'Kitty Cam' Reveals The Secret Life Of Roaming Cats

Researchers at the University of Georgia, working with the National Geographic Society, are revealing the hidden lives of cats. Small video cameras on the necks of dozens of domestic cats show surprising hunting habits, and cats cheating on their owners. Melissa Block talks with wildlife ecologist Kerrie Anne Loyd.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Now, a rare view into the secret lives of cats. Researchers at the University of Georgia took critter cams, tiny cameras developed by National Geographic, and put them on the collars of 55 cats in Athens, Georgia. They gathered thousands of hours of tape as the cats roamed their suburban neighborhoods. Here, a cat hiding under a car growls to scare off a dog.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAT GROWLING)

BLOCK: Wildlife ecologist Kerrie Anne Loyd led the research. She was surprised that only 44 percent of the cats exhibited hunting behavior and even fewer, 30 percent, successfully captured animals. Another surprise, Loyd says, is what those cats were hunting.

KERRIE ANNE LOYD: Well, in Athens, Georgia, we found that they were capturing quite a few reptiles, so small lizards, small snakes, and that may be due just to the availability of these animals there. The prey may be very different in different geographic areas.

BLOCK: And apart from the reptiles, what else?

LOYD: Small mammals, woodland voles - that's a small mammal that runs around in the leaf litter in suburban areas - chipmunks, we had a squirrel, then invertebrates, so earthworms, moths, dragonflies even, and then birds were the minority of the prey.

BLOCK: A minority. It's interesting 'cause I saw one video where a cat is clearly watching a bird feeder very intently for a long time. You didn't find that many bird kills?

LOYD: Right. We - actually, we had a lot of cats - well, 10 of our cats regularly sat under bird feeders stalking birds, but they didn't capture any. So in a way, that's good. However, those cats could have a negative effect on the behavior of those birds. You know, think about this extra predator in the ecosystem just sitting under the bird feeder.

BLOCK: Well, if 44 percent of the cats were stalking or hunting, what were the other 56 percent of those cats doing?

(LAUGHTER)

LOYD: Many of them did a lot of lounging, just sitting on the porch, waiting for their owners to come home. There were quite a few that did a lot of exploring of the neighborhoods. We were also interested in the risk behaviors that cats were experiencing while they were out roaming. So, again, these are our pet cats that go outside for some period of time every day, and we were interested in how often they may interact with other cats. They're crossing roads, which could pose a health risk. They go down in the storm drains quite a bit.

BLOCK: I think one of the more interesting things you discovered was that some of these cats had a secret life that their owners didn't know about. They had another family that they'd adopted.

LOYD: Right. It's pretty hilarious. Cats are fascinating animals, I'm telling you. And both myself and the cat owners were pretty shocked to see their cat going into a whole another household and being pet by another family, eating there, basically cheating on their original owners.

BLOCK: In terms of lessons for owners, for cat owners, what is - what conclusions do you draw after looking at all of this, this cat footage?

LOYD: For those folks that know that their cats do hunt, we suggested supervising the cat's time outdoors, keeping them indoors more often in the warmer season, since we found that more cats were exhibiting more hunting behaviors in warmer season. And then there is something called a cat bib, which can be purchased online for about 10 bucks, which is - it looks like a baby bib, but it's a heavier type material.

BLOCK: How does that bib work? What does it do?

LOYD: It's just something you hang around the neck, and because of the weight of it and the length of it, it's what they call a pounce protector. So it can prevent them from being able to pounce on prey in a natural manner.

BLOCK: Well, Kerrie Anne Loyd, thanks for talking to us about your research. Appreciate it.

LOYD: Thank you so much, Melissa.

BLOCK: Kerrie Anne Loyd now teaches ecology at Arizona State University.

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