One of the most disturbing parts of being a cat owner is the random dead animals. Your four-legged friend comes prancing up to the back door with a wriggling mouse clenched between her teeth — or you wake up first thing in the morning to find a dead snake in the kitchen. It’s gross and often downright terrifying, so why do cats bring home dead animals?
Cats bring home dead animals because they’re natural-born hunters. This freshly-caught mouse is your cat’s way of sharing her grub or teaching you how to hunt. Some cats bring home dead animals because they think their owners enjoy it, especially when a treat bribe is involved.
The good news is that your cat’s knack for fetching rodents for you is merely part of her instincts as a predatory creature. To find out why cats bring home dead animals (and how to stop this behavior dead in its tracks), read on!
Cats Are Natural-Born Hunters
Felines are nowhere near the top of the food chain, especially in an environment where predators like coyotes, wolves, and snakes roam freely. Yet, outdoor cats are also predators themselves. And their unfulfilled desire to pounce and hunt is slowly beginning to wreak havoc on the bird and small mammal populations.
Research shows that outdoor cats may be responsible for 3.7 billion dead birds (or about 15% of the total population) and up to 20.7 billion dead small mammals. In other words, the average cat will successfully hunt 4-18 birds and 8-21 mammals (like mice or chipmunks) a year.
The question is, “Why?”
The most unmistakable sign that a cat is stalking and hunting prey out of hunger is what the kitty does after snagging a rodent. If she runs off with a chipmunk in her mouth, takes shelter, and begins chowing down, the hunt was nothing more than a snack (or dinner)! A cat who brings you her latest catch has another reason for hunting — she enjoys it.
Nearly every aspect of a cat’s body and senses allow her to be a skilled predator.
For example, a cat’s eyes have more rods than cones, which allows her to better pick up on quick movements off in the distance — whether that’s a squirrel in a field or your moving toes under the blanket. A cat’s hearing range also far surpasses that of other species (48 Hz to 85 kHz), a skill that enables your kitty to hear the high-frequency calls of mice and other rodents, even when she can’t see them.
Of course, cats also hunt because they’re successful in their treks about 50% of the time. With ultra-flexible spines, top speeds of 30 mph, a knack for clearing obstacles 5-feet or higher, and climbing trees, felines hunt small mammals and birds for the thrill of the chase!
Teaching You How to Hunt
Female cats put on their “teacher hats” as soon as they give birth to a litter of kittens. A mother cat will teach her litter how to groom themselves, use the litter box, protect themselves from predators, play nicely with their siblings, and (not surprisingly) hunt.
A mother cat may make a quick trip into the forest and return to her kittens shortly after with a live mouse or chipmunk in her mouth. The mother will then show her kittens what to do with the injured rodent, which often includes killing it, licking it clean, and then sharing it with her kittens. Your cat may be adopting this teacher role in an attempt to teach you how to hunt birds!
Want to learn a little more about how and why cats bring you dead animals? The video below will describe this unusual feline behavior:
Sharing a Snack With You
Many people claim that cats see dead animals as “gifts” — and they’re correct! Just like mother cats use their latest catch to show their kittens how to hunt, they also do so in more of a “provider” role. Your cat typically relies on you to pour kibble into her bowl twice a day, and her presenting you with a mouse or a chipmunk is merely her way of giving you a tasty meal to eat.
How Do I Stop My Cat From Bringing Home Dead Animals?
Considering the average household cat will have at least 12 successful hunts per year, a dead mouse on your pillow or bird on your doorstep isn’t a fluke. If your cat’s predatory instincts run deep and seem uncontrollable, here’s how you can stop this behavior:
Keep Your Cat Strictly Indoors
Unless you have mice living in the attic or behind the dishwasher, the only opportunity your cat has to bring home dead animals is on her daily trips outdoors. Therefore, the best way to prevent this gross gift is by keeping your cat strictly indoors — even if your cat yowls at the door or begs to go outside. Indoor cats typically live longer (10-15 vs. 2-5 years) and have a lower risk of contracting conditions like FIV or FeLV.
Let Those Hunting Instincts Out
Your cat will always have an internal desire to hunt or give chase to smaller prey, but it’s possible to redirect these hunting instincts toward less deadly means.
For example, wand toy play sessions allow your kitty the chance to swat, just like she does with a chipmunk before eating it. A laser toy allows your cat to stalk a moving object before pouncing and chasing, similar to how she pursues a snake slithering in the woods. And a realistic-looking mouse toy feels just like the real thing, only without the gross gift on your bed!
Try to play with your kitty for at least 15 minutes a day. Not only will she get most of her hunting instincts out, but she may also be far too tired to be on the prowl at night.
Put a Bell on Your Cat’s Collar
The stealth of felines is often what makes them such successful hunters. You’ve probably witnessed this first hand as your cat quietly stalked her favorite catnip toy, hid behind the sofa, and then pounced suddenly. Attaching a small bell on your cat’s collar will give off a light rattle as your cat pursues a small mammal, which will give the prey a warning to flee. Your cat can’t possibly bring you a dead bird if she can’t catch one.
Stop Rewarding the Behavior
If you notice that your cat brings you dead animals more and more, you might be rewarding this behavior without even realizing it. Do you give your cat a treat or toss a catnip toy to lure it into dropping the latest squirming catch? If so, then your cat may connect a dead animal delivery with getting a tasty snack or her favorite toy. Avoid an apparent reaction to the unusual gift and discard it when your cat isn’t looking.
While it’s adorable that your cat is preparing you a snack or trying to teach you to hunt, allowing your kitty to bring dead animals can have potential consequences.
For example, there’s an ongoing risk that the rodent has rabies or that the animal isn’t dead just yet (and the last thing you want is a loose bat flying around your home).
It’s impossible to get rid of your cat’s drive to hunt. But you can redirect this instinct by keeping your feline indoors, playing with her, and putting a bell on her collar to ruin her next hunt.
- VCA Hospitals: Rabies in Cats
- Live Science: Staggering Stats: Cats Kill Billions of Animals a Year
- Live Science: Feline Vision: How Cats See the World
- Hearing Research: Hearing range of the domestic cat
- UC Davis: Cats: Indoors or Outdoors?
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.