Below is a summary of the results of the Cat Tracker report for South Australia. However, if you would like to read the report in full, please click here (6MB PDF file).
Domestic cats are one of the most popular pets worldwide and they play an important and much-cherished role in the lives of many South Australians. Cats provide great enjoyment, companionship and a connection to the natural world. The Cat Tracker project has explored the movement and management of domestic cats in South Australia.
We used a citizen science approach, getting people involved in research, to study pet cats in South Australia. Using this approach we were able to track many cats and gather a large sample of survey data from cat owners and non-owners. For analysis we had a total of 3,192 surveys, including data about 4,314 cats (there are more cats than people because some people owned more than one cat). Below we summarise the key findings from each of our results sections in our report.
What did we find?
Meet the cats
Regarding the cats owned by survey respondents, there were similar numbers of male and female cats, most were moggie cats, and the median cat age was 5 years-old. Most cats were outdoor cats, with many reported to be kept inside at night. There was a great diversity in cat names, with 2,477 unique cat names. Some of the more memorable ones were Chief Leonardo De Cattrio, Vegemite and Fanta Pants. However, Charlie, Max and Harry were the most popular male cat names and Bella, Lucy, and Missy were the most popular names for female cats. Some additional cat statistics:
- Most cats were obtained from a shelter, a friend, a family member or a neighbour.
- Most survey respondents reported that their cats caught prey.
- Cat owners reported that their cat’s hunting was not a problem (34%), that it was a problem (28%), or that their cat did not hunt (26%).
- Cat owners provide a range of resources for their cats, including water, food, shelter, handling and companionship.
- Nearly all of the cat owners reported that their cats were neutered and approximately three-quarters of cat owners reported that they provided regular health treatments for their cats.
We found a set of five major personality factors for pet cats: the Feline Five. The five factors we found were: skittishness, outgoingness, dominance, spontaneity and friendliness. We provided cat owners with reports about their cats’ personalities – information that may help them make decisions about cat management (e.g. skittish cats may benefit from having hiding spots). We also compared the personalities of indoor and outdoor cats and found them to be very similar.
Attachment to cats
We found a set of four attachment factors for the owners of pet cats. The four factors we found were: general attachment, emotional attachment, belief in animal rights and social attachment. Generally, female cat-owners had higher levels of attachment to their pet cats, and levels of attachment were higher for cats that spent more time with their owners or more time inside. We found that, for some of the attachment factors, cat owners had higher levels of attachment to purebred and younger cats. We also found relationships between Feline Five (cat personality) scores and cat attachment scores, with higher levels of attachment typical for friendly and outgoing cats, and lower for skittish cats.
Data from 428 cats were included in our analyses, including 61,250 location data points. These cats were tracked for at least five days. The home-ranges of the cats ranged from 0.07 to 31.13 hectares, and the median home-range was 1.04 hectares, approximately half of the playing surface at the Adelaide Oval, or eight Olympic-sized swimming pools. Key findings of our statistical testing include that home-ranges were typically larger for male cats (compared to females) and there was no significant difference between purebred and moggie cats. We found that entire cats typically had larger home-ranges than neutered cats, but our sample of entire cats was too small for this finding to be considered robust (more research on this matter is needed).
We compared sedentary cats and wandering cats. Wanderers are cats with home-ranges greater than one hectare, while sedentary cats are those with home-ranges of one hectare or less. Wandering cats typically crossed more roads per day, showed signs of being in fights with other cats more often, were seen with prey more often, and spent less time inside. Wandering cats were also typically younger and had less provided for them by their owners (e.g. toys and scratching posts). Regarding time spent with their owners, we found no significant difference between wanderers and sedentary cats.
We were interested in the differences between cat home-ranges during the day and at night. We found night-time home-ranges were significantly larger than day-time home-ranges, with 88% of the cats (374 cats) having larger home-ranges at night. We had tracked 177 cats that had been classified by their owners as being kept inside at night. When we then checked the night-time home-ranges of these cats and found that many of them (39%) had night-time home-ranges over one hectare, large enough to classify the cats as wanderers.
