how to keep track of your outdoor cat

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Cat outdoors in field | How to track your outdoor cat
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on May 05 2015


As a veterinarian, I know my cats are safest indoors. Indoor cats live significantly longer than outdoor cats, who often fall victim to predators, cars and illness. Outdoor cats are also responsible for the death of 1 to 4 BILLION songbirds, which is another issue altogether.

But I also recognize that some cats are not happy inside. And an unhappy cat can be a destructive cat. From anxieties to physical destruction and inappropriate urination, unhappy cats can make your life miserable. Sometimes cats are just happier with outdoor time! So, if you have an outdoor cat, I understand. (But for Pete’s sake, make sure your outdoor cat has a microchip!)

A pretty amazing project is happening right now, thanks to a collaboration between the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science, Your Wild Life (a group of scientists and citizens dedicated to exploring wildlife in their own backyards) and Movebank (an online database of animal movement data). The project, called Cat Tracker, aims to open your eyes to the private life of your outdoor cat.

Some cats are, in the words of T.S. Eliot, “always on the wrong side of every door,” asking to be let in as soon as they are let out. Others spend their outdoor time roaming the country side, getting back to their primitive roots. The folks at Cat Tracker want to know how your cat spends his outdoor time.

If you live near the folks conducting the study (Raleigh-Durham, NC, Long Island and Westchester County, NY or Fairfield County, CT), you can obtain a GPS tracker from them.

Once your cat is safely fitted with a GPS, your only job is to let him do his own thing for five days. Then you can download your data, see a map of where your cat has been roaming, and share the data with the project coordinators. Voila! You now know the secret life of your cat.

Data from the first 100 participants has shown that most cats stay pretty close to home, wandering within a 12 acre plot around their home base. But 5% of cats traveled more than this — one brave cat called 110 acres his home territory! You can see maps from many participants on the website to get an idea of the scope of the project.

I am so excited about this project, simply because I think it’s fascinating to see how domestic animals spend their time without us. If you wonder about your outdoor cat’s whereabouts, this is the project for you. If you pursue it, please let us know! We’d love to know where your cat has been, too!