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Cats Will Eat Anything: Their Hit List Is More Than 2,000 Species Long

It’s estimated that more than 2 billion birds are eaten by cats every year, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

By Cassidy Ward
Cats Trailer

What are our cats really up to when we’re not watching? It’s a question which was answered in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s signature musical stylings in the stage musical Cats. Since the first production in 1981, Cats has brought in more than $3 billion globally and remains in production today.

A 2019 theatrical adaptation (available from Universal Pictures) brought in one of the most stacked casts of all time, with performances from James Cordon, Dame Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Rebel Wilson, Ian McKellen, and Taylor Swift. While craft services would have had to be stacked as well, it pales in comparison to the menu of actual cats. Unguarded, freely roaming cats will happily chow down on at least 2,084 animal species, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature Communications.

Our Cats Have a Body Count Numbering in the Billions

Close-up portrait of cat against black background

Cats are some of our most loyal furry friends. They’ve been living alongside us for thousands of years, and their penchant for hunting down pest animals has been hugely beneficial. Once we started figuring out agriculture and storing food, mice and other pests showed up to eat it. Cats took care of that problem for us in exchange for pets and a warm place to sleep.

RELATED: Your Cat Likely Knows When You’re Talking to Them, They Just Pretend Not to Care

Over the last 9,000 years or so, cats have followed us all over the world, settling into environmental niches which never adapted to handle them. The new study is the most comprehensive effort to investigate the environmental impact of free-ranging cats, through the lens of an invasive species.

It’s estimated that more than 2 billion birds are eaten by cats every year, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Researchers quantified the number of species eaten by cats in various ways. Some of the data was acquired by watching cats while they hunt, either in person or through the use of trail cameras. Other data was acquired through autopsies or sifting through cat droppings. Roughly 90% of the feline menu is made up of birds, mammals, and reptiles.

Most of the critters that cats chow down on have an adult body mass of less than 5 kilograms (roughly 11 pounds), approximately the same size or smaller as the cats themselves. That’s not all that surprising, but the fact that they sometimes eat much larger animals is. Researchers found evidence that some cats had scavenged large animals like cows and snacked on beloved animals like baby sea turtles. Of the more than 2,000 animal species found inside cat bellies, 347 of them are endangered or threatened.

Keeping Your Cat’s Killer Tendencies on a Leash

Cassidy Cat Getty

The typical response to invasive species with this level of environmental impact is pretty vicious. The best way to handle invasives is to prevent them from spreading, but that ship sailed eons ago.

Depending on the species involved (and how badly we feel about destroying them) humans have undertaken concerted efforts to eradicate them from an area. We’re unlikely to take that tactic with cats, they’re just too cute and lovable. But that doesn’t mean that protecting the rest of the environment from our cats is a lost cause.

RELATED: Bad Kitty! Chemical Analysis of Cat Whiskers Reveals Cats Kill Because They Can

While this paper didn’t make specific recommendations, the playbook is pretty well known. Experts recommend that cats be spayed or neutered to prevent any unplanned offspring, especially offspring which might live their lives entirely in the wild. You can also limit or eliminate your cat’s unsupervised outside time.

Lastly, seek out protein-rich foods and ramp up playtime with your cat. Not only will it add some extra fun and fur into your routine, but it will also help to ensure that your cat gets all of the nutrition and stimulation they need at home. Your cat will thank you, and so will the untold number of animals your cat didn’t unnecessarily kill.

Looking for a way to spend some quality time with your furry friend? Catch the live action adaptation of Cats, available from Universal Pictures.

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