WHAT DO OUR CATS DO WHEN THEY EXIT THE CAT FLAP? WE WANT TO FIND OUT

Whether they are roaming far afield, visiting the neighbours, exploring nearby farmland or simply spending their time lounging in the garden we want to know about it.

Previous studies have found enormous variability in ranging behaviour of our pet cats and suggested that cats may prefer some habitats more than others. This project aims to compare individual movement differences and look at how cats use the area surrounding their home. Are certain habitats or features in the environment preferred by our pets? These pet preferences will help us understand the home range of cats, as well as how they use areas surrounding their home.

We also want to link this information to their diet and personality, allowing us to find out more about our moggies than ever before.

This research has also been carried out in the U.S, Australia and New Zealand. By following the same protocols (detailed below) we will be able to compare your cat's tracks with their international cat counterparts. 

Cat being tracked in New Zealand Courtesy of Wellington University, New Zealand

HOW IT WORKS

 

To take part you need to first register for the study.

We will arrange delivery of a harness fitted with GPS technology (weight= 55g). Following one day to acclimatise, this will record your cat’s location every few minutes over a seven-day period. We will either collect the harness or provide you with a prepaid envelope to return it to us.

Our researchers will then be able to document and explore your cats movements based on the GPS data.

You will receive, via email, a map of your cats tracks.

 

THE SCIENCE BIT

Cat being tracked by University of South Australia

Radio-tracking studies were the first major animal tracking tool used by researchers. By attaching a transmitter to a wild animal, researchers used a receiver and directional antenna to actively track and follow an animal. This method is labour intensive as it requires a researcher to follow the animal continuously. As you can imagine this approach has its drawbacks when studying our pet cats who may be drawn to the researcher for affection or go in to hiding, depending on their personality type. Technological advances now allows researchers to use global positioning systems (GPS) to get around this problem as it doesn’t require direct observation, meaning the cats’ behaviour remains unaffected. Additionally, GPS can store thousands of locations, which can be conveniently retrieved at a later date.

Researchers now track a wide variety of wild animals using GPS, from exploring the ranging behaviour of elephants to understanding the migration patterns of tiny songbirds using even tinier GPS backpacks. Movement information is also fundamental to wild cat research, allowing researchers to calculate how much area a cat requires (its home range or territory) and how it uses the area. For example, GPS tracking leopards revealed they behave differently depending on their surrounding habitat; leopards living in areas with high human population densities were observed to move more at night and had smaller home ranges than their more rural counterparts, showing how behaviour can be modified by human activity  (Odden et al 2014).

A previous UK study found the average home range size of a pet cat was almost 2 hectares, with one cat ranging almost 7 hectares (Thomas et al., 2014).  However, what habitats cats prefer to visit and why the home ranges vary drastically between individuals remains a bit of a mystery. By looking at home ranges of cats from across Cornwall, we aim to explore movement patterns across rural-to-urban areas to explore our pets’ preferences across a large scale.