Why does my cat bring me dead mice and birds?
If you are the owner of a hunting cat, it can be an all-too-common sight to find a deceased rodent in the middle of your kitchen floor or to be greeted by your pet proudly holding a half-dead bird in their mouth. Cats fed on a complete diet will be getting everything they need for optimal nutrition from their food bowl, so why do they feel the need to hunt? Are they just natural born killers?
Figures released by the Mammal Society show that around 100 million prey animals are killed between Spring and Summer each year by cats. Despite 10,000 years of domestication, the pet cat has retained the keen hunting instincts of its wild ancestors though it no longer needs these skills for survival.
You have probably found that your cat doesn’t eat their quarry and they may not even kill it, instead letting it loose in the house. This is down to an inherited behaviour passed down through generations and, while it might disgust you, you should feel honoured!
Spayed female cats in particular are more likely to bring back grizzly offerings for their owners. This is because in the wild, a mother cat would teach her young how to eat by bringing home dead or injured prey for them to practise their hunting skills on. Domestic cats are no different but if they have no young to pass their gifts on to, they will look to the rest of their family – you!
We tend to give a bunch of flowers, bottle of wine, or box of chocolates to show someone you care but cats show their feelings through their prey. By leaving you a gory gift your cat is acting out their natural responsibility to look after their family, knowing you are probably incapable of catching your own rodents.
Don’t blame cats
Of the 100 million prey animals killed by cats it is thought around 27 million are birds, but the RSPCA says this is not instrumental in the decline in UK bird populations. Evidence shows that cats mainly take the weakest or sickest birds, rather than healthy young specimens, and they would have died anyway. It is much more likely that the decline in the population of certain bird species is due to habitat loss and the impact of farming
How to stop it
The thing about a natural instinct is that you really can’t stop it. Thousands of years after becoming well-fed pets, cats are still hunting. It’s something that is so inbuilt that some cats simply can’t resist. However, there are things that you can do to help lessen the number of dead animals that find their way into your home while still allowing your cat to behave like a cat.
The peak hunting times are during dawn and dusk when prey animals are at their most active. If you keep your cat indoors during these times, they will have less opportunity to successfully hunt. You could also consider fixing a small bell to your cat’s collar. That way, they can still hunt and engage in normal stalking behaviour but any prey will get an early warning and have a chance to flee.
Make indoors time more fun for your cat by engaging them in a variety of hunting games to satisfy their natural urges. Toys like fishing rods that dangle feathers for your cat to pounce on or interactive puzzle feeders that enable them to use their brains in a way that mimics predatory behaviour are best.
Rather than try to prevent your cat from exercising their natural instincts when it comes to hunting, you’ll have a much happier cat if you channel that urge to kill into games that satisfy their need to hunt instead.