A Huffington Post story leads with, “Cats are spending their nights looking for animals to murder.” A USA Today story begins, “When researchers attached kittycams to house cats, they found a secret world of slaughter.” What’s going on with these journalists?
The stories refer to a University of Georgia study by researcher Kerrie Anne Loyd, with 55 cats in the immediate Athens, Ga., area. The study’s results have received tons of media. Kudos to the university press department.
I argue that what made this study so attractive to the mainstream media is that the cats in the study wore Kitty Cams (video cameras) strapped to their heads for seven to 10 days (on breakaway collars), so the information gathered is real – you can see for yourself.
My problem is that, in truth, there’s little real news here, despite the exploitative headlines and copy.
Facts About the Kitty Cam Cats
Only 30% of the roaming cats killed prey.
Dinner was mostly frog legs — an apparent delicacy. Here’s the percentage of animals the cats preyed on:
• Frog legs, 41%
• Chipmunks and voles, 25%
• Surprisingly, worms and other insects, 20%
• Last and least, birds, 12%.
Results of Cat Story
Based on this information, some blogs and newspaper accounts called for annihilation of feral cats. There have also been logical responses, like Becky Robinson co-founder and president of Alley Cat Allies, who said “Killing one species to save another can never be the answer.”
While the study is interesting, only 55 individual cats were studied, and their geographic range limited. The first question is: How much can you assume from the results?
Community cats actually help to control rat numbers in the big city, and vermin numbers of farms. I don’t defend, however, these cats hunting other prey, including songbirds.
At some level, I do agree with the bird groups, and I wish cats didn’t eat birds. But perhaps the one point this study succeeds to demonstrate is that most indoor-outdoor cats don’t hunt; for those that do, meals pretty much consists of what cats can get. While frog legs might not be on the diet for Montana cats (because there are fewer frogs there), you can’t help but wonder what some have suggested for a long time — that the number of songbirds killed by cats is, in fact, exaggerated.
Cats a Danger to Themselves
What many blog and newspaper accounts left out is that cats aren’t just a danger to others, they’re also a danger to themselves. Cats are simply safer indoors. All cats in the study were seen engaging in such “risky behaviors” as:
• Crossing roads (45%)
• Eating and drinking things they found (25%)
• Exploring storm drains (20%)
• Entering crawl spaces where they could become trapped (20%).
The study left out that by associating with unknown cats, roaming cats are susceptible to serious infectious disease. The study showed cats interacting with dogs and opossum; sometimes cats don’t fare well in the interactions with other species.
None of these dangers, or concerns about what they eat outside, exists for cats who stay indoors.