How Domestic Cats Choose Their Homes in Different Seasons and Neighborhoods

Jenn Hoskins
21st May, 2024

How Domestic Cats Choose Their Homes in Different Seasons and Neighborhoods

Key Findings

  • Researchers tracked 56 owned cats in various UK settings using GPS collars to study their movements
  • Cats spent 75% of their time outside their owner’s house or garden, posing a high risk to wildlife
  • Male cats in rural areas were almost twice as active as their urban counterparts, while females showed more varied activity patterns
Domestic cats (Felis catus) are known for their high densities in both urban and rural environments, often causing significant wildlife predation. As urbanization and farmland expand, understanding the ranging behaviors of these cats becomes crucial for effective management. A recent study conducted by Queen’s University Belfast[1] aimed to assess how the behaviors of male and female cats vary across different environments and seasons. Researchers tracked 56 owned cats (26 females, 30 males) in various UK settings using GPS collars, recording their locations every five minutes over a span of approximately four days per cat. This resulted in a comprehensive dataset of 5237 hours of cat movements. The study revealed that urban and rural cats exhibited similar home range patterns, distances traveled from their owner’s house, and habitat selection. Both urban and rural cats favored built-up areas with good cover and avoided open spaces, spending an average of 75% of their time outside their owner’s house or garden. This behavior indicates a high potential for encountering and preying on wildlife. Interestingly, male cats in rural areas were found to be almost twice as active as their urban counterparts, though all males displayed crepuscular activity patterns (active during twilight). In contrast, females were more cathemeral (active at intervals throughout the day and night) or diurnal (active during the day). Seasonal variations also influenced cat behavior; during summer, cats had smaller home ranges and were more nocturnal, which could concentrate their predation impacts around core areas during hotter months. These findings align with previous studies highlighting the impact of domestic cats on wildlife and the importance of human settlements in determining cat presence and behavior[2]. The study by Queen’s University Belfast suggests that management strategies for cat populations can be uniformly applied across urban and rural areas. For example, establishing buffer or exclusion zones of 750 meters around protected areas could exclude 95% of cats, thereby protecting vulnerable wildlife. Additionally, specialized management, such as periodic confinement during specific active periods, could be effective during the breeding seasons of prey species. The study also supports earlier research that emphasizes the necessity of understanding pet populations for effective policy development and disease management[3]. By mapping cat densities and behaviors, authorities can better prepare for potential zoonotic or veterinary disease outbreaks, ensuring that both owned and unowned cats are appropriately managed. Moreover, the study's findings on seasonal variations in cat activity contribute to the broader understanding of how domestic cats interact with their environment and impact biodiversity. Previous research has shown that non-invasive interventions, such as high meat protein diets and daily object play, can reduce predation behaviors in cats[4]. These strategies, combined with the new insights from the Queen’s University Belfast study, offer a comprehensive approach to managing domestic cat populations and mitigating their impact on wildlife. In conclusion, the study by Queen’s University Belfast provides valuable insights into the ranging behaviors of domestic cats across different environments and seasons. By understanding these patterns, we can develop targeted management strategies to protect wildlife from excessive predation by domestic cats. This research, along with previous studies, underscores the importance of evidence-based approaches in managing pet populations and preserving biodiversity.

EnvironmentWildlifeAnimal Science


Main Study

1) Seasonal habitat selection and ranging of domestic cats (Felis catus) in rural and urban environments

Published 20th May, 2024

Related Studies

2) Human-related factors regulate the spatial ecology of domestic cats in sensitive areas for conservation.

3) A first estimate of the structure and density of the populations of pet cats and dogs across Great Britain.

4) Provision of High Meat Content Food and Object Play Reduce Predation of Wild Animals by Domestic Cats Felis catus.

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