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Revisiting more or less: influence of numerosity and size on potential prey choice in the domestic cat


Quantity discrimination is of adaptive relevance in a wide range of contexts and across a wide range of species. Trained domestic cats can discriminate between different numbers of dots, and we have shown that they also spontaneously choose between different numbers and sizes of food balls. In the present study we performed two experiments with 24 adult cats to investigate spontaneous quantity discrimination in the more naturalistic context of potential predation. In Experiment 1 we presented each cat with the simultaneous choice between a different number of live prey (1 white mouse vs. 3 white mice), and in Experiment 2 with the simultaneous choice between live prey of different size (1 white mouse vs. 1 white rat). We repeated each experiment six times across 6 weeks, testing half the cats first in Experiment 1 and then in Experiment 2, and the other half in the reverse order. In Experiment 1 the cats more often chose the larger number of small prey (3 mice), and in Experiment 2, more often the small size prey (a mouse). They also showed repeatable individual differences in the choices which they made and in the performance of associated predation-like behaviours. We conclude that domestic cats spontaneously discriminate between the number and size of potential prey in a way that can be interpreted as adaptive for a lone-hunting, obligate carnivore, and show complex levels of risk–reward analysis.

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Financial support was provided by the Dirección General de Asuntos del Personal Académico, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (DGAPA, Grant number IN212416), by a grant to O. B. from the Instituto de Investigaciones Biomédicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and by a Cátedra grant to P. S. from the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología, México (CONACyT, Grant number 691). J. C. and D. G. received postgraduate fellowships from CONACyT (Grant numbers 796846 and 29246, respectively), and they thank the Posgrado en Ciencias Biológicas, UNAM for its support. We thank Carolina Rojas for excellent technical and bibliographical assistance, and cat owners (Alicia Aguilar, Adriana Carrillo, Javier Chang, Rafael Hernández, Eduardo Leyva, Josué Monroy, Guadalupe Nava, Pedro Ramón, Sonia Salum, and Lorena Vargas) for allowing us repeated access to their homes and cats.

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Correspondence to Robyn Hudson or Oxána Bánszegi.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All applicable international and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. Throughout the study, animals were kept and treated according to the Guide for the Production, Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, Mexico (Norma Oficial Mexicana NO-062-200-1999), and with approval by the Institutional Committee for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (CICUAL, permission ID 6303) of the Institute of Biomedical Research, UNAM. This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

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Chacha, J., Szenczi, P., González, D. et al. Revisiting more or less: influence of numerosity and size on potential prey choice in the domestic cat. Anim Cogn (2020).

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  • Cognition
  • Quantity discrimination
  • Spontaneous responding
  • Ecological relevance
  • Risk/reward
  • Individual differences