Unwanted Gifts: Understanding why cats hunt and how to limit casualties
You hear the distinctive calling wail of your cat, a thud at the cat flap and you already know you are about to be presented with an unwanted gift. You don’t want to look, but you know you have too. Is this “gift” going to be alive or dead? Furry, feathered or dare I say it scaled? You can be forgiven for getting frustrated at your cat for bringing this burden indoors and exposing you to such unsavoury activity. But…
Cats are natural hunters. It is a key part of their very being and in order to reduce casualties, we as owners need to understand the nature behind the beast. Whilst it is certainly upsetting when we are brought these unwanted gifts it is vital we understand that it is completely natural behaviour and should therefore not be punished. Your cat bringing you a hunting gift is in fact a sign of social bonding and acceptance and in its own way very much a compliment, albeit a socially unacceptable one in human eyes.
So what can you do to try and limit these occurrences without imprisoning your cat for good!
Cats are defined as crepuscular hunters, meaning their most active hunting times are at dusk and dawn. Keeping your cats indoors at these particular times of day can certainly help but an indoor substitute for hunting behaviour should be provided. These can be the likes of mobile or static puzzle feeders that provide a degree of stimulation to eating. Hiding bits of food around the home to simulate foraging and predatory eating behaviours would be a great way of keeping the interest inside the home and deflecting from outdoor temptation.
Feeding regimes at home should also be re-evaluated, not just to reduce unwanted “gifts” but to also promote the cats’ natural feeing behaviours. By doing so you may also successfully reduce your cats stress, any underlying obesity and fussy eating! Cats do not prefer to eat two set meals a day, which contradicts what most cat owners tend to adhere to. They much prefer to eat 10-20 small meals a day. This behaviour stems from their hunting ancestry where they would have to catch their own food in order to survive. This natural behaviour has not, despite domestication, left our cats and if given the chance to eat small meals little and often they would all tend to prefer this. This can be done in much the same way as mentioned above, puzzle feeders and hiding small kibble meals in different areas around the home. It makes for a much more stimulating meal without adding a time burden or huge financial investment from their owners.
A study carried out by RSPB has found that bells or ultrasonic devices have been proven to reduce the success of catching a bird by almost 50%. It is important to mention that the bell worn should be safe for wear, avoiding tapering slits, so that the cats claw can’t get stuck when scratching. It is also important these bells do not act as a magnet to indoor food bowls or some mechanised cat flaps as this will likely put your cat off of eating indoors or even getting back in!
Finally it is only a fairly small period of time that cats will actively hunt and be successful. This is normally from the ages of 1-5 years of age. As cats get older they will reduce hunting activity, but more importantly they will have less success. By providing an enriched home environment, a warning signal for wildlife and by keeping them indoors during those preferred hunting times we can help to reduce wildlife casualties and those unwanted thuds on the doormat.
Paul Manktelow regularly appears in the media as one of the UKs leading veterinary surgeons. His accomplished career as a vet allows him to talk on a number of key animal subjects and he regularly provides valuable advice to pet owners across the UK. Appearing on TV shows such as Junior Vets, Animal Madhouse and This Morning, he also writes columns for the Times, Dogs Monthly and blogs on his popular website Vital Pet Health.