Does your cat seem to be bringing home more corpses of birds and mice on a daily basis? Play with it more and review its diet, researchers suggest. Cats that eat meat-based food are less likely to hunt animals, such as rodents or birds.
This morning, your cat struck again. What a "nice" surprise to wake up to, when you haven't even had your coffee yet, there it is, a dead mouse on your doorstep. Cat owners are familiar with this problem. According to reports, "millions of pet cats kill billions of creatures a year."
Published in the journal Current Biology, the research looked at the reasons why our furry friends are predators as soon as they put their nose outside. And this can confuse cat owners especially since these pets pretty much eat as much as they want, since we feed them regularly.
In order to understand what motivates cats to kill animals and then bring back the inanimate bodies of their prey as trophies to their humans, the authors of this work carried out several experiments with more than 300 felines (who were all used to hunting).
Researchers played with the animals, including with a feathered object suspended from a rope and a wand so that the cats could stalk, chase and pounce, just as they do when they hunt living things. After five to ten minutes of play, the number of dead animals left by the cat in front of their owner's door was reduced by a third.
Since cats like the thrill of the hunt, the researchers undertook experiments to see if they could address some of the animals needs or desires before the cats decided to go hunting. One of the recommendations is that "that people who own a cat should play with it more, for example with a fake mouse. "Our study shows that - using entirely non-invasive, non-restrictive methods -- owners can change what the cats themselves want to do," noted Professor Robbie McDonald of Exeter University in England, who led the study.
However, playfulness is not the only factor that may play a role in whether cats attack small animals. According to the research, eating meaty diets could also reduce hunting of mammals and birds.
The fact that cats are less likely to kill if fed animal proteins could be explained by the content of particular amino acids found in meat, the researchers speculate. "Some cat foods contain protein from plant sources such as soy, and it is possible that despite forming a 'complete diet' these foods leave some cats deficient in one or more micronutrients -- prompting them to hunt," suggested Martina Cecchetti, PhD student at the University of Exeter and co-author of the study.
Could cell-based meat be a solution?
However, this poses an obvious problem from an environmental point of view, if in order to reduce the killing of wild animals, one has to advise pet owners to feed their cats more meat. The next step for these researchers will therefore be to investigate whether there are any micronutrients that could be added to cat food, for example, that would reduce the hunting desire without as much meat.
The advent of lab-created meat could perhaps also remedy the problem. While this method is increasingly being developed as an alternative to animal meat production for human consumption and slaughterhouses, this idea is also starting to make its way into the pet food industry.
That includes Shannon Falconer and Joshua Errett, founders of the US-based company Because Animals, a pioneer in the cultivation of cellular meat for pets. The company is currently working on animal feed made from mouse cells, obtained humanely from a rodent skin biopsy. The founders of "Because Animal" hope to commercialize their product by 2021.