See below for an example of cat’s home ranges. The home-ranges of six cats tracked around Walkley Heights and Ingle Farm (within the City of Salisbury). On our website you can see the tracks of over 400 cats that we tracked (click here).
Meet the people
Survey respondents were mostly female, from a wide range of ages and levels of education. Most people who completed the Cat Tracker survey were cat owners, who owned a median of one cat per household. Cat owners reported significantly more positive general opinions of pet cats than non-owners.
Regarding cat laws, most respondents were unsure or did not know cat laws in their area. For respondents who reported that they thought they knew local cat laws, we compared their account of the cat laws with actual cat laws in their local government area. We found a very limited knowledge of cat laws. We also asked about satisfaction with cat laws and found that cat owners had significantly higher satisfaction with cat laws than non-owners.
There was agreement between most cat owners and non-owners on these matters:
- It is important to contain cats at night;
- They would support a night-time curfew on cats;
- It should be mandatory to de-sex cats (with some exceptions for registered cat breeders);
- It should be mandatory to micro-chip cats; and
- There should be a limit to the number of cats per household.
However, there was not agreement on all matters:
- Most non-owners thought it was important to contain cats during the day, a view held by only around one-fifth of the cat owners;
- Regarding an actual limit to the number of cats per residence, the median responses were three cats per residence for cat owners and two cats per residence for non-owners; and
- While half of the respondents to the survey responded positively to mandatory cat registration, statistical tests revealed that more cat owners were unsure or negative than expected, and more non-owners were positive about cat registration than expected.
Most survey respondents reported that they have cats that roam in their neighbourhoods. Many (40%) of the respondents who reported having roaming cats in their neighbourhoods thought that these cats were a nuisance. The major concern respondents had with roaming cats was the impact on their own pets (e.g. fighting with them or scaring them). Other concerns were that roaming cats spray/defecate and fight with other cats. However, only 26% of respondents had taken some action regarding the roaming cats. The two most common actions reported were scaring the cat or talking to the owner of the cat. More non-owners reported that roaming cats were a nuisance and took action about them than expected, while more cat owners reported that roaming cats were not a nuisance and took no action than would be expected.
Semi-owned cats are cats that are intentionally provided with food, medical treatment or shelter, but are not considered to be owned by anyone. There were 234 people who reported that they provided some care for semi-owned cats. Most provided care for just one semi-owned cat, but some people reported that they care for multiple cats. Food and water were the most common provisions reported, and very few people also provided vet care and health treatments (e.g. worm or flea control). Most of these people (71%) would consider taking care of the semi-owned cats that visit them. The most common barriers to taking ownership of semi-owned cats were having other pets (including cats), concerns about correct ownership of the cats, and the nature of the cat (e.g. how tame the cat was).
A final thank you
The Cat Tracker project has allowed us to learn and share a great deal of information about pet cats in South Australia. We now better understand the cat-owner attachment to cats and the personalities of the cats. We know more about the home-ranges of pet cats, including the differences between sedentary and wandering cats, and the clandestine activities of some cats at night. We also know more about community views on cat management. We thank all of the people who have contributed to our work, and particularly the members of the South Australian community who contributed their time, completing surveys and tracking their cats during 2015 and 2016. We hope that this information will inform cat owners and help them to make decisions about the care, welfare and management of their cats.
Further information and involvement
- National project: we hope to run a National Cat Tracker project soon. Interested? Find out more (click here)
- Full report: to see the report please click here (6MB PDF file – it may take a little while to download)
- Media release: read our media release about these results (click here)
- More Discovery Circle projects: get involved! See other Discovery Circle projects on our homepage and sign up for our eNewsletter
The Cat Tracker project was supported by:
- Dog and Cat Management Board
- City of Mitcham
- City of Salisbury
- City of Marion
- Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management Board
- Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources