How to stop your cat from killing so much wildlife

Owners played with their cats for five to 10 minutes per day in a way that mimicked a real hunt.

(CNN)Cat owners who want to stop their pets hunting wildlife as much should play with them and feed them more meat, according to a new study.

Typical methods of preventing feline hunting, which sparks conservation and welfare concerns, rely on methods that many cat owners find unacceptable, such as keeping them indoors or making them wear special collars.
But now a team of researchers from the University of Exeter, southwestern England, has found that play and diet can have a significant effect, according to a news release from the university published Thursday.
    Feeding a cat premium commercial food in which proteins came from meat saw a 36% reduction in the number of prey animals brought home, while five to 10 minutes of daily play resulted in a 25% reduction, researchers said.
    "While keeping cats indoors is the only sure-fire way to prevent hunting, some owners are worried about the welfare implications of restricting their cat's outdoor access," said Robbie McDonald, a professor in ecology at Exeter's Environment and Sustainability Institute.
    This cat, Minnie, was one of those involved in the study.
    "Our study shows that -- using entirely non-invasive, non-restrictive methods -- owners can change what the cats themselves want to do."
    During the study, owners simulated hunting, allowing cats to stalk, chase and pounce on a feather toy before giving them a toy mouse after each "hunt," researchers said.
    Meanwhile, the scientists do not know exactly why meaty food led to decreased hunting, but they do have a theory.
    "Some cat foods contain protein from plant sources such as soy, and it is possible that despite forming a 'complete diet' these foods leave some cats deficient in one or more micronutrients -- prompting them to hunt," said Martina Cecchetti, a doctoral student at Exeter who conducted the experiments, in the news release.
    Cats are known for their "unusual nutritional requirements," McDonald told CNN. "They are unusually needy for some particular nutrients, some amino acids and so on, that are best provided in meat."