Thanks to their partnership with humans, domestic cats have become one of the most abundant and successful carnivores on Earth. There are more than six hundred million domestic cats world-wide.
Conservation researchers have been troubled to learn that hunting by these animals has a major impact on wildlife populations. It is estimated that domestic cats kill between one point three and four billion birds annually in the United States. This far exceeds the bird death toll from other human-related sources such as collisions with buildings and windows. Cats also kill between six and twenty-three billion small mammals in the United States each year. Researchers want to find ways to reduce this toll. Since many cat owners aren’t willing to restrict their pet’s access to the outdoors, other strategies to reduce cats’ tendency to hunt wildlife are being sought.
In 2021 a team of researchers in Great Britain reported the results of a study they undertook with the help of 219 households with pet cats. The owners were asked to report all prey their cats brought home. The researchers discovered two simple strategies that cat owners could use to reduce their animal’s hunting.
The first is to feed the animals a diet richer in meat, which reduced the number of prey items the cats brought home by thirty-six percent. Cat foods based on plant protein may lack certain micronutrients cats need, prompting them to supplement their diet by hunting. The researchers also found that when owners played with their cats for five to ten minutes a day, using games that satisfied their need to hunt, such as chasing yarn, the animals hunted less.