Cats’ whiskers reveal felines favour free lunch

by the University of Exeter
September 30, 2021

Domestic cats that regularly catch wild animals still get most of their nutrition from food provided at home, new research shows.

University of Exeter scientists used forensic evidence from cats’ whiskers to see what regular hunters of wildlife had been eating. The results showed that about 96% of their diet came from food provided by their owners, while just 3-4% came from eating wild animals.

This suggests that predatory instinct – rather than hunger – is probably the main reason why some domestic cats regularly hunt wild prey.

“When food from owners is available, our study shows that cats rely almost entirely on this for nutrition,” said Dr Martina Cecchetti, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall. “Some owners may worry about restricting hunting because cats need nutrition from wild prey, but in fact it seems even prolific hunters don’t actually eat much of the prey they catch. As predators, some cats may hunt instinctively even if they are not hungry – so-called ‘surplus killing’ – to capture and store prey to eat later.”

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