The Predator's Legacy
Felines are predators. In the wild, all felines hunt. The silent paws, sharp teeth, excellent night vision and incredible physical abilities are all perfectly suited for the cat's natural role as a solitary nocturnal hunter.
In fact, the cat's domestication in ancient Egypt had a lot to do with its hunting skills. The Egyptians brought cats into their towns and villages, to achieve effective rodent control in their granaries. The cats' success as hunters brought them appreciation, admiration and even the status of gods.
The cats' hunting skills have also helped them spread around the world aboard ships that carried them as valuable mousers. Even today, barn cats all over the world are still prized for that ability.
However, in the past few decades attitudes seem to have changed, as cats became cherished companions, rather than working animals. At the same time concern for wildlife conservation has evolved. Cats have been accused of endangering birds and rodents and concerned animal lovers demanded that they must be stopped from hunting.
This appeal coincided with the growing inclination to protect pet cats by confining them indoors, and so many cats today no longer hunt. As cat owners, we still have the pleasure of watching these felines' hunting skills demonstrated during playtime.
A Cruel Game?
Not only does cat play resemble hunting, but also hunting routines can seem surprisingly like play.
A cat that has captured prey will usually not kill it at once. Rather, the cat is likely to carry the prey in its mouth to a familiar place and begin what seems like a long and cruel game.
The cat will release the critter; let it try to escape and then bat at it again with its paw, often throwing it into the air. This can go on for hours and looks much like the way your cat plays with a toy mouse.
For generations, observers of hunting cats have accused them of unnecessary cruelty. Modern behavior studies have determined that no game is afoot (no pun intended...). What seem like a mean sport are actually basic safety measures, necessary for the cat's survival.
Consider this from the cat's point of view. That small, or not so small, rodent can and will bite back if given the chance. A mouse's bite may be small but it can easily become infected and cause disease and even death. No cats in the wild would want to take that chance.
As cats are far-sighted, it is difficult for them to safely launch a death bite on live prey. The solution is to thoroughly exhaust and weaken the prey to the point where it is too dazed to defend itself. Only then will the cat actually kill its prey.
Look What The Cat Brought In
Owners that do let their cat outdoors might be faced with an occasional gift in the form of dead or injured prey. Cat Behavior Cat Behavior researcher Roger Tabor explains that this act stems from several reasons.
On one level, this is much like the mother cat bringing dazed prey to her kittens - the cat tries to help us acquire hunting skills, which we obviously lack.
On another, more functional level, this is part of the cat's hunting process. As the cat needs to tire out the prey with repetitive capture and release, she pre
fers to do so on her home turf. There she has the upper hand when the prey attempts to escape, as she knows every inch of the area.
So if your cat goes outside and comes back with a live gift, do not scold her for doing so - after all this is what millions of years of evolutions taught her to do. If you want to prevent your cat from hunting, you will probably need to keep her inside.
Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!