If you are a cat owner, it is highly likely you have had to deal with your charming pet bringing a dead animal into the house. Not only is this extremely common, but it is also a natural part of feline behaviour and most cats feel an instinctual need to hunt. Of course, I appreciate that this information does not make it any more pleasant to have to clean up the mess that is left behind after a dead bird or mouse is deposited on your kitchen floor.
How Do I Stop My Cat From Bringing Home Dead Animals? The best approach is not to attempt to interfere with the cat’s instinctive need to hunt, but instead to reduce the chances of the hunt being successful. For example, a collar with a bell is one of the best options, because it provides animals with an earlier warning that your cat is near.
With that being said, there are also a few other methods that are worth trying if you are desperate to reduce the number of unwanted gifts being brought into your home. It can also be beneficial to understand why your cat is hunting for animals in the first place, as well as what the presentation of a dead animal actually means.
Preventing Cats From Hunting Animals
Although cats have been domesticated for thousands of years now, their need to hunt is instinctive. As a result, if you own a cat, it is likely you have experienced that uneasy feeling when your pet returns home with a dead animal and presents it to you. I know from experience that when this happens, aside from the immediate concern about how to clean up the mess, one of the first thoughts that enter your head is: how can I stop this?
Given that it is a natural instinct, you are unlikely to achieve success by trying to suppress your cat’s desire to hunt for animals. Therefore, the best possible route to success is to take steps to limit its chances of success.
The single most effective solution is, of course, to prevent your cat from going out. If it doesn’t leave the home, it cannot access animals to hunt. However, understandably, this is not an ideal solution for everyone. Many cat owners do not want their cat to be confined to their house 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For this reason, you may also need solutions that accommodate your cat’s desire to explore the outside world.
One of the most effective techniques is to purchase a cat collar with a loud bell attached. The primary benefit of this is that it will alert other animals when your cat is near, giving them more of a fighting chance of escaping. As a result, the number of dead animals your cat brings back should decrease. This is not likely to be a 100 percent fool-proof strategy, but it is likely to lead to a significant reduction in the number of incidents.
If you do opt for the collar with a bell, it is important to acquire one that is equipped with a breakaway clasp. This could be a life-saver, as it will release easily in the event that your cat’s collar becomes caught on a branch.
Regularly playing with your cat can help to alleviate some of the cat’s need to hunt. In particular, catnip toys shaped like animals can be excellent for this. Even playing with some more basic toys, like a ball or some string, can be useful in allowing your cat to replicate the feeling of chasing and catching something.
Another way to reduce the number of times your cat brings home dead animals is to avoid letting your cat out in the hours around sunrise and sunset, as these are the times when birds and rodents are at their most vulnerable. If you have a bird feeder in your garden, you should also ensure it is out of the reach of your cat.
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Understanding the Hunting Process
At this stage, you may have some further questions about the hunting process itself. In particular, many cat owners who see their pet bring home a dead animal wonder why it still needs to hunt if it is fed meat on a regular basis at home. This can then lead to doubts about whether or not you are feeding your cat the right amount, and whether or not your cat is still hungry. In reality, however, this is rarely the case.
Cats instinctively enjoy the activities involved with the hunt, even if they are well fed. Therefore, you should not draw conclusions about how well you are feeding your cat from the frequency of it bringing back dead animals. Indeed, if your cat was actually hungry, it is unlikely it would bring the dead animal back home and present it to you. Instead, it would simply kill the animal, take it to a safe location, and eat it.
It is important to understand that cats are, for the most part, opportunistic. This means that your cat may not be setting out to go and hunt for animals, but if it sees an animal to chase and catch, instincts will take over and it will begin the pursuit anyway. In some cases, your cat will actually stop before going in for the kill. However, it will typically pursue the animal and pounce on it, in order to catch it.
Unfortunately, for the animal in question, this attempt to catch it is often enough to injure or kill it. Even if the animal survives the initial catch, your cat may still opt to kill it, making it easier and safer to transport.
Research shows hunting is more common among female cats, especially when they have been spayed.
Why Cats Present Dead Animals
Other questions you may be asking are: is my cat really presenting me with the dead animals it brings back, and if so, why? First, I can confirm that your interpretation of this is likely correct, as cats do present their human owners with dead animals as gifts. Meanwhile, the question of ‘why?’ is slightly more complicated to answer.
If your cat is female, the behaviour is almost certainly linked to the way they teach their kittens. Female cats will often bring back either dead animals for their young to eat, or injured animals as their young get older, so they can learn to kill. In the absence of its own litter of kittens, your female cat may see you as the equivalent. Therefore, the act of presenting you with a dead animal may be an attempt to teach you how to hunt or to ensure you have food.
The same can be true of male cats too, although it is much less common. However, there is also an additional possibility, which is that your cat is proud of its hunting skills and wants to show you the results of its efforts. This is typically done in a bid to impress you and the cat may even be hoping for a reward. Of course, if you want the behaviour to stop, it is important that you do not actually provide the reward it is looking for.
While you are unlikely to want to be presented with a dead animal, you should not view it as a malicious act. In actual fact, your cat is almost certainly either trying to teach you survival skills, trying to make sure you have enough food to eat, or trying to impress you with its hunting skills, in a kind of bonding ritual.
What to Do With the Dead Animal
Finally, you may also be wondering what to actually do with the dead animal that is presented to you by your cat. First, you should try to avoid reacting in horror, or with anger, as your cat will be able to read your body language, but will be unable to understand why you are reacting badly to what it feels is good behaviour. However, at the same time, you do not want to react enthusiastically either, as this will provide an incentive for future hunts.
Ideally, you want to dispose of the dead animal as quickly as possible, while making as little fuss as you can. It may be best to do this while your cat is looking the other way, if at all possible. To achieve this, you may need to distract your cat with a toy, or something else that can break its focus on the dead animal.
One tip I would recommend, which is especially useful for situations where your cat will not allow you to dispose of the dead animal, is to keep a supply of catnip toys in an easily accessible place. Calmly distract your cat with the catnip toy and then dispose of the animal, trying to keep your emotional response to a minimum.
Many cat owners make the mistake of burying the dead birds or mice their cat brings them in the garden. If you do this, it is likely your cat will dig the body back up again at some point in the near future. To avoid this, dispose of the dead animal in an outside bin, and make sure it has a secure lid that cannot be opened easily.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.