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How can I reduce or prevent my cat from hunting prey?
Cats are very efficient and prolific hunters, so the only effective way to minimise or prevent hunting is confinement. Also, in an effort to preserve wildlife, some local government bylaws impose curfews on cats ranging from ‘night only’ to ‘24 hours per day’ and may include restriction to home only or to the entire property. A recent study showed that domestic cats have individual preferences for different types of prey and that they will continue to hunt preferred prey even when their numbers are low. This may have significant implications for the conservation of endangered and threatened species in specific areas.
Some cats adapt relatively easily to being confined indoors, especially if this occurs from when they are a kitten. Older cats who have been accustomed to roaming may not enjoy being kept indoors, especially if they have been active hunters. However, there are steps that can be taken to help care for your cat indoors &/or restrict outdoor access, as well as keeping them happy and healthy (see Knowledgebase article on containing cats within property boundary – link below).
Offering natural foodstuffs in the diet may also help reduce the urge to hunt, such as a raw chicken neck a couple of times a week. This can also help to keep teeth and gums healthy. Please consult your vet prior to adding these to your cat's diet to ensure this is suitable.
Finally, should a dead animal be presented to you by your cat, it is best to dispose of the carcase (ensuring first that the animal is indeed dead) as quickly as possible and without displaying any reaction, as a response may inadvertently encourage more hunting. Never punish a cat for hunting. Should the prey animal still be alive, it is advised to swiftly retrieve the animal to check for injuries. If injuries are present or suspected, the animal should be taken to a vet as quickly as possible for assessment. If this is a regular occurrence, then confinement should be attempted. Bells on collars have not been shown to be effective in reducing the number of animals killed by cats wearing bells. However, research conducted in Western Australia evaluating the effectiveness of 'cat bibs' did show that the bibs stopped 81% of the cats surveyed from catching birds, 45% from catching mammals and 33% from catching reptiles and amphibians. Most cats adjusted to the bib almost immediately, with a few taking a day or so.
Dickman CR & Newsome TM (2015) Individual hunting behaviour and prey specialisation in the house cat Felis catus: Implications for conservation and management. Applied Animal Behaviour Science Vol 173, 76-87
Calver M, Thomas S, Bradley S & McCutcheon H (2007) Reducing the rate of predation on wildlife by pet cats: The efficacy and practicability of collar-mounted pounce protectors. Biological Conservation Vol 137 (3), 341-348
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