If you’ve got a cat who spends a lot of time outdoors, you’ve probably wondered what it is that your furry friend is munching on when away from home. After all, cats haven’t always eaten kibble or canned food and certainly, outdoor cats don’t wait to eat until they get home. And of course, there is a fairly large population of feral’ cats or barn’ cats that don’t get their dietary needs met by humans. So, what do cats eat in the wild?
My Cat: The Carnivore
Cats are carnivorous animals, so it should come as no surprise that when left to their own devices, they will hunt and eat meat. From a survival point of view, cats require meat because of the amino acid taurine which cats use for their eyesight and good heart health. When cats are indoor only, it’s important to provide them with high quality dry and wet food. When cats are outdoors, they go providing for themselves.
So, what do cats go hunting for?
- Rodents (mice, voles, and rats)
- Small birds (pigeons, siskins, swallows, etc.)
- Flying mammals such as bats (but only when they can catch them!)
- Lizards and amphibians
- Insects and spiders
- Plants – grass, sprouts, flowers, and catnip (primarily thought to do this not for the nutrition, but for clearing out blockages, to force themselves to vomit out bad meat, or out of desperation)
Now, cats aren’t going to eat every part of these things. Cats go after the skin, muscle and meat, feathers, organs (though not fouled ones, so they avoid intestine and stomachs and will go for the heart, liver, and lungs), and bones. Depending on the animal, cats will eat pretty much the entire thing and be very happy.
Cats generally eat small meals scattered throughout the door and their day is broken up into chunks of intense activity and then quiet periods of eating and resting. Most of their meals will be made up of protein (52%) and fat (46%) with an extremely small amount of carbs (2% or less). This is different from many indoor cats which really have too much carb in their diet leading to obesity. This is why vets and experts strongly recommend high-quality food for indoor cats to replace their hunting.
Worried about your cat eating something that will hurt it? Most cats will instinctively avoid eating things that would make them sick or kill them and things like spiders or insects don’t have enough poison in them to harm a full-grown cat.
Surprisingly, cats won’t generally go fishing because fish are too hard to catch. If cats find fish stranded on the shore, they will likely eat it, but otherwise won’t put much effort into hunting them.
What do Cats Drink Outside?
Your indoor cat is obviously well stocked with freshwater, but there won’t be many bowls of clean water outside! What do cats drink when they are out all day?
Obviously, cats drink a lot of water, but they won’t generally go for rivers or streams. Instead, many cats go for puddles, small ponds, assuming they can reach them, and any water in shallow holders that they spot such as empty flower pots, or old dishes. I’ve spotted cats drinking out of children’s toys that have captured rainwater!
Blood can also be an important source of hydration for cats. This is generally the purview of kittens that cannot handle chewing meat, but cats will get hydration from the results of their hunting too.
How Do Cats Hunt?
You’ve probably already seen your cat displaying all manner of hunting behaviors. Chasing string and ribbon, pouncing on toy mice (or each other!), hiding in places and lunging out with a paw swat, and many other behaviors that we see as cute or playful are actually behaviors that cats use in the wild to feed themselves.
Cats are largely ambush and pounce predators. They will stalk their prey, staying low to the ground, and then target. A final dash and jump leads a cat to a successful ambush and dinner or a bit of a tumble and having to start all over again on new prey. Cats practice their hunting skills from an extremely early age, learning from their mother and from a lot of playing.
Cats also display some gendered hunting behaviors. Female cats are far more likely to be hunting than males as they are often providing for their kittens or need to eat more due to being pregnant. However, male cats are obviously perfectly capable of hunting too and will hunt more when they are providing for a mate during mating season. And since cats tend to be solitary, unless they have kittens, they don’t have to worry about providing for anyone else, meaning that most cats won’t kill more than they need.
Should an Indoor Cat Eat Like an Outdoor One?
Are you looking at your purely indoor cat and wondering if you’ve been feeding them wrong all along? Well, first of all, you can probably put your mind at ease. Assuming you are feeding them good quality dry/wet food and plenty of water, your cat is getting the nutrition in needs. Most foods are nutritionally balanced to meet the needs of a domesticated cat.
If you do decide to go raw with your cat, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Your cat’s preferences for foods. Some cats love beef, some chicken, some fish, some bones, and some won’t like much of any of that! (My childhood pet couldn’t eat fish and my current cat hates fish and doesn’t like wet food unless it’s beef. And only beef.)
- Make sure that the raw meat you choose for your cat is clean and comes from a good source
- Don’t ever let them big bones because they can cause choking or injury. Cats should only have bones that are small and easily chewed like the ribs/wings of chickens
Many people don’t bother feeding their cat a raw diet because regular cat food has everything needed. But it’s still important to encourage that natural hunting behavior through play as it will help keep your cat happy and healthy.
Cats are extremely good at taking care of themselves in the wild. They are well evolved to hunt and find food anywhere they find themselves, they can eat a wide variety of proteins, and they are smart hunters. Indoor cats may not need to worry as much about finding their dinner, but it’s still important to maintain those hunting habits through toys and other tools. And if you decide to go for a raw diet for your cat, choose your butcher carefully and avoid large bones.
What’s your cat’s favorite food? And does your cat go dining out in the wild?