Last updated: February 12, 2017
There is no doubt about it: cats are just gorgeous. They are lovely soft, floppy, furry creatures who rub themselves up against you and purr incessantly. They mark you with their soft mouths, give you slow blinks and knead you like fresh dough. They wake you up in the morning with whiskery kisses and groom you with their sandpaper tongues. Despite all this they still manage to be independent to the point of rudeness and completely their own masters. They have such a ‘buzz-off’ attitude! In fact – they do a lot of strange things – but why?
Among the oddest things cats do is play with the things they’re about to kill. As humans, our first instincts are to run and save them, then grab them off the moggy, but it’s better to try and understand the cat – if you can! Why do cats play with their prey? It’s a mystery…
Having said all these things, we have to remember that cats are not, and never will be as domesticated as dogs, and this has been proved by recent studies done on their genomes. Cats have been around us for ten thousand years, whereas there are theories that dogs have been among us for as many as thirty thousand. Either way, cats are still basically little wild animals, and if you think that playing with raw food is barbaric, don’t bother telling him because he doesn’t care!
Not Quite Sure…
So if your cat catches a mouse it may puzzle him a bit. What the hell is this and what do I do with it? Is it dead? Is it still alive? Let me make sure. What if it attacks me? OK, so let me stand on its tail – no- still running away. I know – I’ll totally wear it out! I’ll chase it round the garden – I’ll stand on its head then I might just give it a playful nip or two, then I might toss it about a bit. Oh, what the hell! Let me kill it before it tries to kill me! Maybe my human will like it. I haven’t given her a present for ages!
Just For Fun!
Many cats just like playing with their prey simply because it gives them pleasure. Yes, we may say that that is really cruel, and I’m sure for the mouse it probably is, but cats are born with an innate ability and a natural need to chase small things like birds, rats and mice. They are cats, after all, and they have often been described as the world’s most perfect predator, because everything about a cat is designed for the kill. Remember that their big cousins are lions, leopards and tigers! That’s why you need to be very careful with your balls of wool when you’re knitting!
I’ve seen my cat get hold of a mouse, pin it down by the tail, and let it go to swim across the pool. He then waited for it and chased it up a tree. This is a perfectly bog-standard, well-fed kitty. If kitty has a dead mouse and just likes tossing it from paw to paw and catching it, chances are it’s just a toy for him. Indoor cats and outdoor cats may behave differently in this case, since an outdoor cat will often just kill it and chow it down in one go. Indoor cats are more likely to play with the poor wee thing! So one of the reasons why they do it is just because they like it!
Another reason why cats play with prey has to do with the way Mommy cats teach their child to hunt. Typically, Mommy will catch a mouse then bring it back to the nest alive to teach the kittens how to kill it. The kittens will need to learn the way we do – by following Mommy’s example. The queen may first bring back dead animals, then half-dead ones (the torture victims!) She will administer the killing bite in front of the kittens so that they learn how to do finish it off, then she will bring back a live animal so that they can work out for themselves how it’s done. After she’s taught them to stalk and pounce they are trained huntsmen and huntswomen in their own right and can be let loose to terrorize the entire population of wildlife in the neighborhood
How To (Try To) Stop Them!!!
Many people think that getting a cat’s collar is dangerous because of the risk of it being caught on obstacles and trapping, injuring, or even strangling your Moggy. These days we have the technology to stop this happening, with quick release catches that open if the worst happens! Collars come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, some with their phone number on them for safety (and maybe so he can get a date!) Putting a bell on it alerts the local wildlife to the danger of imminent annihilation! There has been as much as a 40% reduction in predation rates in birds because of this simple device.
Cats are twilight hunters, so their vision is superbly adapted to the hours of dawn and dusk. If he’s not strictly an indoor cat and is allowed outside sometimes, don’t allow him access to the garden or yard during the hours just after dawn and just before sunset. In the summer months fledglings may be outside the nest, sand don’t forget that birds can’t feed in inclement weather, so when it clears and they come out to forage, make sure moggy’s not there!
Make sure any bird feeders are way, way up in the air, but not close to a tree branch or a wall from which one of those athletic little so-and-sos could jump.
Cat’s don’t like walking on spiky or rough surfaces, so put pebbles, gravel, spiky plants or other uncomfortable walking surfaces round the nesting boxes or feeders. No self-respecting cat will go back to a place that gave him a cactus thorn instead of a sparrow!
Try using some slippery stuff like petroleum jelly to dissuade the local predators from chowing on the birds. Not even a set of razor sharp claws can get a foothold on this stuff!
If, in spite of all your best efforts, kitty still insists on using the local sparrows as tennis balls, just accept him as he is and let him be a natural cat. Let’s face it, you’ll still love him anyway, no matter what he does!