New research and tracking experiment reveals extent of missing cat epidemic and behaviour of cats out of the house - Veterinary Practice
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New research and tracking experiment reveals extent of missing cat epidemic and behaviour of cats out of the house

Research conducted by Admiral Pet Insurance reveals that over a quarter of a million cats are currently missing in the UK

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Despite a plethora of recent reports about missing dogs, new research from Admiral Pet Insurance reveals our feline friends are also in danger of going missing.

In August, there were 264,933 missing cats listed across five of the most popular missing pet websites, with 55 percent of cat owners saying their cat has gone missing at least once, and 22 percent saying their cat has left home more than five times.

Admiral Pet Insurance is warning cat owners to keep a close eye on their pets as the days grow darker, as research across the five biggest missing pet websites reveals that 184 cats go missing every minute and three each second.

Survey data from cat owners across the country revealed the top circumstances where cats go missing. These include when owners move to a new house (11 percent), go away on holiday (10 percent), have builders in the home to renovate (9 percent) or get another pet (9 percent).

With more than half (53 percent) of Brits confessing they’d feed a cat who appeared in their garden, it’s no surprise many cats explore their surroundings for food, attention and adventures.

The good news is, 41 percent of people who reported a cat missing had them turn up again of their own accord. Meanwhile, 18 percent of owners found their missing cat near their home, 16 percent received a call from someone local who found their cat, another 16 percent reported their cat had been found trapped in a shed or outbuilding, and 13 percent said they found their cat at an old home.

To explore what cats get up to when they are away from home, Admiral Pet Insurance partnered with Tractive GPS pet tracker.

The data from the Tractive GPS collars reveals that the male cats Admiral tracked were 60 percent more active on average than their female counterparts, which is probably a factor in their making up 61 percent of the missing cats in the UK.

Research conducted by Admiral Pet Insurance reveals that over a quarter of a million cats are currently missing in the UK.

The data gathered by the insurer originates from the National Pet Register, Pets Located, Pets Reunited, Animal Search and the Blue Cross, where collectively there are 264,933 cats listed as missing.

Over 60 percent of the cats listed as missing were male, with an additional 27,000 more male cats listed as missing than females.

Of the 11,000 missing cats listed on the National Pet Register, over 7,000 were microchipped; however, the remaining 4,628 were not. In December 2021, the British government announced a new law that will require cat owners to get their cat microchipped to help reunite missing cats with their owners.   

Pritpal Powar, head of pet at Admiral Insurance comments: “It’s important to ensure your cat is microchipped as it’s a great way to help missing cats be reunited with their owners.

“Microchipping is a safe, simple procedure for animals and the microchip lasts a lifetime, but remember to update the information if you change address.”

Black cats are most commonly reported missing, with over 85,000 black cats currently at large, making up 33 percent of the total missing cat population. A quarter (25 percent) of all missing cats are white and 13 percent are brown.

In addition, 72 percent of the cats reported missing had monotone coats, for instance a fully black, white or brown cat, which could suggest cats with easily identifiable coat markers are reunited with their owners sooner, resulting in fewer listings for cats with mixed colour coats.

The National Pet Register have recorded over 11,000 cats as missing, with the vast majority (42 percent) being Domestic Short Haired. Missing cats of this breed were 240 percent more common than the next most common breed of cat reported missing, Tabby cats.

Cat expert, Lucy Hoile said: “The Domestic Short Hair is one of the UK’s most common cat breeds and are much more likely to have the opportunity to roam than some of the more uncommon breeds. It’s unusual to cross paths with a rare breed while out walking and being more noticeable makes it easier to reunite them with their owner.”

Regionally, the majority of missing cats were reported in Greater London, with just under a quarter (24 percent) of the nation’s missing cats originating from the area. Over 1,500 cats were reported missing in Greater London, over double the number of any other region in the UK.

During the cat tracking experiment, it was observed that male cats spend 60 percent more time being active per day, than their female counterparts.

On average, male cats spend five hours active per day, while female cats were only active for an average of three hours per day. In this time, they also travel further than the female cats in the experiment, who tended to explore the same areas but spend more time there.

