any steps to stop predation.  In the UK  cat owners don’t want to control their cat to stop them killing wildlife.

“This presents conservationists who might be attempting to reduce cat predation with serious difficulties as owners disassociate themselves from any conservation impacts of their cat and take the view that cat predation is a natural part of the ecosystem.” Jenni MacDonald.

What can we say? You can’t extrapolate from this small sample and say there is mass slaughter of wildlife by cats in the UK but you can say say there is an impact on wildlife and cat owners accept it as nature taking its course.

There is no chance that anything will change in the UK regarding limiting the free roaming nature of the British domestic cat. The British cat owner wouldn’t have it.

I have to concede that a noticeable percentage of British cat owners are not thoughtful enough about cat caretaking. They don’t really set high standards and there is a tendency for a smallish percentage to be careless in discharging their responsibilities.

The hunting habits of the domestic cat is a perennial topic of discussion. Nothing ever comes of it and nothing changes. Perhaps nothing can be done.

Please comment here using either Facebook or WordPress (when available).
Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

View Comments

  • It's sad that cats get blamed for everything that's bad. If the so called professionals really did their jobs, they would find that more wildlife was destroyed by uncontrolled, untaught, and immoral brats than by cats.

  • One might expect that an organisation like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, would have an agenda against cats, but the opposite is true.

    They clearly state on their web site;

    "Bird species which have undergone the most serious population declines in the U.K. (such as skylarks, tree sparrows and corn buntings) rarely encounter cats, so cats cannot be causing their declines. Research shows that these declines are usually caused by habitat change or loss, particularly on farmland.

    Populations of species that are most abundant in gardens tend to be increasing, despite the presence of cats. Blue tits, for example, the second most frequently caught birds, have increased by over a quarter across the UK since 1966. Of the birds most frequently caught by cats in gardens, only two (house sparrow and starling) have shown declines in breeding population across a range of habitats during the last six years."

    There's no denying that some cats are prolific hunters, but let's not forget that their victims are often sick or weaker animals. Nature is all about survival of the fittest.

  • Hello?! Who are you to set precedence supporting the myth that cats are killing numerous wildlife and then stating that cat owners need to change their viewpoint! Historically speaking cats have gotten a bad rap but that does not mean that cat people need to stand by and see it happen again! Cats are picked on, hurt, killed and gee even in Wyoming killed for fun legally, evidently. And here people like you come stating that cats are responsible for the disappearance of whatever wildlife when there are so many other factors in play. Most of what you state is guessing and there is no empirical data to support it. The fact that the physical environment has dramatically changed, including the effects of pesticides, etc. is not being considered is nonsense. How many animals and pests and insects are killed daily with weed killer, driving a vehicle, mowing the lawn?

    Stop blaming cats for EVERYTHING! Cats are great and they have helped society by killing rodents in the past. Start thinking about their contribution and how wonderful they are and helping them by keeping their humans responsible for taking care of them with spaying/neutering, regular vaccines, check ups, and not letting them outside 100% of the time, etc. Do something positive and do not diss cat caretakers or owners for knowing that their cats are not responsible for killing 'wildlife' to any harmful degree. Also, for the audience who are not familiar with cats when they refer to wildlife they are referring to mice, rats, bugs, birds, bunnies not deer, elk, etc.

    • Thanks for this. I agree that this is another one of those scientific studies which appears to be biased against the cat because we don't know (taken as a whole) the impact on wildlife by cats despite what some scientists say. This topic is for ever being discussed. The studies are small and scientists try and extrapolate the results to make generalisations. This is non-scientific and unfair on the cat and it avoids blaming humans who cause by far the worst amount of damage on wildlife.

  • It's true that we cat owners feel a bit of guilt about our cats hunting quota. I was always so proud of my cats whenever they caught anything [ at least any creature not endangered].One exception to me would have to be a cardinal or a Bluejay. I get very upset inwardly over their deaths.
    As a cat owned human I would be defensive if anyone pointed a finger at me for allowing them their freedom to hunt. But mine usually go for kibbles-N-bits and cat milk -9-times out of ten.


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