Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Secret Life of Cats

If your cat is allowed outdoors, you may wonder where he goes. Not far, scientists say

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Not all cats abide by shelter-in-place orders, pandemic or no pandemic. While we prefer cats to live a safe life indoors, we know that some are incapable of being happy indoors all the time, and others live in areas where it’s common to allow them to roam. Well, before the spread of the novel coronavirus, curious scientists began studying the patterns and activities of wandering cats, and their findings were published last month in the journal Animal Conservation.

Turns out, cats mostly stick close to home. In tracking 925 pet cats from six countries, researchers discovered that the feline home range tends to be an approximately 100-yard radius around their house.

That was a surprise, says Roland Kays, Ph.D., research associate professor and director at North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. “I really thought we would see more cats moving further.”

At first, Dr. Kays and his colleagues sought cats in North Carolina, where they were located, but they ended up with a global project.

“We had no problem finding people who volunteered to let us track their cat,” Dr. Kays says. “Once we started doing that, we started hearing from colleagues around the world who wanted to do that as well. We partnered with research groups in Australia and New Zealand and the United Kingdom.” At least one cat, Aya, was from Denmark, where he was already famous for burgling gloves, socks and other clothing from neighbors as he made his rounds.

Out of all 925 cats, only three were outliers, traveling greater distances than one square kilometer, or 0.386 square miles. Max, a cat from a village in the United Kingdom, traveled back and forth between his village and a neighboring one using the road to get to his destination.

“He would hang out in one town and then he would walk a few kilometers to the other town, hang out there near a couple of houses, and then he’d walk back,” Kays says.

One cat in New Zealand had a smaller range than a wild animal but spent a lot of time out in the bush. Blue, a New Zealand farm cat, also ranged more widely than other cats in the study.

It makes sense that most pet cats, who receive regular meals at home, don’t go far. There’s no real need for them to range over a large area. Checking out their own yards seems to be enough to satisfy their curiosity.

The presence of predators such as coyotes didn’t deter roaming cats. According to the study, there was no relationship between home range size and the presence of larger native predators. And not surprisingly, intact cats were more likely to roam.

How did the cats feel about wearing a harness with a GPS unit on it? After all, cats are notorious for slipping out of their collars.

Kays and his colleagues purchased harnesses from pet supply stores and had owners put the harness on the cat to wear for a few days before the GPS unit was affixed to it. A harness worked better than a collar because it ensured that the GPS unit would face the sky instead of the ground, allowing for a better satellite fix. Once on, none of the GPS units fell off.

While this study gave researchers a good idea of where cats are going, future studies will focus more on what they are doing.

“We’re working now with a new technology that’s higher-resolution GPS and has a three-axis accelerometer, which will allow us, we hope, to measure the behavior so we can look at where the animals are and what they’re doing in more detail and hopefully be able to tell when they’re hunting, when it’s successful and when it’s unsuccessful,” Kays says.

Q&A

How to socialize

puppies now

Q: I just got a new puppy, and now we’re in quarantine. How can we socialize her if we can’t go to puppy class or take her places?

A: Congratulations on your new puppy. With a little creativity, you can set up socialization situations that allow your pup to experience different sights, sounds and surfaces. Behavior specialists Wailani Sung, DVM, and Lisa Radosta, DVM, and I have the following suggestions:

-- Your puppy can see people -- and other animals -- on walks at a distance of at least 6 feet. Look for opportunities for him to see people wearing hats or uniforms.

-- Expose your puppy to the sounds of cars or buses going by and to the sight of objects such as fire hydrants and trash cans. Let him experience different footing, such as pavement, grass and metal grates.

-- Turn on the TV. Your puppy can see many types of animals and birds on Animal Planet and the National Geographic channel.

-- When you must go out to buy pet food or to pick up groceries curbside, take your puppy along. A car ride is a good experience, and so is seeing delivery people put items into the car.

-- Ask dog-loving neighbors to carry treats with them so that if you and your pup see them on a walk, they can toss her some treats from a distance.

-- Your puppy may need veterinary care during this time, but veterinarians are practicing social distancing, too. You will need to stay in the parking lot while a vet tech takes your puppy inside for treatment. Ideally, the clinic will use Fear Free techniques and treats to make the experience enjoyable for your pup.

-- Most important, make sure these are positive experiences. Your puppy should never be scared by exposure to new things. -- Mikkel Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

See dogs in

night sky

-- Spring is a good time to see the constellation Canis Major (Latin for “big dog”) in the night sky. Sirius, the brightest star we can see, is the eye of the dog. The story behind the constellation is that a magical hound named Laelaps, destined to always catch his prey, was set to chase another magical creature, the Teumessian fox, destined to never be caught. Zeus, the sky and thunder god of the ancient Greeks, put an end to the never-ending chase by transforming both animals into stone and setting them in the night sky, where they are known as Canis Major (Laelaps) and Canis Minor (the Teumessian fox).

-- Homeless animals still need care, and shelters and foster families are stepping up to make sure they get it. You can help in many different ways: fostering a litter of kittens until they are old enough for adoption; sharing the story of an adoptable pet to help get him a new home; providing pictures or videos of your foster pet to the shelter or rescue group for use in their marketing materials; or giving a shelter pet a break with a field trip of a few hours or a weekend sleepover. Parents who need activities for their kids can find free humane education modules at teachheart.org.

-- Animal sanctuaries and shelters are closed right now, but you can make virtual visits. Find websites or social media pages and look for live feed announcements of virtual tours. Sites to check include Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), which includes videos of dogs playing and kittens being syringe-fed; Front Street Animal Shelter in Sacramento, California, with a video on best things to do during the COVID-19 lockdown (most of which involve dogs); and parrots and puppy bellies at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.