As a Cat owner and someone who loves wildlife, I would like to discuss cats and wildlife in this blog post. A cat’s hunting behaviour is often considered as normal and a natural component, to which cat owners may not take individual responsibility for preventing or reducing. However, I believe we (cat owners) should take some responsibility. It will not only improve the welfare of these animals, but may also benefit our cats welfare too.
A recent study identified five types of cat owners: Concerned protector – owners who focus on their cats own safety, Freedom defender - prioritise their cat’s independence, Tolerant guardian - provide outdoor access but dislike their hunting, Conscientious caretaker - feel some responsibility for managing their cats hunting and Laissez-faire landlord - unaware of the issues surrounding roaming and hunting behaviour. You can find out what type of cat owner you are by taking this short quiz. I am a Tolerant Guardian.
Some owners rescue rodents and other wildlife from their cat, but will release them themselves, as they may seem like they are ‘ok’. Many of these animals are likely to suffer a prolonged death. Cats can cause penetrating wounds that are often more extensive than external examination may show and can be contaminated with Pasteurella multocida (a type of bacteria, that can cause septicaemia). These animals will require first aid and emergency treatment.
I decided to write an article on Cats & Wildlife for a Veterinary Nursing journal and gathered some data on cat attack victims. A wildlife rescue centre reported that 1 in 5 of their bird admissions and 1 of 4 of their rodent, rabbit and bat admissions were known cat attack victims. Another wildlife rescue centre reported that nearly a quarter of all birds were attacked by a cat or dog between March and June in 2020. One wildlife rescue centre revealed that 31% of cat attack victims were released. I believe more can be done to reduce predation, which would result in less animals being admitted into wildlife rescues and veterinary practices and could improve the welfare of these animals.
Here are my top 3 ways to help reduce predation.
Restricted outdoor access - If you would like your cat to have access to the outdoors but are concerned about the risks of letting your cat out or hunting behaviour, you could consider fencing in your garden or providing an outdoor cat enclosure. If this is not possible, you could either keep your cat in at night or keep your cat indoors half an hour before sunset and keep them in for an hour after sunset. Cats are generally more active during dusk to dawn and this is a prime time for most wildlife.
Diet and enrichment - Research from the Songbird Survival Trust found that 5 minutes of daily play and high meat diet can decrease animals captured and brought home by cats. It is also important to think about the diet and enrichment you provide to your cat if they are indoor only.
Awareness of fledglings - Spring and Summer time is when the majority of bird victims are reported. During this time, it is common to find young birds sitting on the ground or hopping about without their parents. These fledglings often spend a few days on the ground while their flight feathers complete their growth. This makes them more likely to be predated on by cats as they are unable to fly away. The RSPB state that cats should be kept indoors until the fledgling is airborne, as in conflict of interest between wild and domestic animals, it is the domestic pet that must give way.
My cat is 14yrs old and has been going outside all her life, but I have made changes to reduce the chances of her catching wildlife. I believe that every cat owner can make at least one change, that still aligns with their views, which can help improve the welfare of wildlife and even their cat.
The “Cats, Cat Owners and Wildlife” project sponsored by SongBird Survival. Available at: https://www.exeter.ac.uk/research/esi/research/projects/cats/
As veterinary professionals, we have a duty to provide first aid and pain relief to all species, including wild animals. Therefore, if you are concerned about an injured wild animal, we may be able to help. However, we do not have the facilities to care for them long term and would need to transfer them to a suitable wildlife facility.
Our closest wildlife rescue and hospital is Wildlife Aid Foundation in Leatherhead.
24hr helpline: 01372 360404
Visit their website for more information and frequently asked questions: https://www.wildlifeaid.org.uk/
Our next post in this series will be on Hedgehogs.