Context . Cats can have substantial negative impacts on native wildlife. To harness the collective conservation impact of owners keeping cats inside, advocacy campaigns need to be based on empirical evidence regarding potential drivers to change cat-owner behaviour.
Aims . We assessed the degree to which different socio-psychological factors (attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioural control), past cat owner behaviour, demographics and group membership explained intentions of zoo visitors to bring cats inside.
Methods . A self-report questionnaire was distributed to zoo visitors based on the theory of planned behaviour. Visitors rated 24 belief statements and four behavioural-intention questions on a scale of one to seven. We adopted an information-theoretic approach to make inferences about the drivers of intention to bring cats inside.
Key results . Attitude and normative beliefs were strong predictors of intention. Specifically, attitudinal beliefs focussed on the benefits to the cat of being inside or the positive impact on the owner were correlated with intention. Bringing cats inside for the benefit of native species was weakly correlated with intention. We found an interaction between normative beliefs (injunctive and descriptive) and past behaviour. For respondents who were intermittently bringing their cat inside, veterinarians were a key injunctive normative influence. In contrast, respondents who kept their cat outside exclusively rated descriptive norms as influential on their own behaviour.
Conclusions . Our results indicated a way forward for future advocacy campaigns. To increase the frequency of visitors bringing cats inside, future research should look at campaigns using veterinarians to advocate messages that emphasise the benefits to the cat of being inside or the positive impact on the owner. To target visitors who keep their cat outside exclusively, a normative campaign highlighting the actions of others bringing their cats inside at night may prove successful.
Implications . Given the impacts cats have on wildlife, conservation campaigns need to properly design communication campaigns to have the best chance at altering cat-owner behaviour. Our results can help guide this process.