Give Your Cat A Groom And We Can Find Out If They Are Sneaking Snacks Away From Their Food Bowl

Our bodies store clues as to what we’ve been eating in the form of stable isotopes. This can be used to make exciting discoveries, for example uncovering what our ancestors ate, and identifying foraging behaviour of wild animals. Using the same scientific process, we can look at your cats’ fur, which provides a record of what your cat has been eating.

We want to see if your cat is supplementing their diet with other sneaky snacks by comparing the stable isotope content of your cats’ daily dinner with what we find in their fur.

We will explore links between this dietary information to aspects of their behaviour, including where they roam and their personality.

Cat Fur

HOW IT WORKS

Provide us with the fur sample and let us know what cat food your cat enjoys daily and we can compare the isotope signature of your cats’ fur with its dinner to see if your cat is sourcing food from elsewhere.

To take part you need to first register for the study

Simply brush, or stroke, your cat to gather loose fur. We only need around a tablespoon of fur. Place in a clean ziplock plastic bag (sandwich bag) and we will either collect it from you or provide you with a prepaid envelope to return it to us. 

Note, depending on your cat’s daily dinner we may also require a small sample (1 tablespoon) of their dry food. 

 

The Science Bit

Isotope analysis is based on the principle you are what you eat. Our bodies store evidence of what we’ve eaten in the form of stable isotopes.

Stable isotopes are alternative forms of the elements that are listed in the periodic table. When the elements contain a different number of neutrons in their nucleus they are called isotopes. Stable isotopes are found naturally and don’t degrade. Consequently, they can be used in ecology to trace the flow of nutrients through food webs and to assess the diet of wild animals. Stable isotopes have been used to examine diet composition in a variety of mammals such as mustelids, canids, felids and even extinct animals. For example, stable isotopes can tell you if a wild animal eats mainly meat or plants. This approach allows researchers to quantify food habits of animals that are difficult to observe.

Stable isotopes are stored in your cats’ fur through the food they eat and water they drink. Different ratios of Carbon and Nitrogen can provide information on the type of diet consumed. Domestic cats are opportunistic hunters. Even when fed at home, they still possess a hunting instinct, although this instinct is likely to vary significantly between cats. We don’t know what our cats are up to once they’re out the cat flap. For example, one study used small video cameras on cats to study predation and found that although 23% of prey was taken back to the cat’s home, the other 77% was not likely to be seen by the owner (Loyd et al., 2013). By analysing the stable isotope ratio of cat food and cat fur we can explore any discrepancies between the two to see if your cat is sourcing food from elsewhere, such as mice and birds.