What’s on the Menu When Your Cat Goes Out? Probably More Than You Think. (2024)

Climate|What’s on the Menu When Your Cat Goes Out? Probably More Than You Think.


  • 770



Supported by


Free-ranging cats hunt or scavenge more than 2,000 species, some of them imperiled, according to a new study.

What’s on the Menu When Your Cat Goes Out? Probably More Than You Think. (1)

By Catrin Einhorn

Everyone can agree on one thing: It’s not the cats’ fault they’re bad for wildlife. Cats are carnivores. Their talent for preying on rodents is a big reason their ancestors and ours started hanging around together in the first place. But then people carried cats around the world, into ecosystems that weren’t equipped for such predators.

Wherever they are, they stalk. They pounce. They kill. They eat.

Now, researchers have documented the breadth of cats’ global buffet. A study published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications found that free-ranging domestic cats (including feral ones) eat more than 2,000 species, raising renewed concerns about the ecological fallout.

Almost half of the species were birds, followed by reptiles and mammals. An unexpected number of insects were found, including monarch butterflies, pink-spotted hawk moths and emperor dragonflies.

Other surprises on the menu included camels, cows and green sea turtles. (As skilled as cats are at hunting, the camels and cows were probably scavenged. The sea turtles were probably hatchlings.)

“Cats eat a lot more than we thought,” said Christopher Lepczyk, an ecologist at Auburn University and one of the study’s authors. “That’s meaningful.”

Nearly 350 of the species, including monarch butterflies and green sea turtles, were imperiled or at risk of being imperiled.

“Domestic cats (Felis catus) are beloved companions for many people, but they are also invasive predators that have been linked to numerous birds, mammals and reptiles going extinct,” Andrew Mitchinson, an editor at the journal Nature, wrote in a related article.

The fallout from cats is especially acute on far-flung islands, where species have often evolved without any mammalian predators. But even in the United States, research by the federal government and the Smithsonian Institution estimated that cats kill a median of 2.4 billion (yes, billion with a b) birds per year. That’s especially concerning given the alarming declines in North American bird populations, which have gone down 29 percent since 1970.

The thornie*st controversy comes over what to do with the vast number of feral cats that are driving much of the killing. Some will never be suitable for adoption.

Animal welfare organizations advocate a practice known as trap-neuter-return, in which feral cats are released after neutering to live out their lives. But research has shown that those efforts tend to have limited or no success in reducing populations unless they are performed at continuously high intensities. Well-intentioned people often feed feral cats, driving up numbers.

Then, there are cat owners who refuse to deny their pets the pleasure of roaming outdoors.

Dr. Lepczyk said he intentionally avoided recommending policy interventions in Tuesday’s paper, though in previous articles he has advocated “science-driven management” of free-roaming cats that would designate them as an invasive species, giving wildlife officials more authority to control them. He has also argued for strengthening laws around pet ownership and banning outdoor feeding.

Manuel Nogales, a biologist with the Spanish National Research Council who has studied feral cats for more than 30 years and was not involved with the new paper, praised the work.

“These numbers are totally new for the scientific community,” he said. “This paper is quite useful.”

The researchers gathered their data through an exhaustive search of published and unpublished academic papers that reported evidence of cat predation on one or more species. Sometimes the species was identified from the contents of a dissected stomach. Sometimes the information came from fecal analysis. Sometimes pet owners reported their cats’ kills. Increasingly in recent research, trail cameras caught cats in the act of hunting and scavenging.

Many of the remains could not be identified, especially when it came to soft-bodied insects, which made up 6 percent of detected species.

Conservation groups try to educate the public about the danger of free-ranging cats while also finding common ground with cat lovers. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s list of frequently asked questions about outdoor cats begins with the question “Is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology anti-cat?”

“Not at all,” comes the response, next to a slide show of indoor cats that belong to members of the lab.

“It’s not a divide between people who love birds versus people who love cats,” said Miyoko Chu, the lab’s senior director of science communications. “There are so many people who love both.”

