If you’ve ever owned an outdoor cat, you’ve probably seen your feline friend’s predatory instincts in action: while walking around the yard, your cat suddenly leaps forward, hitting a small bird or a mouse, perhaps a lizard. The feline plays with this creature for several minutes, making it come and go long after it has stopped moving. Then they collect their prize, trot out the front door, and lay a tiny carcass on the welcome mat.
For cat owners, this behavior is proof that their feline furballs are adorable, even if they’re wayward. But for many conservationists, it’s the act of an invasive killing machine with four feet full of knives. This difference in perception has sparked a fierce debate between conservationists and cat enthusiasts over whether cats should be allowed outdoors.
But why do domestic cats hunt and play with prey even after death? Are they adorable himbos or furry serial killers? The truth lies somewhere in between.
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To answer this question, we need to look at the domestication of cats. According to a 2017 study published in the journal, the first wild cats to take a timid step toward domestication likely did so around 8,000 years ago in Egypt and its surrounding regions. Nature ecology and evolution (opens in a new tab). These cats belonged to the species Felis silvestris lybica, also known as African wildcats, and were drawn to cities by the rats they hunted for food. Humans, in turn, kept these cats because they controlled populations of rodents that spread disease and eat grain. In some societies, such as ancient egypt and in China, these feline companions have come to be considered lucky or even revered.
But while we’ve lived alongside our feline companions for thousands of years, “‘true’ cat domestication only dates back about 200 years,” Martina Cecchetti, a conservation scientist who studies cat behavior at the University of Exeter in the UK, Live Science said. In this context, Cecchetti clarified, “true” domestication means being selectively and intentionally bred by humans, as opposed to simply cohabiting with our species.
Because they were domesticated so recently, cats retain many of the instincts passed down from their wild ancestors, who hunted small prey throughout the day, according to a 2006 study in The Nutrition Diary (opens in a new tab). This evolutionary rest drives a cat “to catch prey even if it’s not hungry,” Cecchetti said. Additionally, a cat’s play instincts, such as kicking, jumping, and raking with the claws, are derived from hunting behavior. Feral cats often play with their prey in order to tire it out before eating it, which reduces the risk of injury to the cat. Thanks to these instincts, even modern domestic cat breeds can survive relatively easily in the wild – some Polish populations have been so successful that they are now considered invasive pests (opens in a new tab)reported WBUR, Boston’s national public radio station.
Studies show that house cats left loose outdoors can cause serious environmental disturbances. A 2013 study in the journal Nature Communication (opens in a new tab) estimates that cats kill more than 1.3 billion birds and 6.3 billion small mammals each year in the United States alone, with the majority of killings being carried out by the country’s 30 to 80 million unowned cats, which include farm cats, feral cats and stray cats that are fed by humans, the researchers wrote in the study.
So how can people stop their furry friends from causing so much ecological damage? Cecchetti’s research suggests (opens in a new tab) that part of a pet cat’s drive to hunt can be counteracted by giving them plenty of playtime at home and feeding them a high-quality, meat-rich diet that provides the right balance of micronutrients .
“Domestic cats are obligate carnivores,” Cecchetti said, so if they don’t get enough meat at home, they may seek it elsewhere.
If you choose to provide food to feral cats, the human society (opens in a new tab) recommends using a trap-neutral-return (or TNR) program. These programs temporarily capture feral cats, neuter or neuter them, vaccinate them against rabies, identify them with an ear tip (removal of the upper quarter inch of the left ear under anesthesia) and return them to the area where they have been found if local shelters cannot accommodate them. This process helps control the population of ownerless cats, which, in turn, can reduce the number of wild creatures they kill.
But perhaps the best way to ensure your feline friend doesn’t go wild on your local ecosystem is to keep it indoors (with plenty of toys and 20 square feet, or 1.8 square meters, of space). space to the strict minimum) or to take him outside on a leash. This way, he can unleash his hunting instincts as he pleases, without sacrificing neighborhood wildlife.
Originally posted on Live Science.