Can a New Diet and Play Stop Your Cat From Killing Wildlife?
Domestic cats kill more than 1.3 billion birds and 6.3 billion small mammals in the U.S. each year. Recent research suggests that there are two easy ways to lower your cat’s propensity to kill wildlife.
The study from the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter in the U.K. found that cats with a meat-rich diet that does not contain grain or plant protein killed 36% fewer animals over a 12-week period. If you aren’t keeping a cat as a mouser, switching to a meat-based food could save lives — 2.7 billion birds and animals could be saved if every cat owner in the country joined in.
“Predation of wildlife by cats is an ecological and a social problem,” study lead Robbie McDonald told New Scientist. “Our work shows that non-invasive methods, like food and play, can change cats’ inclination to hunt and be positive for cats and their owners.”
The research also found that playing with your cat for 5 to 10 minutes a day lowered wildlife predation by 25%. Feeding your cat with a puzzle feeder reduced killing behavior by 33% and the addition of a collar that warns birds “reduced the numbers of birds captured and brought home by 42% but had no discernible effect on mammals,” the research teams report. Combining these practices could add up to substantial wildlife preservation. To paraphrase the late Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real wildlife preservation.”
What do you need to take these steps? We put together this buyer’s guide to help you start protecting wildlife.
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Meaty Cat Foods
The research found that cats who ate 100%-meat foods responded by reducing their hunting. But when the food contained grain fillers or plant-based proteins, the cats did not change their behavior. The team suggests that there are micronutrients or amino acids in meat that satisfy some biological needs of the cat.
We discourage you from purchasing most commercial cat foods, which are made from industrially grown animal proteins. These large feeding and slaughter operations are very bad for the environment. However, there are lots of good choices that use meat grown using free-range or grass-fed chicken and cattle, as well as some fish-based options to consider. The research found no difference between the results from dry and wet cat food.
Acana’s approach to pet foods is admirable, from its increasingly recyclable Plastic #4 polyvinyl packaging to the curated network of farmers it works with to ensure its dry cat food is made from free-run chicken and turkey, wild-caught fish, and cage-free eggs. It is available in a variety of flavors that feature whole-prey ingredients that deliver the same physical experience as eating wildlife. Because it is based in Kentucky, Acana offers the shortest distribution system among the products that passed our ingredients review.
Buy Acana Cat on Amazon.
Raw Paws Pet
Raw Paws Complete Chicken for Dogs and Cats is a wet cat food option that features 100% free-range chicken. It will tickle your cat’s instinctive hunger with meat, bone, and organ ingredients — everything kitty gets when hunting. The chicken contains no grain or vegetable filler, additives, preservatives, or antibiotics, and must be frozen to keep it fresh. Raw Paws is available in 3-pound tubes delivered in cooler foam packaging described as “eco-friendly.” The company also offers a range of dried foods.
Save 10% when you order from Raw Paws.
New Zealand-based Ziwi Peak makes a dry cat food from ethically grown free-range and grass-fed meats, including wild-caught salmon and mussels. The company partners with local farmers to source human-grade ingredients which are air-dried to reduce the need for preservatives. It contains no fillers or antibiotics and is available in beef, chicken, lamb, mackerel and lamb, and venison recipes. The package appears to be Plastic #4, but we could not confirm that information.
Buy Ziwi Peak on Amazon.
Toys To Discourage Predation
Cats hunt because, well, they are cats. A well-fed cat that can play at hunting is less likely to head out to pick off a robin or squirrel. “The fulfillment of cats’ physiological and behavioral requirements has not previously been considered important for managing hunting behavior,” the researchers wrote. “[Y]et our study has shown that modifications to diet, and behavioral enrichment with object play, both affect cats such that they capture and bring home significantly fewer wild animals.”
Pick toys that challenge your cat’s mind as hunting would. Feather toys, cat trees, and laser-light chasing games are solid choices. Remember to feed your cat the meals that satisfy their biological cravings and you can tamp down their hunting instincts by wearing them out during playtime. We recommend giving them the full 10 minutes of play endorsed by the research — and more.
Puzzle Feeders Make a Difference, But Owners Don’t Love Them
The Exeter team also surveyed the cat owners after the study. They found that while puzzle feeders were effective at reducing hunting behavior by a third, the owners did not like maintaining them, particularly when feeding wet food. These feeders challenge kitty to open a container and extract their meal. Watching a cat work at this is fascinating because you can see their minds at work, and after they master one puzzle you can mix them up to create variety.
We recommend selecting dry food to make your puzzle feeding pleasant and easy to clean up.
Check out the many options on Amazon.com.
Birdsbesafe Collars Protect Your Avian Neighbors
Birds respond to bright colors, and a cat wearing a Birdsbesafe collar is sure to attract their attention. The research team found these collars to reduce bird predation by 42%, but they do not change the rate at which mammals such as mice and squirrels were killed. Bells on a cat’s collar showed no discernible change in bird or mammal hunting success.
The owners responded after the study was concluded that Birdsbesafe collars tended to get lost, so stock up with enough to replace them occasionally.
Buy Birdbesafe collars on Amazon.
Now that you have some scientific backing, get out there and spoil your cat. Let’s save a few hundred million birds this year.
Originally published on March 1, 2021, this article was updated in March 2022.