What Does Your Cat Do When You’re Not Around?
Even though we domesticated them over 9,000 years ago, house cats remain a bit of an anomaly when it comes to how we treat them. I can’t think of another species we keep as a pet for which it’s accepted behavior to let them come and go as they please, even if there are a multitude of reasons why we probably shouldn’t. Those of us who keep our house cats indoors have a pretty good idea of what they get up to all day. But those free-roaming cats keep an air of mystery. Just what do they get up to when they leave the house? How far do they roam? And are they really bloodthirsty monsters, intent on wiping out all avian life as some would have us believe? A group of biologists in the UK have undertaken a rather large study to answer that question, which was also the topic of a recent BBC documentary.
Earlier this week, we covered a study of how cheetahs hunt in the wild. That study made use of finely grained data gathered by solar-powered radio collars equipped with GPS, accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers. The Royal Veterinary College’s Alan Wilson, the lead investigator in that study, adapted that approach with a miniaturized version suitable for the much smaller house cat. Together with Sarah Ellis from the University of Lincoln and John Bradshaw at Bristol University, they recruited 50 cats (and their owners) in the village of Shamley Green in Surrey, England and fitted the felines with tracking collars to monitor them for several 24-hour time periods. Additionally, some cats were fitted with cat-cams to provide video data of what they got up to on their travels.
Surprisingly, most of the cats didn’t travel very far, with male cats often not venturing more than 100m from home and female cats traveling half as far. Some lazy felines rarely even left their own yards. As for what they did when leaving, a lot of it seemed to involve patrolling and avoiding other cats. Unlike dogs, cats aren’t pack animals, and they tend to shun other members of their species. With so many cats living in close proximity, one might think that would be difficult. It seems that, like people with DVRs, cats with overlapping domains time shift, establishing different schedules so that confrontations are kept to a minimum.