Most cat owners will, at some point, endure the trauma of being gifted a bloody rodent carcass or wrangling a flailing bird from the jaws of their beloved pet. But little do they know that behind this occasional horror is a secret world of slaughter.
According to a new study by the University of Georgia, our precious kitties are leading double lives: Indoors, they’re sweet, lazy furballs. But outside, they’re prolific killers with a penchant for danger.
In collaboration with the National Geographic Society’s Critter Cam team, researchers strapped kitty cams to 60 cats and analyzed thousands of hours of footage documenting their secret lives. They found that one-third of the cats killed an average of two animals per week —a far greater number than previously thought. (Though they only brought a quarter of those kills home for mom and dad).
Domestic cats hunt so prolifically, in fact, that they are driving down the U.S.’s bird population, killing an estimated 500 million birds per year — about 3 percent of the country’s total bird population.
“Cat predation is one of the reasons why one in three American birds species are in decline,” George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy, told USA Today.
That said, they kill far more reptiles and mammals (such as chipmunks) than they do birds, usually eating or abandoning the carcasses after playing with them for a while.
But outdoor cats aren’t just a danger to small animals. They’re also a danger to themselves. The team found that the cats regularly engaged in high risk activity: Crossing roadways, exploring storm drains, entering crawl spaces where they could easy be trapped, and eating and drinking things they stumbled across. Male cats tended to behave more dangerously than female cats, and the younger the cat, the riskier the behavior.
So what’s a concerned cat owner to do? The Kitty Cams team recommends keeping your cat (especially younger males) indoors as much as possible — for their own safety as well as that of neighborhood wildlife (here’s some advice on how to keep them happy indoors).
Not all cats are killers, however. Some lead more mundane double lives — like Archie, whose owner discovered via Kitty Cam that he was secretly visiting and, sometimes living with, another human family. Oh, the betrayal.