About the Project

We want to resolve some of the wild mysteries of house cats, ancient mysteries of the animal with which millions of Americans share their beds, couches and nearly everything else.

Movement

We want to know how cats decide where to go. When given a choice of landscapes, what will they do? We want to know how variable that behavior is, and on what it depends. Does it matter if you have a fat cat or a skinny cat? Is a tropical cat different in its meanderings than a subarctic one?

We know surprisingly little about pet cat movements. One study of 11 cats in suburban Albany, NY, found that most cats stick close to home, hanging out in their own or their neighbor’s yard (not even venturing into a nearby nature preserve). This study also revealed that there’s variability in cat movement, with one animal, appropriately named Orion, exploring a large area that included many yards in a neighborhood (over 3 acres!). Note, however, that this study only tracked 11 cats. With your help, we will dramatically expand the number of cats tracked (using GPS collars) to document the individual variability of movement patterns and to try to figure out why some animals travel far while others do not.

Diet

We want to know more about whether outdoor cats are eating just the food their owners (or neighbors) give them or if they are snacking on native wildlife. Recent research estimates that free-ranging domestic cats (including un-owned and owned cats) in the US kill 1-4 billion birds and 6-22 billion mammals each year. These staggering numbers suggest free-ranging cats may be a major predator with huge conservation consequences for native species.

In order to learn what pet cats are eating, we will collect cat hair and food samples from participants for isotopic analysis. This analysis involves analyzing the carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios of your cat’s hair and their typical food. Differences in the isotopic signatures of the hair and food will provide important clues about whether your cat is staying faithful to his food bowl or snacking on something else, including wildlife. You can find more information about this project in “Diet Study Protocols.”

Personality

We want to know why cats behave the way they do. A few researchers in the US and the UK developed a personality questionnaire for cats using information on personality in a variety of different species. The survey uses 52 different characteristics to determine the personality of the cat is taken for. It was initially used on cats in shelters and captive wildcats. We’ve adopted the survey and are hoping to use the information we obtain to gain a better understanding on personality in cats on the whole.

With help from our colleagues at Discovery Circle in Australia we know that there are 5 overarching traits in feline personality, aptly named the “Feline Five”. They consist of Skittishness, Outgoingness, Spontaneity, Dominance and Friendliness. The results are calculated on a scale, showing how much your cat exhibits characteristics in each of the Feline Five traits. You can take the survey here, or see some additional information on the “Personality” page.