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Why You Should Never Let Your Cat Hunt

Apr 14, 2017 · Updated Jul 4, 2017 · ·
  1. Anne
    Why You Should Never Let Your Cat Hunt
    Our cats are amazing hunters, yet hunting and consuming live prey can be dangerous for them as well as harmful to the environment. Here's why you should prevent your cat from killing and consuming prey and how to do so without compromising Kitty's quality of life.

    "You can take the cat out of the jungle, but you can't take the jungle out of the cat"

    Our cats are so amazingly adorable, it can be easy to forget that they are also superb killing machines. Yup, your sweet purring little ball of fur is also a fierce predator that can hunt and kill small mammals, reptiles and birds. Felines are such skilled hunters, they have evolved to become obligate carnivores, relying solely on prey as a source of food.

    Cats have sharp teeth and claws and a super-agile body to match. They can run, jump and climb trees, as well as dig into holes or quietly stalk prey. Kittens hone their hunting skills during playtime, improving their balance, accuracy and speed. Later on, the mother cat will bring injured critters back to the nest, teaching the young kittens how to deal with a mouse, bird or lizard.

    Not all cats become great hunters. A cat's tendency to hunt and level of success are affected by a combination of innate skills and the training received from the mother cat. Naturally, cats that go outside and have access to prey are more likely to practice hunting while indoors-only cats may only be able to chase the occasional moth that enters their home.

    At this point, you may be asking yourself: If hunting is such a natural thing for a cat, why prevent Kitty from going after a mouse or bird in the backyard?

    Why hunting is bad for your cat

    Hunting and consuming live prey can be dangerous for your cat in many ways -

    1. Worms

    Rodents often carry parasitic worms and can pass them along to their predators. As your cat ingests the body of a rat or a mouse, he or she also takes in eggs and oocysts which will later hatch and infest the intestines.

    2. Fleas

    While cats can contract fleas from any surface, they're more likely to come in close contact with fleas while hunting for small mammals.

    3. Toxoplasmosis

    Toxoplasma Gondii is a parasitic single-cell organism which infects mammals, especially rodents. Cats can become infected by consuming raw meat, including that of live prey. Read more about Toxoplasmosis and cats here.

    4. Secondary poisoning

    Rat poison is very dangerous to cats. The poison doesn't kill the rat instantly and in fact makes it an easy target for predators while it takes effect. A cat that hunts and consumes a poisoned rat will likely suffer the lethal consequences of the toxic substances in the rat's body.

    5. Infectious diseases

    While hunting, cats come into close contact with small animals and their secretions, which puts them at risk for contracting certain diseases. Tularemia (Rabbit Fever), Plague and Leptospirosis can all infect a cat that way. Not only are they very dangerous to the cat, they can also infect the cat's owner.

    6. Injuries caused by prey

    People often wonder why cats seem to "play" with their prey, batting it around for a very long while before making the actual kill. This seemingly cruel behavior is fully justified from the cat's point of view: Small animals can bite back, so it's safer to numb them through repeated batting before bringing your face close to them. That tactic doesn't always work though. Snakes and rats can deliver a nasty bite before succumbing to their predator.

    7. Accidents

    Cats that hunt are allowed to wander outside unsupervised. That's a risky lifestyle for any pet. Your cat could get hit by a car or hurt by vicious people. There are also dogs, coyotes, raptors and other animals that can easily turn a cat from predator to prey.

    While these dangers may be unavoidable for cats who need to survive on their own, you can protect your pet cat from them by preventing hunting.

    Why hunting is bad for the environment

    Generally speaking, pet cats are not part of the local ecological niche around us. Depending on where you live, they may be "overqualified" as a predator and can thus have a devastating effect on local wildlife.

    While it could be argued that in some places cats replace natural predators pushed away by human habitation - such as weasels - the fact is, most critters are unable to deal with a predator that's not only very effective, but also enjoys "backup" food and shelter at home. The unfair advantage that our cats have means they can cause far more damage to the delicate fabric of wildlife around us than any natural predator can.

    Cats don't have to be hungry in order to hunt wildlife. A well-fed cat may still hunt, following primordial instinct, killing prey animals to either partially consume or leave whole.

    How to prevent a cat from hunting

    The only way to prevent your cat from hunting is by keeping him or her indoors. You cannot teach your cat not to hunt because hunting is an innate instinct in felines.