Cat expert, Lucy Hoile comments: “Male cats are naturally more active and maintain a wider territory than females due to their innate drive to find mating opportunities. The more ground they cover, the more females they are likely to encounter.

“This is less of a concern for females as they are not always in season. Neutering removes much of the motivation to mate, however some differences in activity and territory size between males and females remain.”

This trend was observed across the male cats, with the youngest male cat logging the highest average minutes per day out of the 12 cats who took part in the experiment. Both sexes were seen to slow down with age, as is to be expected.

Due to their increased activity levels, male cats were also found to burn on average 19 percent more calories than female cats.

One of the cats in this experiment is known as a local celebrity in his neighbourhood, due to his busy social calendar visiting nearby residents. This was confirmed in his data, which tracked him burning exactly 315-330 calories per day as he went about his daily routine visiting his regular spots.

If you’re looking for a cat that will spend most the day snuggled up on the sofa with you, then a female cat might be the better choice, as they were found to sleep on average 28 percent more time than male cats.

The female cats also spent 10 percent more time awake but calm, than the male cats did in this experiment.

Lucy comments: “As males generally have a larger territory, this is going to take time to maintain (often through urine marking) and check-in with what is happening within the area.

“A larger territory also means additional sources of food and places to sleep (often in other houses) so males have more reason to head off to find these, particularly if they their find their own home stressful at times.”

When comparing rural cats with urban cats, the time they spent active per day was the same on average, which suggests they travel similar distances. However, there are additional dangers for cats living in urban areas to rural areas.

“While all cats risk going missing as a result of being trapped in sheds or garages, or getting their collar stuck on a fence or tree on their travels, the risks posed by roads is obviously far greater for cats in urban areas.

Lucy comments: “All residents in an urban area should be mindful of the cats living in the area, even if they don’t have cats themselves.

“Checking for cats before closing sheds or garages, securing water butts and ensuring fences are in good repair will all help keep cats safe.

“Rural areas are generally safe but consideration should be given to potential predators and environmental hazards in the local area.

“In both areas, keeping cats inside at night and ensuring collars are quick release can help protect them from harm.”

Cats in both areas were also found to sleep an average of 12 hours and 57 minutes per day.

Urban cats spent 14 percent more time, around 20 minutes, in a calm but awake state, than the rural cats who took part in this experiment.

Interestingly, the research revealed that urban cats burn on average 14 percent more calories than their rural counterparts, despite not going any further or sleeping any less than rural cats.

Lucy explains: “This may be due to the type of activity rural cats engage in compared to urban cats.

“The cat population in urban areas is usually significantly higher than in rural areas, leading to tension and potentially conflict between cats with overlapping territories.

“This addition of territorial behaviour, such as patrolling and fighting, may burn through more calories than those rural individuals encountering considerably fewer cats.”

The experiment revealed that older cats (aged 10 years or above) spent 10 percent less time being active than younger counterparts.

Cats over 10 years old also burned 4 percent fewer calories than younger cats in the experiment, which is to be expected. Furthermore, the senior cats in the experiment slept for 8 percent more time on average than younger cats.

As cats age, they spend more time in a calm state, not sleeping but not active either, with an average of 214 minutes per day for cats over 10 years old, which jumped dramatically from just 157 minutes spent in this state for the younger cats in the experiment.

Lucy comments: “As the cat is a prey species as well as a predator, to openly display signs of pain or discomfort makes them vulnerable. As such, any aches and pains they may be experiencing as they age are hidden and often go unnoticed by owners.

“Most cats over 10 will be experiencing some degree of osteoarthritis and will prefer to spend more time sleeping and less time exploring their territory.

“Older cats should have regular veterinary checkups to ensure they are in good health and warm, comfortable beds can help them rest happily.”

BreedNumber of cats missing
Domestic Short Hair5,133
British Short Hair846
Semi Long Hair669
Mixed Breed578
Maine Coone201
Leopard skin 10
Missing cats by breed

Colour of catNumber of cats missing
Black and white152
Grey and white65
Ginger and white57
Leopard skin10
Missing cats by colour

CountyNumber of cats missing
Great London1,640
West Midlands805
Greater Manchester560
West Yorkshire453
Missing cats by county

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