How to Stop Your Cat from Hunting Wildlife, Birds: New Study

The results of a new study reveal the solution to a problem many cat owners have: How do you stop cats from hunting birds and other wildlife during their outdoor time?  The study results demonstrated there are two things cat owners can do to reduce the amount of hunting done by house cats:  (1) play with them daily, and (2) feed them a meat-rich food.


Hunting by cats is a conservation and welfare concern, but methods to reduce this are controversial and often rely on restricting cat behavior in ways many owners find unacceptable.

“Previous research in this area has focused on inhibiting cats’ ability to hunt, either by keeping them indoors or fitting them with collars, devices and deterrents. While keeping cats indoors is the only sure-fire way to prevent hunting, some owners are worried about the welfare implications of restricting their cat’s outdoor access.”

-Professor Robbie McDonald, Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute

Study Overview

The study, based on a 12-week trial of 355 cats in 219 households in south-west England, examined the effect of existing devices used to limit hunting by cats.

Colorful “Birdsbesafe” collar covers reduced numbers of birds captured and brought home by 42%, but had no effect on hunting of mammals.

Cat bells had no discernible overall effect — although the researchers say the impact on individual cats varied widely, suggesting some cats learn to hunt successfully despite wearing a bell.

The key findings of the study

Researchers found that introducing a premium commercial food where proteins came from meat reduced the number of prey animals cats brought home by 36%, and also that five to ten minutes of daily play with an owner resulted in a 25% reduction.

“Our study shows that — using entirely non-invasive, non-restrictive methods — owners can change what the cats themselves want to do. By playing with cats and changing their diets, owners can reduce their impact on wildlife without restricting their freedom.”

–Professor Robbie McDonald

Play in the study involved owners simulating hunting by moving a feather toy on a string and wand so cats could stalk, chase and pounce. Owners also gave cats a toy mouse to play with after each “hunt,” mimicking a real kill.

It is not clear what elements of the meaty food led to the reduction in hunting.

“Some cat foods contain protein from plant sources such as soy, and it is possible that despite forming a ‘complete diet’ these foods leave some cats deficient in one or more micro-nutrients prompting them to hunt.”

-Martina Cecchetti, research assistant and PhD student

The Findings Also a Big Plus for Birds

 “This latest study we have funded is excellent news for birds.  The data show that cat owners can make a few small and easy steps to really improve the health and happiness of our pets as well as make a really big difference for all our wildlife, especially our beloved songbirds. Making these easy-to-implement changes will be a win-win for birds, cats and cat owners.”

-George Bradley, SongBird Survival

Journal Reference:  Martina Cecchetti, Sarah L. Crowley, Cecily E.D. Goodwin, Robbie A. McDonald. Provision of High Meat Content Food and Object Play Reduce Predation of Wild Animals by Domestic Cats Felis catus. Current Biology, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.12.044