Aside from their cute and cuddly appearance, cats are known for their irrational fear of cucumbers, their love of cardboard boxes, and on a more sinister note, their hunting prowess. According to a new study, cat owners can be categorized according to their attitude towards their pets’ love of killing, with five main points of view having been identified.
The impact of domestic cats on wildlife has received much attention over the years, with previous research indicating that more than 20 billion animals are annihilated by pet felines each year in the US. As a consequence, many American cat owners choose to keep their pets indoors, although this is much less common in the UK, where cats are typically allowed to roam freely outside of the house.
In an attempt to raise awareness about the ecological pawprint of British cats and stimulate conversation regarding how to deal with the issue, researchers from the University of Exeter surveyed owners from around the UK about their opinions regarding cat hunting behavior. Results, which are published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, revealed that owners can be grouped into five main classes, ranging from those who believe they have a responsibility to stop their pets from killing, to those who strongly oppose any kind of intervention.
At one end of the spectrum are “conscientious caretakers,” who claim to be worried about the impact their cats have on local wildlife, particularly birds. This group of owners typically support taking action to restrict their cats’ ability to hunt and are open to keeping their pets indoors at certain times.
At the other extreme are the “freedom defenders,” who believe that cats should be allowed to roam and hunt as they please, and that it is only natural for them to kill other animals. Many owners in this category actively encourage hunting, using cats as pest control agents.
“Concerned protectors” fall somewhere in between, and are more worried about the safety of their pets than local wildlife. As a result, they may be willing to keep their cats indoors at times, which can bring unintended benefits for birds and rodents living nearby.
Slightly more ambivalent are “tolerant guardians,” who somewhat dislike their cats’ predatory behaviors but are willing to put up with them (perhaps a few too many "gifts" brought in from outside). Finally, “laissez-faire landlords” are simply not bothered about whether or not their cats hunt, either because they aren’t aware or are totally disinterested.
Commenting on these findings, study author Sarah Crowley explained in a statement that "most UK cat owners valued outdoor access for their cats and opposed the idea of keeping them inside to prevent hunting.
"However, only one of the owner types viewed hunting as a positive, suggesting the rest might be interested in reducing it by some means.”
A number of solutions have been suggested, which include fitting cats with bells or placing brightly colored collars around their necks in order to rob them of their stealth and help prey animals evade their attacks.
The researchers have also created an online quiz that you can take if you want to find out which type of cat owner you are.