Secret life of the cat: What do our feline companions get up to?

Ever wondered what your cat spends its time doing when you're not around? Where do our purring pets go when they disappear through the cat flap? Armed with GPS tracking devices and micro-cameras, a team from BBC Two's Horizon programme in collaboration with the Royal Veterinary College set off to a Surrey village to find out. Discover more by selecting a cat character below.

  • Introduction

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    Meet Ginger, Chip, Sooty, Orlando, Hermie, Phoebe, Deebee, Kato, Coco and Rosie. They are 10 of the 50 cats studied in the village of Shamley Green, Surrey, for Horizon's programme The Secret Life of the Cat.

    As part of one of the largest ever research projects into domestic cat behaviour, the Horizon team - aided by the Royal Veterinary College and Lincoln and Bristol Universities - tracked dozens of cats over several 24-hour periods using specially-designed collar GPS devices and tiny "cat cams".

    The result? Scientists discovered the cats appeared to timeshare territory to avoid confrontation with neighbouring felines and visit each others houses. However, the cat cam footage also revealed squabbles over territory remained. There was also an incident with a fox and with a nest of fledglings.

    Select a cat above to find out more.
  • Meet Ginger

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    Name: Ginger
    Age: Five to 10 years     Sex: Male
    Breed/colour: Ginger tomcat
    Character: Intolerant and aloof, but also active and trainable. A good hunter. Known to fight with the neighbour's cat and visits the neighbouring property
    Roaming: Roams almost 200m (more than 600ft) from home and covers an area of about 0.3 hectares (0.7 acres)
    Prey: Brings frogs, toads, birds or small mammals home most days

    Expert view: "Ginger's roaming is pretty average in terms of range or distance from home. However, on one of the days he was tracked he was more active than any of the other cats," say researchers.

    holderGinger confronts a rival: 1.21 mins
  • Meet Chip

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    Name: Chip
    Age: One to four years      Sex: Male
    Breed/colour: Short-haired black and white moggie
    Character: Active and stubborn, but also friendly, tolerant and trainable
    Roaming: Visits other houses. Roams about 160m (530ft) from home, but covers 1.2 hectares (three acres)
    Prey: Brings birds or small mammals home once or twice a week

    Expert view: "Chip lives on the edge of the village and has the third largest roaming range of our 10 cats. He stuck to travelling through back gardens and by the side of a row of houses," say researchers.

    holderChip leaps into a bird's nest and loses his GPS collar: 3.15 mins
  • Meet Sooty

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    Name: Sooty
    Age: Five to 10 years      Sex: Male
    Breed/colour: Short-haired black moggie/farm cat
    Character: Friendly, tolerant and active, but somewhat aloof and calm. Doesn't fight. Lives with sibling Socks
    Roaming: Roams 186m (600ft) from home and covers nearly three hectares (seven acres)
    Prey: Brings home small mammals a couple of times a week

    Expert view: "Sooty has the largest roaming range of our 10 cats and liked to visit some trees on farmland next to some water. His house is on the edge of the village and so he has easy access to the countryside," say researchers.

    holderSooty encounters a fox: 0.55 mins
  • Meet Orlando

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    Name: Orlando
    Age: More than 10 years      Sex: Male
    Breed/colour: Ginger moggie
    Character: Used to be feral in Hong Kong. In good weather he refuses cat food and survives by hunting wildlife. He hates the cold and sleeps on the family's range. Fights with Clawdius, another of the household's cats.
    Roaming: Roams 150m (500ft) from home but covers an area of more than two hectares (5.5 acres)
    Prey: Brings home small mammals once or twice a week

    Expert view: "Orlando appears to be a 'regular' hunter and travels into an area of open grassland and woods behind his house. He lives outside the village giving him easy access to the countryside," say researchers.

    holderOrlando is sick: 0.30 mins
  • Meet Hermie

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    Name: Hermie
    Age: One to four years      Sex: Male
    Breed/colour: Black domestic shorthair
    Character: Active and stubborn, but also friendly, tolerant and trainable. A hermaphrodite which is quite rare
    Roaming: Roams about 170m (560ft) from home, but covers a larger area than any other cat - up to 3.3 hectares (eight acres)
    Prey: Brings birds or small mammals home once or twice a week

    Expert view: "Hermie is a hermaphrodite cat. He was regularly on the move within this area and was generally a very active cat when compared to others," say researchers.

