My new cat is already a consummate bird watcher. And the stupid birds seem to ‘taunt’ her, whizzing back and forth in front of the window and sending her into a frenzy. But she hasn’t seen squirrels yet (though they will be around come spring) and I’m sure she will be just as intent on them.
In fact, most cats are at least interested in squirrels. They are a member of the rodent family, that long, bushy tail makes for an attractive lure and squirrels have enough meat on them to make a cat happy – assuming said cat could actually catch and kill said squirrel.
Wild cats and feral cats will definitely go for squirrels if they get the chance and domestic cats might, though given that they are already well-fed, they probably won’t put a lot of effort into it.
Cats can definitely eat squirrels and it’s largely unlikely that they would take much harm from it. However, there are a few reasons why you may want to discourage your cat from hunting them, ranging from simply liking squirrels and not wanting mangled corpses around the yard to genuine health concerns such as rabies, injuries, and choking.
What should you know about cats and squirrels?
Do Cats Like Squirrels?
It depends on the cat. Feral and wild cats will hunt and eat squirrels – that much is well documented. They are a good source of meat that cats require to stay healthy, and they are generally plentiful. Squirrels are harder to catch than mice or birds since they fight back more, but assuming the cat wins the day, the cat will likely eat most of it.
Do Cats Hate Squirrels?
Domesticated cats on the other hand are less likely to eat squirrels (or even put much energy into hunting them for that matter). While the instinct to pursue a squirrel will be present, and some cats will chase them, most domesticated cats don’t have the skills necessary to finish the hunt, nor do they feel the need to eat their kill since they are already well-fed at home. Instead, a cat will chase a squirrel just for the sake of the chase and if they kill one, you may end up with it in your house as a ‘gift’.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the cat hates squirrels; it’s just more likely that it doesn’t know what to do with it and cannot be bothered to eat it.
Can Squirrels Kill a Cat?
Squirrels certainly don’t look terribly fearsome to us humans (most of the time) and many feral cats hunt them quite successfully. However, there are ways that a squirrel can be quite dangerous or even fatal to a cat, usually as a side effect of something else that’s going on.
- Munching on the poisoned carcass of a squirrel. If you have neighbors putting out squirrel traps that are poisonous, your cat may come across the dead squirrel, eat it, and get the poison into their system. Secondary poisoning is a very real concern for cats that hunt for some or all of their food, and it can cause serious issues for your pet as well.
- Bones. Squirrels have bones of course and cats can accidentally choke themselves on a bone fragment that got lodged in their throats. If you see your cat gagging, drooling, pawing at their face, or having trouble breathing, check for obstruction and take your cat to the vet if you cannot see anything or get the bone out yourself. (Don’t do this blindly; if you cannot see the bone spur properly, get to the vet).
- Rabies. It’s not terribly likely that your cat will get rabies from a squirrel (contrary to popular opinion, squirrels are neither more or less likely to have rabies than any other warm-blooded mammal. In fact, one could argue that they are considerably less likely since they were likely infected by another predator which then ate the squirrel before the infection set in anyway). However, squirrels can still have rabies and cat still pass that to your cat. Any cat spending any time outdoors should be vaccinated against rabies regularly in order to prevent infection.
- Running into other predators. Lots of things eat squirrels: coyotes, dogs, owls, hawks, other cats! Running into other predators can easily lead to a fight that can end with your cat being injured or even killed.
As you can see, it’s not generally the squirrel itself that is going to cause your cat problems (unless your pet chokes on a bone), but there’s a lot of other things in the world that can cause your cat problems, from disease to other predators, so it may be better to keep your cat inside and away from the squirrels, no matter how interesting they are.
A final note: squirrels are tough critters for something relatively small. They have sharp teeth and sharp claws and they aren’t afraid to use either when under attack. Some cats have come away the more injured party from a fight with a squirrel (especially a smaller cat against a larger squirrel) and these injuries can cause their own problems. Obviously, if your cat is injured, contact your vet.
How Many Squirrels can a Cat Eat?
Assuming your cat even manages to catch a squirrel (and wants to eat it), they probably won’t eat more than one or two at a time. Squirrels are large (compared to most cats) with plenty of meat on them and cats don’t really need to eat more than a few hundred calories a day.
A domestic cat may not even eat its kill since it’s already well-fed at home. Feral cats on the other hand will eat whatever they can get and can easily eat most of a squirrel, given the opportunity.
Cats are known to have a serious impact on local populations of mice, squirrels, and birds if there are enough cats free-roaming to hunt them, so they can certainly eat their share. But squirrels are on the larger spectrum for cats to eat and they take a lot more effort compared to mice and small birds, so it’s unlikely that squirrels will make up a huge or regular part of any cat’s diet.
Squirrels will probably entice most cats to at least give chase, but they are much harder to catch and kill than many other prey animals like mice. Feral cats will eat squirrels given the chance, but domestic cats are less likely to since they are already being well-fed at home.
That being said, cats are cats and squirrels are prey, so it’s certainly not unheard of for any cat to bring home a grisly trophy to proudly display.
If this happens to you, praise your cat, but dispose of the carcass, clean the area thoroughly, and maybe invest in a collar with a bell so that your local squirrel population doesn’t become dinner!
Does your cat eat squirrels?