There Are 5 Types of Cat Owners, Researchers Say

Which kind are you?

Domestic cat hunting for mice in the garden
Many pet owners believe cats have the right to roam. Daugirdas Tomas Racys / Getty Images

When it comes to letting their cats roam and hunt outdoors, pet owners fall into one of five categories, researchers have found. They range from "conscientious caretakers" who are concerned about cats preying on birds and other wildlife to "freedom defenders" who think cats should be able to wander wherever they please.

Due to concern that outdoor cats kill animals, conservation groups have long urged for bans on free-roaming cats. But some pet owners have often vehemently opposed the legislation.

Although estimates vary, a 2013 study in the journal Nature Communications found that cats kill between between 1.3 and 4 billion birds each year. Although many cat supporters took issue with how those numbers were calculated, no one denies that when cats are allowed to hunt, birds and other wildlife suffer.

"A fair amount of research has been done on the effects of cats roaming and hunting wildlife, but comparatively few researchers have asked cat owners their views on these complex and controversial issues," the new study's lead author, Sarah Crowley, of the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute in Cornwall, tells Treehugger. "We wanted to find out what cat owners thought about their pets’ roaming and hunting behavior, and their views on whether and how this should be managed."

For the study, University of Exeter researchers surveyed 56 cat owners in the U.K. in both rural and urban areas. They presented them with 62 statements on cat owner perspectives such as "Cats hunting doesn't bother me" and "Keeping cats indoors keeps them safe." The cat owners ranked each statement.

Researchers analyzed the survey answers and found five distinct types of cat owners. The study results were published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

5 Types of Cat Owners

Cat Looking Through Window
Some owners keep their cats indoors because they worry for their safety. Soo Hau Jun / EyeEm / Getty Images

Here are the five types and some of their key beliefs.

Concerned Protector

  • Worries about roaming cats being lost, stolen, or killed
  • Believes keeping cats indoors keeps them safe
  • Doesn't have strong feelings about hunting, but wouldn't keep a cat inside just to keep it from hunting

Freedom Defender

  • Believes cats should be able to roam wherever they want, like a wild animal
  • Thinks hunting is a normal part of cat behavior and helps control rodent population
  • Opposes any restrictions that would limit cat access to the outdoors

Tolerant Guardian

  • Believes the benefits of roaming outweigh any risks
  • Loves wildlife and believes hunting is unattractive, but thinks that is what cats do
  • Doesn't know how owners can reduce hunting behavior

Conscientious Caretaker

  • Believes cats should have outdoor access but doesn't oppose some containment
  • Hunting really bothers them and they are particularly concerned about birds
  • Believes owners have some responsibility to manage cats' hunting behavior

Laissez-faire Landlord

  • Believes it's natural for cats to go out and natural if trouble happens because of it
  • Has never really thought about the effects of cats on the wildlife population
  • Would be more inclined to manage cat's behavior if it were killing things all the time

While not as scientific as the one used in the study, the researchers created a simple quiz so cat owners could see which category best describes them.

Diverse Responses

Researchers found that the responses were quite diverse and few owners had black and white feelings about cat behavior.

"We found that even people who are concerned about cats killing wildlife believe their cats should have some outdoor access, but we also found that most owners don’t like their cats hunting, and would like to reduce the amount of wild animals their pets killed," Crowley says. "Often, however, they are not sure how to reduce hunting without keeping cats indoors (which they don’t really want to do, generally because they worry that this compromises cat welfare)."

Because Crowley and her team had done some previous research on cat ownership and attitudes, they had an inkling of what types of personalities to expect. Still, she says, they were surprised and interested by the discovery of "laissez-faire landlords."

"These are people who have a cat, but have never really thought about the risks of cats roaming, whether or not hunting is a problem, or any of the issues we asked them about," she says. "Sometimes, these are people who adopted cats that ‘just turned up’ — so they didn’t really ever intend to be cat owners!"

Cats Outside the U.K.

Because the study was done only in the U.K., the responses might shift in locations where people have different attitudes toward outdoor cats and letting them roam.

"While we would expect the ‘five types’ to be largely similar in other countries, we might expect differences in the relative popularity of each," Crowley says. "For example, in the USA we know that people are more likely to keep their cats indoors than in the U.K., so there may be more ‘concerned protectors’ there, and in Australia more people might be concerned about impacts on native wildlife, so there might be a higher number of ‘conscientious caretakers’ there."

(Research suggests that feral cats in Australia kill as many as seven animals per day per cat in Australia.)

The new study shows the different views that cat owners have, but it doesn't detail which views are more common. The team hopes to continue research to find out more. And they hope this study can assist other scientists.

"This is a challenging issue and we hope that research likes this helps researchers working in ecology and conservation to better understand the views of the people who are best placed to help reduce the amount of wildlife killed by domestic cats: cat owners," Crowley says.

"We now have a better understanding of British cat owners, at least, which helps us to know what their priorities are and what we need to do to help them reduce hunting by cats. We found, for example, that many cat owners are keen to reduce the amount their cats hunt but aren’t sure how to, which suggests clearer guidance on different methods would be valuable."