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Cat Watch 2014: The 21st Century house cat

Cats are at a crucial point in their evolutionary journey as they transform from solitary hunters to domestic pets, a study by the BBC and the Royal Veterinary College has revealed.

Our felines are adapting quickly to life in densely-packed cities, changing their behaviour to fit in with our 21st Century lives. They are time-sharing territory with other cats, killing less prey and learning to communicate with each other and people, research for BBC Two's Cat Watch 2014 found.

In the last of a three-part series, we look at how our cats are adapting to a domestic life by our sides.

There are about 10 million cats living in Britain, and for a species not designed for cohabitation, living in such close proximity to other felines can be a challenge.

This is particularly true in our towns and cities. In the Hanover area of Brighton, 50 cats are sharing one street of terraced houses and gardens.

Research by the BBC and the Royal Veterinary College has revealed that, in order to survive, these urban cats have developed ways of coping, such as avoiding confrontations by time-sharing territories and space, seeking refuge in other people's homes and finding new ways of communicating with their owners.

In one particular Brighton house occupied by four unrelated cats, each has worked out its own way of living alongside the others.

Buster regularly disappears to another house to sleep, while housemates Miss Piggy, Pookie and Jasper have negotiated their favourite places around the house - often timesharing.

However, cats remain solitary animals and battles remain. Footage shows Buster and Jasper clashing over territory on their owners' bed and Miss Piggy and Pookie competing for access to the stairs.

How four cats share their home

INTERACTIVE
  • Where the cats spend their time

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  • Buster and Jasper clash in the bedroom

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  • Miss Piggy blocks the stairs

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Note: data represents the number of times each cat was detected by infrared trackers in locations around the house. Source: Pathfindr.co.uk

As well as developing techniques for sharing territory, domestic cats have also learned new ways of communicating with their owners.

While kittens meow to get attention and care from their mothers, adult cats actually stop making these sounds once they are weaned because they are no longer effective, explains Dr John Bradshaw of the University of Bristol.

Cats, when among other cats, primarily communicate through body language, he says.

"That's a problem when cats come into a human household because we don't watch them in the way that cats watch each other. So each cat learns that by meowing they can get our attention."

Cats 'meow' at their owners

Watch the first episode of Cat Watch 2014: The New Horizon Experiment on Tuesday 7 October on BBC Two at 8pm or afterwards on the BBC iPlayer. Subsequent episodes will be shown on Wednesday 8 and Thursday 9 October.

For further information, you can download a free interactive ebook Guide to Your Cat featuring analysis, advice and case studies from the series.

You can also try out three interactive videos, featuring footage of newborn kittens, a cat on a hunting expedition and city cats competing for territory.

The Mammal Society is mapping the distribution and density of cat populations across the UK. To take part in the survey, visit the Mammal Society website and fill in the online form.

With thanks to Professor Alan Wilson of the Royal Veterinary College, Dr John Bradshaw and Dr Rachel Casey of the University of Bristol, Dr Sarah Ellis of the University of Lincoln, the residents of Hanover Street, Brighton, the villagers of Rottingdean, Sussex and farmer David Hicks.

Written and produced by Lucy Rodgers. Design by Laura Cantadori. Development by Christopher Ashton and Nzar Tofiq.

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