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Roaming pet cats Felis catus are a significant conservation issue because they may hunt, harass and compete with wildlife; spread disease, interbreed with cats in feral populations, and hybridise with wild native felids. Studies of the roaming behaviour of pet cats are often hampered by modest sample sizes and variability between cats, limiting statistical significance of the findings and their usefulness in recommending measures to discourage roaming. We resolved these difficulties through meta-analyses of 25 studies from 10 countries involving 469 pet cats to assess the influence of sex, whether a cat was desexed and housing density on roaming. A complementary linear mixed models approach used data on 311 individual animals from 22 studies and was also able to assess the influence of age and husbandry practices on roaming. This restricted sample gave greater statistical power than the meta-analyses. Meta-analyses found that: male pet cats had larger home ranges than females, desexing did not influence home range, and cats had larger home ranges when housing densities were low. The linear mixed models supported those results. They also indicated that animals ≥ 8 years old had smaller home ranges than younger cats. Cats fed regularly, provided with veterinary care and socialised with humans had similar home ranges to cats living in association with households but not provided for in some of these ways. Short of confinement, there is no simple measure owners can adopt to reduce roaming by their cats and prevent the associated environmental problems.
Many previous studies found that the mean home ranges of male pet cats were larger than those for females, but this was not statistically significant (Kays and DeWan, 2004; Lilith et al., 2008; Morgan, 2002; Thomas et al., 2014). However, combining the evidence from all known studies showed that male cats do have statistically larger home ranges than females, using both meta-analysis and linear mixed models. Liberg et al. (2000) suggested that in entire cats, male home ranges are determined by the availability of females and female home ranges are clustered around food sources. This led to the conclusion that desexing female cats is unlikely to have an effect on home range but that desexing male cats should decrease their home range, because they should become more interested in food than females (Barratt, 1997). We found no evidence to support this hypothesis from the meta-analysis or the mixed-effects model. Guttilla and Stapp (2010) also found that desexing had no impact on the movements of feral cats, so this conclusion is equally applicable to pet and farm cats. It also has implications for the management of cat colonies by trap-neuter-release (TNR) (Longcore et al., 2009), because it is unlikely to reduce roaming by cats desexed and released. However, an unknown factor in the analyses is the age at which each cat was desexed. It is possible that if a cat is desexed as an adult once its home range has been established, desexing does not change its home range. This is suggested by Bradshaw (1992), citing data from Chipman (1990), who found that a male cat that had been desexed at age four had a similar home range to entire male cats. This was opposed to the other male cats (presumably desexed as kittens), which had similar home ranges to females, which were smaller than those of entire male cats. It is possible that if a cat is desexed before it is sexually mature and its home range has not been fully established, desexing may reduce home range.