    holderHermie chases off a rival: 00.51 mins
  • Meet Phoebe

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    Name: Phoebe
    Age: Five to 10 years      Sex: Female
    Breed/colour: Tortoiseshell moggie
    Character: Active and friendly. A great hunter, especially in summer. Strays from home for days at a time. Regularly fights with neighbours' cat, Kato Roaming: Roams about 140m from home and covers more than a hectare (more than three acres)
    Prey: Brings birds or small mammals home a couple of times a week - more in summer

    Expert view: "Phoebe appears to timeshare the road between her house with neighbouring cat Kato. The owners know the two sometimes fight. When one is active and outside, the other tends to be inside," say researchers.

    holderPhoebe escapes laundry basket: 2.26 mins
  • Meet Deebee

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    Name: Deebee
    Age: More than 10 years      Sex: Male
    Breed/colour: Short-haired black tabby
    Character: Sometimes friendly, but also aloof and intolerant. Hand-reared from three days old due to his mother's death. Known to fight with other cats, including those he lives with
    Roaming:Roams 150m (500ft) from home, but covers an area of more than two hectares (5.4 acres)
    Prey: Never brings prey home

    Expert view: "Deebee is a relatively new cat to the village and appears to be scoping out where to establish a territory. He lives in a house in the centre of the village surrounded by other pet cats," say researchers.

    holderDeebee returns home: 2.27 mins
  • Meet Kato

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    Name: Kato
    Age: Five to 10 years      Sex: Male
    Breed/colour: Long-haired, fluffy black and white moggie
    Character: Tolerant, calm, friendly and trainable, but also bold and stubborn. Regularly fights with Phoebe, a tortoiseshell female
    Roaming: Roams up to 93m from home and covers about a hectare (2.7 acres)
    Prey: Brings birds or small mammals home a couple of times a week.

    Expert view: "Kato appears to timeshare territory with Phoebe, a cat who lives on the opposite side of the road. They appear to avoid being out at the same time as one another," say researchers.

    holderKato plays with string: 1.28 mins
  • Meet Coco

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    Name: Coco
    Age: One to four years      Sex: Female
    Breed/colour: Black domestic shorthair
    Character: Tolerant and calm as well as active and friendly. She loves cuddles and cosy spots. Hard to house train and fights with other cats
    Roaming: Visits other houses. Roams up to 80m (260ft) from home and covers half a hectare (1.2 acres)
    Prey: Brings birds or small mammals home a couple of times a week

    Expert view: "Coco lives with another two cats - Bramble and Phoebus - but has a fairly average roaming range. However, she was one of the more active cats studied," say researchers.

    holderCoco navigates a fence: 00.41 mins
  • Meet Rosie

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    Name: Rosie
    Age: Five to 10 years     Sex: Female
    Breed/colour: British shorthair
    Character: Friendly cat. Known to visit other houses and likes to hunt shrews. She fights with the cat next door
    Roaming: Doesn't roam far - just 40m (130ft) from home. She covers just 0.2 hectares (half an acre)
    Prey: Although she likes to hunt shrews, she never brings prey home

    Expert view: "Rosie spends a lot of time outside, but appears to have a quite a small territory. She spends nearly all of her time in her own garden, and does not venture much further," say researchers.

    holderRosie catches a moth: 1.07 mins

Notes: The 10 cats above are a selection of 50 studied in the Surrey Hills over a number of weeks. Researchers used GPS trackers to record the cats' movements over six 24-hour periods. Micro-cameras were attached to a selection of cats to film their activities. All equipment was checked by animal welfare experts to ensure it was the right size and weight for cats to wear safely. The maps of the routes of the 10 cats above are not all from the same 24-hour period or necessarily from the same day the cat cam footage was recorded. GPS tracking data was filtered to discard obvious false readings, however some smaller inaccuracies may remain. Time ticks over a 24-hour period and does not reflect the hour of the day.

With thanks to Alan Wilson of the Royal Veterinary College, Sarah Ellis of the University of Lincoln, John Bradshaw of Bristol University, and the villagers of Shamley Green

Web production: Steven Atherton, Chris Finch, Alex Ranken, Lucy Rodgers, Helene Sears, Marina Shchukina, Noah Veltman

Read more about the science and technology behind the study from Alan Wilson of the Royal Veterinary College.

Watch Horizon's Secret Life of the Cat on BBC Two on Thursday 13 June at 21:00 and afterwards on BBC iPlayer.

What's the furthest from home your cat has roamed? Send us your cat travel stories using the form below.

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