Dr. Lepczyk counts himself among them. “I’ve had cats for 40-plus years,” he said. When he was a child, his family had outdoor cats. He recalled learning about their harm in graduate school and telling his mother. After that, their cats stayed inside. Today, his family includes Mochi, a longhaired Siamese, and Ahi, an orange tabby.

Indoor cats may even have an ecological benefit. Widely used rodenticides can harm or kill wildlife like hawks, owls and foxes that eat poisoned mice and rats. As long as cats stay indoors, they are a wildlife-friendly way to help keep your house free of pests.

Catrin Einhorn reports on biodiversity for the Climate and Environment desk. She has also worked on the Investigations desk, where she was part of the Times team that received the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its reporting on sexual harassment. More about Catrin Einhorn

A version of this article appears in print on , Section


, Page


of the New York edition

with the headline:

Menu à la Cat: Alfresco Buffet Has Downside. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe


  • 770



As an expert and enthusiast, I don't have personal experiences or opinions. However, I can provide you with information on the concepts mentioned in the article you shared. Let's dive into it!

Cats and Wildlife

The article discusses the impact of free-ranging cats on wildlife and biodiversity. It highlights that cats, being carnivores, have a natural instinct to hunt and prey on various species. The study mentioned in the article found that free-ranging domestic cats, including feral ones, hunt or scavenge more than 2,000 species, some of which are imperiled. Birds, reptiles, and mammals were the most common prey, but insects and even larger animals like camels, cows, and green sea turtles were also found in their diet.

Ecological Fallout

The broad range of species consumed by cats raises concerns about the ecological fallout. Nearly 350 of the species identified in the study were imperiled or at risk of being imperiled. Cats, as invasive predators, have been linked to the extinction of numerous birds, mammals, and reptiles. The impact is particularly severe on far-flung islands where species have evolved without mammalian predators. However, even in the United States, cats are estimated to kill a median of 2.4 billion birds per year, contributing to the decline in North American bird populations.

Controversies and Solutions

The article also touches on the controversies surrounding feral cats and outdoor roaming. Animal welfare organizations advocate for trap-neuter-return practices, where feral cats are neutered and released to live out their lives. However, research suggests that these efforts have limited success in reducing cat populations unless performed at continuously high intensities. Feeding feral cats can also contribute to population growth. Some cat owners refuse to deny their pets the pleasure of roaming outdoors.

Different approaches have been proposed to address the issue. Some experts suggest designating free-roaming cats as an invasive species, which would give wildlife officials more authority to control their population. Strengthening laws around pet ownership and banning outdoor feeding are also suggested as potential solutions.

Indoor Cats and Ecological Benefits

The article mentions that keeping cats indoors may have ecological benefits. Indoor cats can help control pests like rodents without the need for harmful rodenticides, which can harm or kill wildlife that consumes poisoned mice and rats. By keeping cats indoors, they can contribute to maintaining a wildlife-friendly environment.

It's important to note that the information provided here is based on the article you shared. If you would like more specific information or have any other questions, feel free to ask!

What’s on the Menu When Your Cat Goes Out? Probably More Than You Think. (2024)


What's on the menu when your cat goes out? ›

Almost half of the species were birds, followed by reptiles and mammals. An unexpected number of insects were found, including monarch butterflies, pink-spotted hawk moths and emperor dragonflies. Other surprises on the menu included camels, cows and green sea turtles.

What food is irresistible to cats? ›

Canned mackerel, canned sardines, or canned tuna are great options! Fresh and warmed fried chicken can also be very enticing. Use a non-food bait- It's possible to attract cats into traps without using food. Some cats can be lured in with catnip!

What food can cats not resist? ›

Unseasoned, cooked chicken, turkey, lean beef, and lean deli meats are a great way to satisfy cats' cravings for meat, Dr. Kirk said.

When your cat goes out? ›

Search Your Home and Alert Neighbors

Cats will usually stay within a 3-4 house radius from where they went out as long as they can find a place to hide within that area. They look for the first place to hide and then they stay there (sometimes for days on end) as long as it is safe and dry.

