Domesticated cats hunt for primal reasons, not because they’re hungry

It’s no secret that domesticated cats kill a vast quantity of wildlife when allowed outdoors, including everything from insects and rodents to birds. Cat owners are also aware that their pets tend to leave their kills behind rather than eating them, and there’s a good reason for that: they get most of their food from humans and seemingly prefer it that way.

The vast majority of a cat’s food and nutrient needs are met at home where they feast on kibble or wet food, according to a new study from the University of Exeter. The scientists focused specifically on cats’ whiskers, gathering forensic evidence that points toward an overwhelming tendency to hunt wildlife based on instinct, not hunger.

Specifically, around 96-percent of a domestic cat’s diet was composed of food given to them by their owners; only around 3- or 4-percent of the diet came from eating wildlife, such as insects or rodents. That means it’s likely not hunger that fuels this hunting behavior, but rather the instincts of humanity’s favorite tiny predator.

This is good news for cat owners who may worry that limiting their cat’s ability to hunt wildlife may hurt it from a nutritional standpoint — the cats are, in fact, getting the majority of their dietary needs met by ordinary kibble and wet food, not birds and chipmunks. That’s even better news for the environment as cats are decimating songbird populations.

The researchers found that using a ‘Birdsbesafe’ collar in combination with daily playtime and feeding the cats a high-quality meat-based diet reduces how much wildlife they kill. The same university had previously published a study on how playtime and diet can reduce feline hunting.