Cat's Hunting Behaviour and Meaning
My partner and I have two cats, Freddie and Nola. They are both one years old and have recently started hunting.
From when they were tiny kittens we could tell that Freddie was a skilled hunter. While Nola would watch the cat teaser and ponder if and how she might attack it, Freddie would jump straight for it and attempt to “kill” it before little Nola even had a chance to have a go.
Now at the age of one Nola prefers naps and resting and Freddie the great outdoors. It must have been about four months ago when my partner and I started noticing their hunting instinct was being directed to live prey.
I was peacefully typing away on my computer and in the corner of my eye I could see Freddie and Nola playing with something which was under the rug. I assumed it was one of the tormented, almost ripped to shreds cat- nip toy mice I had bought for them only two days ago.
About half an hour had passed and they still seemed very much engrossed in their game. At some point I decided I wanted a cup of tea and on the way to the kitchen, stopped to have a bit of a play with the cats.
I peeled back the rug and under it… a dead, squashed frog was on its back. I shrieked like a little girl and couldn’t get further away from it! I was so disgusted that I decided to leave it there until my partner came home so that I could ask him to deal with it, yes I am a coward.
From that day forward frogs were Freddie’s favorite thing to bring home. Shortly after the first incident of hunting came the second, resulting in my stepping onto a cold, rubbery soft thing as I got out of the bed and smelled the coffee, how wonderful- R.I.P frog number 2.
Next was the incident of my birthday dinner at which my guests had the chance to witness my partner and I running around trying to catch Freddie’s latest pray, (a live frog) into a pint glass, as if it was a spider. The cats continued to hunt frogs and we were finding dried up frog legs, heads and bodies left right and centre.
We assume that this is Freddie’s doing, not because of his kitten behavior involving the cat teaser, but because while his frog hunt was being carried out, Nola was on a hunting mission herself. Her choice of prey: worms. We would see her proudly sitting over one, gently tapping it with her tabby paw. So we started finding dried up half eaten worms too.
Presumably because it is not autumn and the climate is less wet, lately we have not been finding any frogs or worms. Or could it be because Freddie has up-graded to a more skilful bird catcher? Yes. So far he has killed a bird and a pigeon and we have seen him running after seagulls. Thankfully the seagulls fly away quickly and I am pretty sure that despite Freddie being a skilful athletic cat he could not jump that high!
So what is the reason behind this behaviour? Of course through evolution cats have become strong and precise hunters, with fierce night vision. Hunting is in their core being. But why would well fed cats need to hunt? Well at least with my two cats I can say that I am pretty sure the reason is not hunger. They never eat the thing; they might nibble on it and tear it apart, but this seems to be play. Three theories which dominate have been put forward.
Three Theories of Hunting
The first states that because we humans are useless hunters our cats are teaching us to hunt. This is because when a queen is teaching her kittens to hunt she will bring back dead prey for her offspring to eat. She will then progress to bringing injured pray to her kittens and allow them to make the final kill, in so doing teaching them to hunt. So Freddie thinks we are crap hunters. Nola? Well she must think we are even more useless and couldn’t even kill a worm!
My partner favours the second theory according to which our cats are offering us gifts because they love us so much. I guess this means that because they see us opening cans and magically putting “prey” in front of them without even the slightest effort, they are infinitely thankful and bring us dinner once in a while, so we can put our feet up. Although I too like the sound of this theory, cats are cats and more often than not they do what is good for them.
Finally this is my favorite theory, cats bring home their prey to show you that they are capable of hunting and all grown up. They are showing of their skills and talents and want to be praised. Through this behaviour they are exhibiting their development from tiny kittens to adult hunter cats. And saying, “look at me, look what I just got, can you do it?”
We make sure we do not scold them in any way while at the same time not offering too much praise, as to not completely encourage the behaviour. So, we are thankful for the gifts whatever their meaning as it is innate for cats to hunt. And although cleaning corpses is definitely not my favorite past time (and thankfully so far my wonderful partner has done the dirty work) we would never attempt to stop them.
Yes, I do feel sorry for the poor frogs, birds and worms but then again I am not a vegetarian and cats and their prey are part of the food chain after all. Some suggest putting bells around their necks, but this is very bad for their hearing, not to mention ours. And to those who insist keeping cats indoor is the best option, I think this is taking the domestication of cats a bit too far. Have they not seen the joy in the cat’s faces upon entering the outdoors? Even little Nola could not do without her hunting worm adventures.
Training Your Cat
So, when it comes to cats bringing home their prey as lovely gifts there isn't much that can be done. However there are ways to train cats when it comes to other feline behaviour. For example, Freddie insists on commanding us for attention with frequent howling and wining. He behaves like a baby and will miau to be picked up. Other times he seems to be making noise for no reason understandable to us. We would try everything, food, letting him out, cuddles and play, with no quiet results. While trying to find ways to resolve this behaviour, I came across this link which my partner and I found very useful. It is loaded with many tips on how to train your cat and covers many areas, from scratching furniture to aggressive behaviour.