A cat’s behavior when it comes to their prey is something kittens learn from their moms. My cats never go outside nor do they have any desire to venture into that big scary world on the other side of their favorite window. They prefer the safety and comfort of the living room where they can find a warm patch of sunshine to stretch out in for an afternoon nap. The picture window also gives them a great view of a large Oak tree in the front yard where they can sit and stare at birds and squirrels. A cat’s behavior when it comes to prey is interesting to watch. Their eyes dance with glee, whiskers twitch forward almost in a curl as they crouch waiting patiently. Eager tails flick back and forth in anticipation. They make short, quick rattling noises and their teeth will sometimes chatter. They are on high alert for any bird or squirrel who settles onto the branch closest to the window. Chattering teeth is an unusual cat behavior. The cat has become so stimulated and fixed on his prey that he is actually imagining that he has caught his prey and is killing it with his bite.
An unknowing mouse who picks a household with cats to venture into will soon come to regret his error in judgment. I watch my cats, who appear to be sound sleep, follow along with eager eyes as a mouse carefully and quietly tries to creep across the dining room floor, its eyes fixed on a stray piece of cat food left over from supper. A cat’s behavior is to stalk its prey and as any cat owner knows, a cat is a perfect example in exercising the art of patience. The cat will slowly move her body into a crouch and wait, eyes glued on the mouse. Whiskers twitch in anticipation, she wiggles her hind end slightly. Just before the pounce, she sizes up the distance between herself and the mouse by shaking her head so she can better judge her leap. In an instant, the unlucky rodent finds itself in a game of catch and release. Sometimes the mouse escapes, but not usually.
The cat’s behavior of chasing a mouse, small animals or birds is an instinctive reaction learned at birth, but the mother cat has to teach kittens they have to kill in order to eat. All cats are born with an instinct to stalk, hunt, chase and finally catch their prey. Kittens just know they are suppose to chase what moves and those who are born outside with a mother cat who has to catch her own food, learn from her how to stalk, chase and then capture and kill small prey like mice or birds for food. Cats are not natural born hunters who automatically know a mouse is food. Hunting for food is a learned behavior taught to kittens by the their mother. Kittens have to learn this cat behavior in order to survive if they are on their own. The mother cat brings home a dead mouse and eats it where the kittens can watch. Mom eventually gets to the point where she brings home the dead mouse and leaves it for the kittens to eat themselves. All female cats share this behavior. They not only bring their catch home to their kittens, but a female will also share her catch with another mother’s litter. This also is why your cat, usually a female, will bring something they’ve caught home and drop it at your front door. It’s the cat’s inborn behavior to help teach us how to hunt.
Once the kittens are older, the mother cat will begin bringing home live prey that has been wounded and can’t move as fast so the kittens can hone their hunting skills by making their own kill. It sounds cruel, but it is nature’s way. Most cats who live on the streets don’t have a plate of tasty cat food waiting for them so they have to use all the instincts a cat is born with and use this incredible behavior to survive on their own.
Why does a cat play with its prey? One theory is that the cat doesn’t have enough confidence in itself and they show this behavior because they are afraid of this tiny animal that is trying to bite them and fight back. The other theory is that house cats who don’t have an opportunity to catch a bird, mouse or other small animals are so happy to have caught something they want to enjoy the fun as long as possible. To us, it looks like they are playing, to them it’s perfectly natural cat behavior.
This is also why your indoor cat attacks your finger or toes if they get the chance. Cats are born to chase things. It’s as simple as that. Something moves, the cat’s instinctive behavior is to attack. After all, a cat is a natural born predator. However, this doesn’t mean your cat can fend for themselves outside if they’ve never been taught how or even why they need to catch and kill a mouse or bird. Unless they were taught as a kitten what to do with that mouse in front of them, most inside cats would starve if their owners stopped feeding them from a can or bag. The knowledge of how to catch a mouse is inbred in all cats, but why eat a dead mouse is a complete mystery to most pet cats.
So the next time your cat drops a dead mouse at your feet remember, it’s because they are trying to teach you how to catch food. Just say thank you before you remove it from the house or back door. It’s your cat’s way of showing you how important you are to her. She’s just trying to do her part to make sure you are well cared for.
Understanding Your Cat’s Predatory Behavior, PerfectPaws.com
Cat Hunting-A Natural Cat Behavior, ourhappycat.com
Understanding the Stalking Instincts, thecompletecat.com