Dogging the footsteps of free-roaming cats

June 1, 2016

Curious about cats' outdoor meanderings-and what they might consume along the way? This program is for you!

A look at where Ajax, a participant in the study, roamed over two five-day periods of tracking. (Photos courtesy of the Cat Tracker Project)

Ajax sports his GPS collar.If your cat-owning clients allow their cats to wander in the great outdoors and wonder what their cats do all day, recommend they enroll in the Cat Tracker program. They'll satisfy their curiosity AND contribute to scientific data gathering. (You may be interested in signing up your own cat!)

For the program, the Your Wild Life team and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences have collaborated with Movebank, an online database of animal movement data, to make a definitive effort to lift a little of the mystery surrounding free-roaming cats.

Those who sign up receive instructions for buying the correct model of GPS tracker (available for about $60) and creating a harness for their cats to attach the device to. Once the device is securely in place, the owners collect data for five-day periods and then send the data back to the Cat Tracker folk.

What are these folk researching? They are curious about cats' movements and diets as they ramble about. The latter is a big part of their focus at the moment. Researchers will request a hair sample and sample of the cat's normal food, which will undergo isotope analysis to determine how much cats are sticking to their diets at home or supplementing from the outdoors. "Our main goal here is to see how many cats are consuming native wildlife," says Brandon McDonald, an undergraduate student at North Carolina State University helping out with the project.

Roukus's tracks over a three-week period.

Roukus got gussied up for his photo.In addition, there is a Cat Personality test on the project's site that owners can take. "The test uses 52 different traits to calculate a range across five big traits aptly named the 'Feline Five'" says McDonald. After completing the survey, owners will receive an explanation of the findings for their particular feline and can see how it compares with other cats in the study. You can participate in the survey even if you don't own a cat.

"We hope to compare the data for people who participate in more than one part of Cat Tracker in order to find relationships between personality, diet and the size of cat home ranges," says McDonald. "We would expect there to be some correlations."

Get all the details of the Cat Tracker project at cats.yourwildlife.org.