What does it mean when cats go off their food? ›

While your cat might not like the food you're offering, a lack of appetite is often a symptom of an underlying issue. Cats may stop eating if there's something stuck in their stomach or intestines or if they aren't feeling well because of an underlying disease or infection.

Why is all the cat food sold out? ›

If pet food aisles seem sparse, it's likely due to supply chain issues. A familiar issue lately for stores and consumers (especially over the past few years), supply chain issues have affected almost everything you can think of. In this case, these supply chain issues are significantly impacting smaller stores.

What is a cats absolute favorite food? ›

Whether you're feeding a cat or a kitten, “Cats need animal-based protein as part of their main diet,” explains Purina Nutritionist Karina Carbo-Johnson, MS. Some protein-rich foods cats like to eat include: A variety of fish, such as salmon, trout, tuna and whitefish. Poultry like chicken, turkey and pheasant.

What food attracts cats the most? ›

Rabbit, chicken (including fried), beef, fish, lamb, kangaroo, tinned cat food, sardines and tuna have all been successfully used as bait. Capture efficiency may be improved by using bait that reflects the cat's staple prey for the area rather than being novel.

What food do cats prefer the most? ›

Cats are carnivores, meaning their diet majorly contains animal proteins. As a result, cats naturally eat fish and meat as a part of their diet. Most of their required nutrients, such as protein, fatty acids, minerals, amino acids, phosphorus, and calcium can be derived from a meat-based diet.

What taste do cats hate the most? ›

Cats have only 480 taste buds, and they only have taste receptors for salty, sour, and bitter. Like dogs, cats have a strong sense of smell and dislike anything that tastes bitter.

Is meow mix good for cats? ›

Product Information. Is Meow Mix good for my cat? Our food products offer complete and balanced nutrition to generally healthy cats of various life stages. The quality and safety of our products are important to us, and they are manufactured and labeled in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations.

How do you tell if a cat is nearing the end of its life? ›

The first signs of a dying cat include lethargy, a lack of appetite, a messy coat, and a decrease in the frequency of urination and defecation. Labored breathing, a loss in muscle mass, and changes in alertness could also occur during the early stages. Some cats may find it too painful to climb into their litter box.

How do cats act at end of life? ›

They may eat less, groom themselves less, and behave differently than normal. Some cats may become irritable and growl or hiss when interacting with other animals or humans. They may also seem anxious or restless. Many cat parents find it surprising that cats will purr more when they are beginning to pass.

What is the gravy in cat food? ›

There are thickeners (tapioca starch and xanthan gum) and there is coloring to make the water look like gravy (caramel color), but there's no gravy.

Where do cats fall in the food chain? ›

Wild cats are apex predators. This means they are at the top of the food chain. Almost nothing preys on them and their biggest threats are humans.

What does it mean when a cat tries to burry its food? ›

They're Hiding It for Later

So, when your kitty tries to bury or otherwise cover their food, they're doing something called “caching.” Caching is used by wild cats to protect food from other cats or scavengers, to stop it from spoiling, or to have a meal to return to later.

What is the meatloaf position in a cat sick? ›

Pay particular attention if your cat settles down in a so-called meatloaf position, where her nose is on the floor and her front paws are out of her body. This position often describes a cat in pain. If your cat replaces her bread loaf position with this one, it is a time to visit your vet.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Stevie Stamm

Last Updated:

Views: 5795

Rating: 5 / 5 (60 voted)

Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Stevie Stamm

Birthday: 1996-06-22

Address: Apt. 419 4200 Sipes Estate, East Delmerview, WY 05617

Phone: +342332224300

Job: Future Advertising Analyst

Hobby: Leather crafting, Puzzles, Leather crafting, scrapbook, Urban exploration, Cabaret, Skateboarding

Introduction: My name is Stevie Stamm, I am a colorful, sparkling, splendid, vast, open, hilarious, tender person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.