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