The Secret Lives of Outdoor Cats

Outdoor Cat Exploring
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Do you ever wonder what your cat does all day? Does he sit on the back of the sofa and watch the cars go by? Nap on your bed? Plot world domination?

All of the above?

And what if your cat is an outdoor kitty? What's he doing when he's out and about?

I know I’d be fascinated to find out what my barn cats get up to when I’m not around. And I know I'm not alone in pondering the secret life of cats.

Curious as a Cat

There's not much information out there about how cats pass their time, particularly outdoor cats; scientists know more about the movements of big cats in Africa than about the daily habits of our domestic cats.

Researchers at Britain's University of Lincoln School of Life Sciences decided to remedy that situation. They fitted 50 cats in the village of Shamley Green with miniaturized lion GPS collars and cat-cams strapped beneath their chins so they could record the roving felines' every move, 24/7.

Turns out cats don’t travel all that far from home, even in rural Surrey villages. Over the one-week period of the experiment, the camera-equipped cats were more likely to nip into the house next door for a snack than to go hunting, says Dr. Sarah Ellis, PhD.

Lincoln doctoral students Naima Kasbaoui and Kevin Mahon, who are working on issues associated with roaming cats and their management, monitored the cats. The information they gathered included the quantity and type of prey the cats brought home, how different cats’ ranges overlapped, and how the cats established and defended their backyard territories.

Herding Cats

Those of you who have tried to get a collar to stay on a cat might be surprised that the experiment — and the equipment — lasted a whole week. Training the cats to wear the GPS and the camera wasn’t difficult, Dr. Ellis says.

“I spent an evening talking to owners about how to pair putting on the collars with rewards such as food and play and demonstrating the techniques. Within a couple of days, nearly all the cats were happily wearing the collars," she says. "The hard thing was to ensure the camera was stable as the cat moved so we got a clear picture.”

After helping owners interpret the findings, Dr. Ellis says she is excited by the amount of information gathered. With more than 10 million pet cats in the United Kingdom, she doesn’t rule out repeating the experiment elsewhere to gain an even better picture of the world from a cat’s unique perspective.

Now I'm really wondering what those barn cats are up to! What about you? Whether he lives indoors all the time or explores the neighborhood, would you like to peek in on your cat’s hidden activities?

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