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When you pick a kitten from a litter or adopt an adult cat, it can be a real lottery to know whether or not they’re going to end up being keen hunters, and some cats have really high prey drives that mean dealing with the results of their hunting activities are a regular albeit unpalatable part of life for their owners.
Many cat owners who find themselves in this position wonder if there is anything that they can do to stop their cats from hunting; and if you can redirect their prey drive into other pursuits, this may be possible.
This article will tell you if there is anything you can do to stop your cat from hunting.
Different cats have different prey drives, and the prey drive is the innate and instinctive urge they feel to find and catch prey. However, this is present in all cats to an extent, and even the most sedentary of cats will usually chase a fly if this doesn’t involve too much effort; and they would soon find the urge to hunt increasing if food was in short supply.
Some cats are prolific hunters with very high prey drives that might catch and bring in several small kills a night; and that doesn’t even take into account the things your cat might not bring back, or might eat on the go.
Whatever your cat’s innate prey drive is, this isn’t something you can really reduce or influence, albeit it may become lower after neutering, and as your cat gets older. However, being unable to reduce your cat’s prey drive is not the same thing as reducing their hunting behaviour, as we’ll cover later on.
If you cannot reduce your cat’s prey drive itself, is there anything you can do to reduce how successful they are as hunters and so, how much prey they actually catch and bring in?
This is somewhat unlikely. Many cat owners try using a bell on their cat’s collar, but this can pose a hazard as the collar or bell itself can snag on things (even safety collars) and also the sound of the bell can occlude your cat’s hearing and reduce their chances of picking up on dangers approaching.
Telling your cat off when they bring in prey isn’t effective either in most cases, as cats bring prey in as a prize, and telling them off doesn’t let them know that this is bad, but rather, that what they caught was not good enough and to try harder.
Ergo, telling your cat off for hunting can in fact have the opposite effect!
Cats tend to hunt more, and be more successful at hunting at night, due to their natural rhythms and also the way their vision works. So keeping your cat in at night might limit their hunting success, but it also means affecting their ability to exhibit their normal and natural behaviours, which should be considered carefully.
Additionally, try not to encourage potential prey into your garden and your cat’s line of sight; for instance, by feeding the birds. This attracts birds to your garden that may become a target for your cat, and the dropped bird food and seed will also attract rodents too, which will not only be unpleasant for you but also increases the chances of your cat catching them.
As mentioned, you cannot mute or cancel out a cat’s prey drive, and trying to reduce your cat’s hunting success rate is likely to be only partially successful, if at all. But can you curb your cat’s need and desire to hunt for prey? Possibly. This isn’t the same thing as reducing their prey drive itself, but rather, involves channelling their prey drive into other directions.
For instance, by using interactive play and certain types of toys with your cat to replace and emulate hunting behaviour and to let your cat play out their prey drive and hunting urges, but without any live prey involved.
Toys like laser pointers, feathers and strings that you can trail around, and balls and small objects that you can flick around for your cat to chase can all help.
However, cats are highly unlikely to show much interest in such toys on their own, so bear in mind that you have to dedicate your own time to playing with them with your cat before you can hope for them to have the desired effect.
Also, hunting behaviour in cats isn’t strictly about the eating; many cats catch prey without killing it, some kill but don’t eat it, and some don’t eat everything that they catch.
That said, a cat that is hungry or that just doesn’t like the type of food they have on offer at home will be a lot more motivated to hunt and to catch, kill and eat the prey that they do find. Ensure your cat always had food available, and that it is food that they actually enjoy eating!
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