    Some people add a bell to Kitty's collar in the hope that it would alert potential prey to the cat's presence and prevent an actual capture. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the UK conducted a study that put the theory to the test, with mixed results -
    Birds seem to have a better chance of escaping cats if the cat is wearing a special colorful bib-like collar such as BirdsBeSafe. Studies showed a decline of up to 87% in bird predation by cats wearing these flashy bibs. However, the number of rodents and lizards kills remained the same.

    Another tactic applied by cat owners is to keep the cat indoors during dusk,dawn and night time, when many small animals are more active.

    These methods help reduce the negative effect on local wildlife, though they don't eliminate it. However, the cats are still at risk for injury, disease and parasites.

    All in all, the only way to actually prevent your cat from hunting is by keeping him or her indoors and keeping rodents and other critters out.

    How to provide the benefits of hunting without the risks

    Keeping our cats indoors only means they're safer and healthier. At the same time, we're taking away an important part of "being a cat". Hunting includes a great deal of physical activity and mental stimulation. While looking for prey and hunting, a cat gets to -
    • Walk
    • Prowl
    • Stalk prey
    • Run
    • Climb
    • Jump
    • Solve puzzles and challenges
    Cat owners should keep that in mind and try to create opportunities for Kitty to enjoy similar activities at home. Fortunately, you don't have to release mice and birds around your home to achieve that. Cat furniture and shelves provide a perfectly entertaining - yet safe! - setting where toys and playful owners (or even other pets) can be play-hunted.

    Read more about how to provide physical and mental stimulation for your cat at home. Protect your cat as well as the environment by letting Kitty be a happy little hunter - in the safety of the great indoors.

    Thoughts? Ideas on how to help cats adjust to a life without hunting? We'd love to hear them in the comments below!

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  1. Luc
    I don't agree at all.

    I understand that not every cat owner has a garden or time to get a clicker and treats to take the cat outside on a leash.

    My cats go outside in the garden every day. Very rarely they catch birds, mostly lizards, butterflies, insects and little mouses.

    The lizards started avoiding certain areas and often the cats don't catch much, but they always go out to explore and hunt. If the cats come back with a lizard I gently take it away from them and if still alive I release it. What am I supposed to do, scream and punish a cat for being a cat ?

    Is it dangerous to let the cats out ? Of course but rest assured that they love to hunt, dig holes, smell flowers, ambush each other, climb on trees, eat grass and get sunbaths. During summer time one of the cats stays out as long as 24 hours I know he sleeps outside and I am worried because I never know if something happened, but it is a compromise. My cats do not exist to make ME happy. They have needs too so I give in when I can.

    Cats are hunters it is in their dna they have always been for about 2000 years, maybe more, but now we decide that hunting outside for cats is bad. Come on !

    At some cat rescues I have seen cats confined in rooms for several months, they seemed to be under a sad spell. There are cats confined in apartments for their entire lives. Is that good ?

    There is more since the cats hang out, there are no toys at home and there is zero entertainment for them, why ? Because they could not care less, when they go out they get everything they need.

    Get close and pet one of the rescue cats that never ever go out and then try my cats. You can tell there is a difference just by looking at them. How they move and how they behave only confirms that there is a difference.

    Balanced and happy cats groom, eat, sleep and...hunt.
      Azazel and Furballsmom purraised this.
  2. IndyJones
    If you have an old home you can't really stop cats from killing mice who invade.
      Merlin77 and foxxycat purraised this.
  3. segelkatt
    I have an enclosed patio on the second floor where I can open the windows (no screens). My cats go out there to watch birds and whatever else there is and to snooze in the sun. Sometimes a bird will fly in and one of my cats is a great hunter and will catch said bird, kill it and eat it, mostly just leaving a pile of feathers as evidence.
    I know which cat it is as I have seen him right after he brought a bird through the kitty door inside and proceeded to eat it. He also catches flies and moths, once brought in a lizard which I took away from him as it was still quite alive and put it outside where it scrambled down the wall. Usually he does his evil deeds early in the morning when the birds hang out around the bird feeder.
    I have closed the windows so that there are only 6 inch wide gaps for air to come in and to keep the birds out but one came in this morning anyway and became kitty breakfast.
    I asked the vet about the cat catching something from eating the birds, he said no diseases are transferable from bird to cat just like they don't catch a cold from us and not to worry about it.
    In looking at your article I wonder if I should bring it up again? Or do I worry too much? I want my fur babies to stay healthy and live long lives.
    I have to leave the windows open as much as possible to keep heat from building up, in the summer I close them and draw vertical blinds over them which still makes the patio much too hot for me to enjoy but that also makes it dark in here which makes me depressed and keeps the cats from watching the great outdoors although they seem to enjoy the heat. They have a kitty door so they can come in anytime to cool off and drink water.
  4. sailon
    Nice article, and agree. In support of your statement about cats never losing their hunting instinct, this is what I found out about Maxine.

