KittyCams Reveal Secret Lives of Free-Roaming Cats

Kitty Hunter

Story at-a-glance -

  • A study of 60 house cats in Georgia who spend 5 to 6 hours a day running loose outdoors revealed that many of the kitties are accomplished hunters.
  • Surprisingly, 40 percent of the cats’ prey were lizards, snakes and frogs – not mice or birds.
  • Conservation groups are alarmed at the potential impact of house cat predation on birds and other wildlife, but at least one national cat advocacy organization believes their concern is exaggerated.
  • Whether or not you believe kitty hunters are a threat to wildlife, the fact is indoor cats are much safer and healthier than their free-roaming counterparts.

By Dr. Becker

The University of Georgia and the National Geographic Society conducted a study from November 2010 to October 2011 to observe the activities of 60 free-roaming house cats in an urban area of Athens, Georgia. The stated goals of the study were to assess the impact of cat predation on wildlife conservation and to improve the health and well-being of pet cats.

The results of the study might surprise many of you who share life with a cat who roams outdoors at will. The Georgia kitties, who spent 5 or 6 hours outdoors each day, killed an average of 2.1 animals each week, including birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.


The cats in the study wore small, lightweight video cameras around their necks that allowed for a "cat's eye" view without disrupting behavior. The "KittyCams" were put on the cats by their owners each morning before they were let outside for the day.

At the end of the day, off came the cameras. The cats' owners downloaded the video footage and recharged the cameras. Each cat's outdoor activities were recorded for about a week.

And it only took a week for researchers to realize that cats are good hunters.

Their findings:

  • 30 percent of the cats killed animals at an average rate of 2.1 per week, which is about 1 kill every 17 hours they are out and about
  • About 25 percent of the animals the cats killed were brought home, 30 percent were eaten, and almost half were left in the spot where they died
  • 40 percent of the prey were lizards, snakes and frogs, 25 percent were small mammals like chipmunks and voles, and 12 percent were birds

"The results were certainly surprising, if not startling," said researcher and lead study author Kerrie Anne Loyd.

Kitty Hunters and Wildlife Conservation

Extrapolating the results of the Georgia study to outdoor house cats and feral cats across the U.S., it could mean an estimated 4 billion wild animals end up as prey for Fluffy, Garfield, and their feral counterparts, according to George Fenwick, president of the American Bird Conservancy. Fenwick asserts that, "Cat predation is one of the reasons why one in three American bird species are in decline."

And from Michael Hutchins, executive director and CEO of the Wildlife Society:

"I think it will be impossible to deny the ongoing slaughter of wildlife by outdoor cats given the videotape documentation and the scientific credibility that this study brings. There is a huge environmental price that we are paying every single day that we turn our backs on our native wildlife in favor of protecting non-native predatory cats at all costs, while ignoring the inconvenient truth about the mortality they inflict."

But Alley Cat Allies, a national cat advocacy organization, disagrees. Becky Robinson, president of Alley Cat Allies says, "The American Bird Conservancy is... spreading fictions about outdoor cats and making wild 'extrapolations' about their imagined impact on other species. They've used unpublished data to fuel their extremist agenda of killing cats. But there just isn't evidence that shows cats have any negative impact on bird populations."

Researcher Loyd of the University of Georgia explained that the study was not intended to extrapolate and project figures. "We studied pet cats, not stray cats and feral cats...We did not attempt to extrapolate wildlife captures beyond our study community," Loyd told Alley Cat Allies.

Indoor Cats are Much Safer

As many of you know, I don't support allowing pet cats to run around loose outdoors. There are just too many threats to your kitty's safety, including being hit by a car, being attacked by another animal, or being exposed to a deadly disease or poison.

The best way to keep your cat safe, happy and healthy is to keep her indoors, in a stimulating environment that encourages her to express her natural feline instincts. Of course, many cats may enjoy outdoor time with you while exploring on a secure harness or in a secure outdoor enclosure like this:

Cat Enclosure

For information on the KittyCam project (including some of the videos from the study) and tips on how to enrich your cat's indoor environment, visit the KittyCams website.