By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 8 April 2011)
There are a number of reasons why people want to prevent their cats from hunting, including:
- Not wanting to see small animals hurt or killed
- Environmental concerns regarding endangered local bird populations
- Desire to avoid conflicts with neighbours due to cats attacking pet birds or wild birds at neighbours’ feeders
- Distaste at having to deal with dead animals brought in as gifts
Unfortunately, cats can’t be taught not to hunt. Hunting is a natural behaviour, and attempting to train a cat not to hunt is an exercise in futility. However, hunting urges can be channelled into hunting simulation play. Owners can encourage their cats to “hunt” indoors by hiding treats or bits of food around the house and playing hunting games such as having the cat chase a piece of string or a toy attached to a “fishing rod.” The following are some additional strategies to prevent cats from killing birds.
How to Stop Cats Catching Birds
Attaching one or two bells to a cat’s collar alerts birds and rodents to the fact that there is a predator nearby, giving them plenty of time to vacate the area. There are also commercially available sonic collar units, which alert prey when a cat is close so that they can escape before the cat gets within striking distance.
A study conducted in the UK found equipping cats with bells reduced bird kills by 41% and predation of other animals by 34%. Those equipped with sonic devices killed 51% fewer birds and 38% fewer small mammals, which indicates that these devices are particularly effective. If a neighbour’s cat is catching birds in your garden and you want to stop this while maintaining friendly relations, you could offer to purchase a nice new collar with a bell on it for the cat.
Locate Feeders in Safe Places
Bird feeders should always be located out of cats’ reach. They should be hung high in the air and away from windowsills, fences, and tree branches. If the feeder is attached to a ground pole or stake, it should be made of metal or plastic, rather than wood that cats can climb. Enclosing bird feeders and bird baths with chicken wire will also make them far safer for avian visitors.
Keep Cats Out of the Garden
Owners may wish to keep their own cats out of certain areas of the garden, and others may want to discourage feline invaders altogether, both to protect birds and prevent certain areas being used as a litter box. There are a number of strategies for keeping cats out of gardens that are safe for both cats and people.
Keep Cats Indoors
Indoor cats are safer and live longer on average. However, many owners don’t like the idea of keeping their cats inside all the time. In this case, compromises between safety and the outdoor lifestyle can be made, such as leash training so that a cat can be taken for walks or purchasing or building cat fences or enclosures to create safe outdoor spaces.
Birds tend to be most active in the garden shortly after sunrise and in the hour before sunset. Ideally, outdoor cats should be kept inside during these times to reduce the likelihood that they will catch any.
For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.
- Sands, David, Dr. (2005). Cats: 500 Questions Answered. London: Octopus Publishing Group.
- The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. (6 June 2005). “Collar That Cat to Save Wildlife.” RSPB.org.uk.