    Maxine is a small (less than 9 pounds) 6 year old female that I rescued when she was 3. According to the shelter notes on Max she had always been an indoor cat, and has certainly been since I've owned her. She is also very shy.

    One day I thought I'd at least let her go out on the porch for fresh air. As expected she would go only a few feet from the door and just sit there. One day however, she spied a squirrel about 20 yards away. She immediately went into the classic hunting crouch and shot across the yard before I could catch her. She actually nailed the poor squirrel as it was attempting to get up a tree but fortunately only got part of it's tail. she then calmly trotted back into the house, half a tail dangling from her mouth.

    This from a cat that hadn't been in contact with another animal her entire life.
      Julieanneshelton79 purraised this.
  5. beach potato
    My Feral rescue wont use a litter box and demands, yes, demands- to go outside to potty. That leads to lizard hunting and of course she brings the catch home. I distract her and heave the lizard out the door but sometimes she beats me to it and is noticeably pissed if I hide it or take it away.
    Very affectionate and always at my feet purring and giving kisses. Until the urge to go outside. Here in Central Florida it is a great hunting venue for Feral kitties  and I just give up and let her be Zena, Warrior Princess. (Her name).
  6. IndyJones
    While I agree house cats should remain inside programs like barn buddies give cats who because of their temperament would otherwise be labeled as unadoptable a second chance. Barn buddies places these cats on farms to control rodents.
  7. kiwikatlady
    All my cats are rescues.  I currently have 4 cats (2 indoor) and 2 outdoor.  Also I rescued a mother cat and her 4 kittens at the moment.  My cats mainly stay inside and none hunt birds;  not even interested.
    One night my cat who was nearly kicked to death by children in a park when he was about 3 weeks of age was looking up at the high roof at a very large "black backed gull".  He stalked the bird and the bird started screaming and dive bombing him.  My cat was terrified and I'm sure the large bird actually pecked him.  He's never, ever looked at another black backed gull with any interest at all.
  8. DreamerRose
    My cats are indoors-only, so during the winter months, I scatter birdseed on the patio table on my deck to attract birds and other wildlife. The cats love it and spend hours watching, hiding, and chittering. The biggest visitor is a raccoon, which comes at midnight. Mingo will actually try to ambush it through the glass.
  9. PushPurrCatPaws
    Years ago there was a couple in our apartment building who had a cat named Bill, which they let go outside all of the time. The building has a courtyard with some trees, shrubs and grass, which the birds loved. Serial killer Bill left dead bird after dead bird on the courtyard's doorstep, it was awful. And in the end, Bill got hit by a car. I would always recommend making your kitty an indoor kitty! It is much safer all around.
      Julieanneshelton79 and Anne purraised this.
  10. Anne
    I'm glad you like the article! Please do share on social networks to get the message out to cat lovers everywhere! Thank you!
  11. tiptopper
    Excellent article. Agree with Tarasgirl06-everyone should follow these tips to keep their cats safe.
      Julieanneshelton79 purraised this.
  12. crazy4strays
    My indoor cats go after the mice that inevitably make it into the house. (We live in a mobile home next to a cornfield) I agree with not eating the prey though. When my kitten killed a mouse, I distracted him, took it away from him, and gave him some canned food. 
  13. tarasgirl06
    Thanking you with all my heart for this article, and praying and wishing everyone would take it to heart, for their beloved cats' safety to say nothing of their own peace of mind!
      Julieanneshelton79 purraised this.
  14. msmamakat1
    This was a very good read.
    Thank you
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