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To keep backyard animals safe from cats, offer more meat and play

Feb. 11 (UPI) — All grains and no play makes Garfield a hangry boy — and it turns out, hangry cats are a greater threat to local wildlife.

To keep small birds, mammals and reptiles safe from local cats, new research suggests caretakers offer their feline friends a diet rich in meat proteins and plenty of playtime.

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According to the new study, published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, play that mimics the act of hunting is especially helpful in quieting the predatory instincts of domestic cats.

“While keeping cats indoors is the only sure-fire way to prevent hunting, some owners are worried about the welfare implications of restricting their cat’s outdoor access,” study co-author Robbie McDonald said in a news release.

“Our study shows that — using entirely non-invasive, non-restrictive methods — owners can change what the cats themselves want to do,” said McDonald, a professor of wildlife management and animal ecology at the University of Exeter in Britain.

Previous studies have shown bright collars and bells can also help prevent domestic cats from killing or harming birds, but the methods are less effective for protecting mammals.

For the new study, scientists recruited 355 cats from 219 different households in southwest England to test a variety of strategies meant to prevent hunting behavior. To keep cats from killing wildlife, scientists used puzzle feeders, meaty diets and extended playtime.

Data showed cats that were fed diets rich in meat proteins brought home 36 percent less prey than those in the control group.

“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,” said lead study author Martina Cecchetti, a doctoral student at Exeter.

Cats given playtime were coaxed to stalk, chase and pounce on a feather toy dangling from a wand via a short string. The felines were offered just five to ten minutes of play per day, but the activity reduced the amount of caught prey by 25 percent.

To diminish hunting behavior, researchers recommend cat owners do both — offer meatier diets and plenty of playtime. Researchers found the puzzle feeders had no impact on hunting behavior.

In future studies, scientists said they hope to test whether specific micronutrients could be added to feline diets to reduce hunting behavior.

“We also plan to investigate whether different kinds of play have different effects and whether combining strategies can reduce hunting even further,” Cechetti said.

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Science News – UPI.com

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