Categories: indoor outdoor cats

Recent study tells us that British cat owners won’t confine their cats to protect wildlife

A recent study by the University of Exeter tried to get into the minds of British cat owners to find out their feelings about their domestic cats preying on wildlife and whether they would consider confining their cat to protect wildlife and to make their lives safer.

What I take away from the study is that all categories of cat owner – and the University divided cat owners into five groups – disagreed that they should keep cats inside to stop them hunting wildlife. There appears to be to competing mentalities because some cat owners are concerned about wildlife but they are also concerned about allowing their cat to behave naturally. And they believe that if they behave naturally they are healthier. This of course temporarily suspends the prospect of being run over by vehicles.

Cat ownership. Photo in public domain.

But in that conflict of objectives namely allowing a cat outdoors to behave naturally OR confining cats to protecting wildlife, the former wins and so the status quo in the UK is that the vast majority of cats are allowed to roam freely, kill wildlife and bring dead animals into the home where their owners accept it, albeit reluctantly sometimes.

The researchers kindly made their information open access under the terms of a creative commons licence and therefore I am able to publish their useful infographic in which you can see the five categories of cat owner they decided upon together with descriptions:

Five categories of British cat owner in the UK and their opinions about indoor cats and predation on wildlife. Infographic: University of Exeter under a creative commons license.

LINK TO THE STUDY: Diverse perspectives of cat owners indicate barriers to and opportunities for managing cat predation of wildlife.

These are my interpretations….

Concerned protector

One of the five categories are described as “concerned protectors”. These are cat owners who are anxious about allowing their cats to roam where they might be lost, stolen or killed. They would feel bad if there companion animal suffered one of these consequences. However, they believe that the benefits of going outside did not necessarily outweigh the risks of being injured or lost. But these they had no strong feelings about their cat killing wildlife. They did not consider the predation of wildlife as a nuisance because they believe that it is natural for a domestic cat to hunt wildlife and kill animals. They wanted to keep their cat indoors to keep their cat safe but not to protect wildlife. Comment: there is clearly a body of people in the UK who are prepared to keep their cats indoors, but do they do it? This group represented 13 out of 49 participants to give you an idea of the percentage of people with these views. Note: I have assessed that there were 49 participants. The study is not clear on this in my view.

Freedom defender

A similar number of cat owners (12) had the view that their task was to defend their cat’s natural behaviour and allow them to roam and kill like a wild animal. They could not guarantee that they were able to provide sufficient stimulation if they kept them indoors (a realistic assessment in my opinion). As expected they opposed any restrictions on cat ownership and keeping their cats inside. This group is described as “freedom defenders” i.e. defending the freedoms of domestic cats.

Tolerant guardians

The third group, of which there are 12 participants, were labelled “tolerant guardians”. They believe that their cat should have outdoor access but took perhaps a more balanced view that overnight confinement of their cat might be acceptable. However, the health benefits of allowing their cat to roam freely were greater than the risks of being harmed or lost et cetera. They disliked the fact that their cat hunted and would be prepared to take particular steps to stop it. This is because they loved wildlife and didn’t want to see their cat harming animals and causing suffering. The conflict that they had was that they also believed that cats should behave naturally and hunting is part of what they do. They wanted to reduce hunting but were unsure how to do it.

Conscientous caretaker

The fourth group described as “conscientious caretakers”, of which there were 7, leaned more towards protecting wildlife although they still wanted their cat to behave naturally and go outside. However, they are prepared to take steps to prevent successful hunting of wildlife. They were the least opposed to some sort of restrictions on ownership but did not want their cat to be confined to prevent hunting. Comment: it seems that they want a compromise situation which points to some sort of product such as bright colllars or bells to diminish the prospect of successful hunting by their cat.

The photo is copyright Birdsbesafe. This product proved successful in preventing cats preying on wildlife.

Laissez-faire landlords

The fifth group were described as “laissez-faire landlords”. They numbered three and therefore were in the minority. My reading of this group is that they are prepared for their cat to take risks of being hurt or stolen and they accept that their cat might prry on wildlife and bringing dead animals. They were amenable to some sort of method to prevent their cat hunting successfully such as belled collars. This group were the smallest in number by a considerable margin.

Conclusion

I have to try and provide a conclusion and of course there is a wide spectrum of opinion. This is not a black-and-white situation. But as mentioned in the title one black-and-white conclusion is that the British people are highly reluctant to keep their cats inside at all times in contrast to their American cousins because they tended to focus allowing cats to express their natural desires and motivations of which genuine hunting is a predominant part. To try and stop it would be unhealthy and against their welfare.

However, I sense that the average British cat owner is in conflict over allowing the cat to behave like this while keeping them safe. The upshot of this conflict is that the latter loses out and the former wins by which I mean cat owners allow their cats to take the risk of being hurt for the benefits that come with free roaming.

The answer is some sort of product (as referred to) and/or measures to help curb cat hunting while allowing them freedom to roam outside. One highly regarded product, incidentally, is a brighly coloured collar, which you can read about by clicking on this link. Leash training was not discussed as a possibility it seems. I have no precise information from this study on the viability of cat enclosures as a compromise.

I have provided my interpretation and I would recommend that readers of this article also read the study or at least the conclusions to it to enable them to form their own opinions as they may differ from mine.

P.S. Americans have a much better reason to keep their cats inside: predation on cats by coyotes. There are no such predators in the UK.

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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.

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