Risky Behaviors of Outdoor-access Cats

In a joint project by National Geographic and the University of Georgia, outdoor-access house cats were fitted with Kitty Cams, small video cameras that attach to the cat’s collar, to learn about the secretive behavior of  free-roaming cats.  Data were collected on 55 outdoor-access house cats in Athens, Georgia, from November 2010 to October 2011.  Only 12-15 cats were monitored per season, and each cat contributed 7-10 days of video (average of 37 hours per cat).  Unfortunately, none of this research has been published in a scientific research journal at this time, but some of their results can be viewed on their website: The National Geographic and University of Georgia Kitty Cams (Crittercam) Project.

The primary focus of the research was cat predation on wildlife, but they also analyzed some potentially risky behaviors of outdoor-access cats.  Potential risks of being outdoors include road-traffic accidents, aggression from other cats, poison, disease, parasites, and contact with domestic dogs or wild predators.  Here is a summary of the risky behaviors they observed.

Indicates the number of times each risky behavior was observed on the Kitty Cam of any cat, the number of cats in the study who engaged in each behavior at least once (total=55), and the percent of study cats who engaged in each behavior.
Two cats face-off over a bowl of cat food. The cat on the left is an owned cat and the one on the right is feral.

Interestingly, they did not observe any aggressive direct contact between cats or with other domestic animals.  Neither did they observe any predatory attacks on cats by wild animals though one cat did chase off an opossum.  However, interactions with strange cats were fairly common (25% of cats), and these interactions could include hissing, spitting and growling.  Aggressive interactions with other cats may cause a resident cat to leave its territory.  This did not happen during the study, but two cats did go missing before the study started.  Statistical analyses revealed that cats were significantly more likely to engage in risky behaviors if they were male (P=0.015) or lived in a suburban (vs rural) area (P=0.033).  Frequency of risky behaviors also decreased with age (P=0.001) and increased with time spent outdoors (P=0.000).

Crossing roads was by far the most frequently observed risky behavior accounting for 67% of observed risky behaviors.  Therefore, the group of cats that is most likely to engage in risky behaviors (young males) is probably crossing roads more than anything else.  Another study (see below) found that young male cats were also significantly more likely to be hit by a car.  No cats were hit during the study, but one was killed shortly before it started.

The researchers were surprised to find that four of the cats visited a second home for food or affection.  While this does not directly effect the cat’s welfare, it can increase the probability that the cat will go missing from his original home if the second family takes him in.  Adoption of (assumed) stray cats is fairly common with 20-45% of cat owning households acquiring their cat this way.  Prior to the start of this study, two cats were lost, and what happened to them was either never determined or just never reported by the researchers.

For more information on these topics, check out the following articles:

Factors that May Predispose Cats to Road Traffic Accidents

Adoption of Stray Cats and the Importance of Lost Pet Posters

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