Frequently Asked Questions

General

For the first few weeks of our project, all you have to do is:

  • Submit a form every time your cat brings back a prey item. The form can be found here.
  • Send us a weekly update: we will send you an email every Friday reminding you to do this, and include a link to the relevant form. If you missed one, you can access previous update forms from the menu on the right.

In mid-April, we will contact you to let you know which research group you have been assigned to and whether we would like to fit a GPS collar to your cat.

From start to finish, this study runs from 21st March to 21st June 2019 – throughout the spring! While not all participants will need to take part for the entire duration, most should expect to submit prey records for 10 weeks, and apply our ‘interventions’ for 4-5 weeks (in May-June).

Your participant ID is a number between 1 and 500. It should have been emailed to you at the beginning of the study, and we will include it in your weekly update emails as a reminder. If you can’t find it, email us.

You will have the chance to tell us about any periods you’re away from home by filling in your weekly update. If you are away and someone is looking after your cat(s), you can ask them to keep a note of any prey items brought in while you’re away; you can then update us on your return.

If your cats are in a cattery during the study period or no one is able to record while you’re away, just let us know via the update form, or let us know by email.

We will be fitting GPS collars to around 120 cats as part of this study. Cats will be selected for tracking based on a number of factors including which intervention group they are in, where they live, whether they are used to wearing a collar, and whether their owner signed up for tracking at the beginning of the study! You will have been contacted by email if your cats have been selected for GPS tracking.

All participants of the tracking group will also be members of our other research groups; around 20-25 cats in each intervention group and the core research group will be tracked. We are tracking some cats to identify whether the interventions we are trialling affect the amount of time they spend outdoors and the distance they roam.

Cats will only be tracked for two weeks during the study period; one week before we start our intervention trials, and one week afterwards. This is long enough for us to determine where and how much cats roam, and prevents cats having to wear the collars for too long.

Although we know that lots of people are keen to find out where their cats go, we only have a limited number of GPS units, so not everyone can be involved in this part of the study.

We need to know if you have a multi-cat household both to help us decide which research group to place you in, and when we carry out our analyses after the study. This is why we collect details about all your cats regardless of whether or not they hunt. We can exclude any indoor cats and non-hunting cats from our analyses later on.

Don’t worry! We know that your cat’s hunting rate isn’t something you can accurately predict. You’re welcome keep taking part the study if your cat isn’t hunting, because they may start later in the spring. You don’t need to submit prey records that say your cat hasn’t brought anything back, but please do let us know on your weekly update that you’ve been keeping an eye out!

Participants whose cats haven’t returned any prey in the first few weeks of the study are more likely to be in our core research group than our intervention trials, because we are focusing on active hunters in this study, but please be assured that your records and weekly updates are still a vital part of the study.

As well as recording the prey items brought home by your cat(s), we need all out participants to submit a week update form, which is very quick to fill out! We will send you a link to a new form every Friday – if you missed one, links to previous forms can be found on the Cat Project Hub.

You should fill in this form every week regardless of whether or not your cat has brought home prey. If your cat hasn’t brought anything back that week, the form will let us know that you’ve still been keeping an eye out and haven’t dropped out of the study.

We also use the form to keep track of when you have been away, so unable to record prey. This matters because your cat’s hunting rate depends on the amount of days you’ve been ‘keeping an eye out’. For example, if you’ve been at home for seven days and your cat has brought home seven things, this is a hunting rate of one item per day. But if you were away for two days and your cat still brought in seven things (in the five days you were at home), that’s an even higher hunting rate! We don’t know how frequently cats are hunting unless we also know the ‘recording effort’; that is, roughly how many days you were able to record.

This is also why it’s important that you tell us if your cats have been in a cattery at any point during the study, so we know to exclude this time from their records.

Weather can play a role in how active your cats are and how much time they spend outdoors, as well as affecting wildlife activity. Several participants have asked whether we are taking this into account in our study.

The answer is yes, we will take this into account – indeed, we found weather was an important factor in our pilot (test) study. Fortunately, however, we don’t need you to submit this information for us! We know the rough location of each cat based on your postcode, and weather records are readily available for us to collect and use in our analyses once the study is complete.

Recording Prey

All you have to do is fill in our simple form at www.wildlifescience.org/recordprey/.

You will be asked a series of questions about the prey. If possible, we’d like you to upload a photo as well – this helps us to check the species of animal returned. You can upload photos straight from tablets or smartphones, too.

Participants in the TR and PL postcodes who offered to store prey items have now been asked to do so. Full instructions can be found in the email we sent out relating to this in March 2019. Here’s a summary:

  • Use gloves or a plastic bag to pick up any dead prey items. You don’t need to collect and store small amounts of prey remains such as innards.
  • Seal the prey in a clear plastic bag and label it with your participant ID, the date, and the name of the cat.
  • Freeze it! We recommend keeping a ‘bag of bags’ to keep the stored prey doubly separate from other items in your freezer.
  • Let us know how many prey items you have stored in your weekly update. We will arrange to collect prey at intervals throughout the study; if you’re getting quite a collection and would like to request a pick-up, let us know.

Yes please! While we might not be able to identify the species, we can often tell even from very few remains whether your cat has brought in a mammal or a bird, for example.

However, if you’ve been asked to store prey items for us, you don’t need to store small amounts of remains.

You can write ‘unknown’ in the box asking you for the cat’s name.

The ‘time’ box on our prey recording form isn’t a required field, so you can leave it blank if you’re not sure.

Yes please! There is a check box on the form that allows you to tell us if something was alive or dead when it was brought in.

When prompted, choose ‘bird’ and then select ‘something else’. You can upload a photo of the egg if you have one, and/or write ‘bird’s egg’ in the comments box.

Yes – if you’ve seen your cat with a prey item that it hasn’t brought in, wherever it is, record it! If the circumstances are interesting you can tell us about this in the comments box.

However, we don’t recommend recording items that you’ve found in the garden but aren’t sure your cat caught (e.g. a dead mouse or some feathers), as these might have died from other causes – or been killed by someone else’s cat!

Research Groups

The five interventions we are trialling in this study are:

  • Fitting a collar with a bell
  • Fitting a collar with a colourful ‘BirdsBeSafe’ attachment
  • Changing cat food
  • Changing the way cats are fed (using a puzzle feeder)
  • Additional, dedicated playtime with cats

There will also be a ‘core research group’ who make no changes to their cats’ routines, but are a vital part of the study: they are the baseline against which we test all the other groups. Our core research group will receive a small gift from us at the end of the study and will also have the chance to win a prize!

We will select participants based on their active contribution to the study (i.e. regularly submitting weekly updates and prey records) and the information provided on sign-up about which treatments they’d be interested in trialling.

We will also take cat factors into account; for example, we won’t change the diet of a diabetic cat.

While we will do our best to match you to an appropriate research group, we can’t guarantee participation in any one group. We are also unable to change someone’s group excepting in special circumstances. If you have been assigned to a research group but are no longer able to take part, please let us know, as we have a reserve list for our intervention trials.

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