Cats and Wildlife in the Garden

Sunday July 10 2022

Nature vs Nurture

When it comes to wildlife in the garden, is your cat as cunning as a stalking leopard or chilled and lazy like a sleeping sloth? We might want to believe that our cats wouldn’t hurt a fly, but cats are natural predators whether we like it or not, as descendants of their larger feline members of the family. But do all cats need or want to kill, and can you stop them from hunting? Sadly the answer is no, despite spoiling them rotten or pampering their every need, given the opportunity to go out and hunt, most cats will take it, purely because they have that innate animalistic instinct.

Prey or Predator?

We’ve established that even the most cuddly and affectionate cat can become a vicious killer, but they are not always the predator. As nice as it is to allow your cat to roam freely in the great outdoors, it is not always the safest. Cats are solitary creatures and will hunt alone, and are therefore more prone to attacks from larger predators such as dogs, as well as getting into fights with other cats and more human threats like cars, poisoning or thieves. As a predator our cats can impose a threat to our native wildlife and nature’s neighbours, they kill wild animals, such as birds, reptiles, and small mammals. While they don’t always bring the kill home, there is every chance they are consumed or just left.

New Zealanders love native birds in their towns and cities. Think of the tuis, fantails, wax eyes and wood pigeons that visit our gardens. But a lot of us love our cats too. In urban areas, there are 220 domestic cats per square kilometre (a typical cat ranges over 2.2 hectares). As cat owners know, domestic cats are highly efficient killers. A year-long study of 208 cats in urban Dunedin showed that they kill more birds, skinks, geckos, and weta than rats and mice. Domestic cats are predators that we have direct control over – so by being responsible cat owners, we can make a real difference.  

New Zealand’s 1.4 million domestic cats alone kill at least 18.76 million animals a year, including 1.12 million native birds. A study in the USA using ‘kitty cameras’ showed that domestic cats on average only brought back to show their owners one in five of their kills. If this figure was similar in New Zealand, then the actual number of native birds killed by domestic cats would be likely to be a lot higher. None of this accounts for the death toll caused by feral cats – a problem that wouldn’t exist, if it weren’t for the irresponsibility of some owners of domestic cats. Practical experience also points to the huge damage cats do to New Zealand’s wildlife. There is the well-documented case of a lighthouse-keeper’s cat causing the extinction of the Stephens Island wren. And near Tongariro National Park, one feral cat was filmed killing 102 shorttailed bats in the Rangataua forest, on the side of Mt Ruapehu, in just seven days in 2010.    

Can You Stop Cats From Hunting?

The way you feed your cat will certainly have a difference in the way they might hunt, but hunting is not just motivated by hunger. Cats are opportunistic hunters and know that if they were to hunt only when they are hungry they could risk starvation, purely because capturing prey isn’t always successful and isn’t always available. Cats have evolved to change their daily patterns depending on the food that is available to them. The average well-fed pet cat partakes in approximately 3 hours of hunting each day, whereas a cat that is fed less will hunt more. Cats will feel the need to hunt whether they are hungry or not. If you’re worried about wildlife and don’t want your cat to hunt, there are a few changes to your cats’ life that could help! We have put together a few ideas below.

#1

Feeding

Our pussycats should be fed at regular intervals throughout the day to mimic their natural feeding patterns, and they also benefit from a meal rich in meat content.

#2

Cats need variety

Cats are neophiliac, which means they absolutely love variety – especially when it comes to food! Regularly providing different foods may curb their hunting behaviour as they don’t need to look elsewhere for new tasty treats.

#3

More time to play

Similar to their food patterns, the way cats play can affect how they behave in the wild. Regularly play with your cat, and offer them cat toys that resemble prey. We have all seen the way cats crouch down ready to pounce on a scrunched-up ball of newspaper. Entertain their curious minds and hunter instinct rather than try and diminish it, and it’s possible that your cat will have had enough of chasing after things when they go outside.

#4

When not to hunt

Try to avoid dawn and dusk, prime hunting times. However, remember that changing a cat’s routine needs to be done slowly to ensure it’s not having a negative impact on the cat.

#5

Sound the Alarm!

Adding a bell to the collar is certainly one way to alert prey that danger is coming, however, cats are incredibly intelligent. So, while it may seem to work to start with (and give you peace of mind), a cat will usually find a way to master this new skill of getting close without making a noise.

 The Dunedin research, carried out using 37 Dunedin cats that were known to be prolific hunters, also found that placing bells on cats halved the number of birds caught: without collars, the cats caught 378 animals, including 82 birds, but only 41 birds were caught when the cats wore bells. 

#6

Cat Safety

To really avoid the hunting impact that your cat has on the local wildlife, or protect them from predators and human dangers introduce an Omlet Catio so that cats can play safely in the fresh air. The Catio can be extended and adapted in many ways to suit your cat. 

Catios

If you don’t have garden space then we have another alternative for you, the Catio Balcony Enclosure. 

Balcony Catios

Take your feline friend to new heights of fun with the Freestyle Outdoor Cat Tree!
Customisable with all the things cats love, it's the perfect accessory for any catio, and will revolutionise the way your pets enjoy the great outdoors.

Freestyle Outdoor Cat Trees

Now, cats get all the stimulation they need while both them and the wildlife in your garden are safe. 

Omlet's Outdoor Catios allow cats of all breeds, ages and abilities to play, exercise and safely experience the great outdoors

Cat Curfew

Are cats allowed to roam free in Australia?
Australia's new 'cat curfew' will ban all domestic cats from going outside to stop them from killing billions of native animals. Much like the rules for dogs and other pets, cats are not allowed to roam freely from their owners' property in Australia. All cats 3 months of age and over must be registered with the local council and microchipped.

How to Exercise the Inner Hunter in a House Cat

If your cat doesn’t go out and is purely an indoor cat, don’t worry, you are not depriving them of their ancestral hunting heritage. Hunting doesn’t necessarily mean killing prey, which is why it can be adapted to play. If you regularly play with your cat and provide them with enough toys and accessories, this can certainly provide them with enough stimulation to emulate a hunt. You may have seen the way your cat crouches as though ready to pounce on a fly or a plant leaf (think Christmas tree decorations!). It is important to allow this form of play. Our Freestyle Cat Tree is the perfect way to balance play and curiosity. Read our guide on how to choose the purrrrfect cat tree for your indoor cat.

Omlet Indoor Freestyle  Cat Trees