Cat as Hunters

Cat as Hunters

Pet Psychology

All members of the cat family, whether they are lions living in the wilds of Africa or domestic cats living in suburban Britain, have a natural and well-developed instinct for hunting. Cats teeth are designed for hunting with incisors for holding their prey and four large canine teeth for shredding and tearing it, and they use their paws with sharp claws to protect themselves as well as for restraining whatever they have caught. This type of predatory behaviour exists even when a domestic cat is well fed, and you will often see cats pouncing on toys in the house and then growling and shaking them as if to 'kill' them! Cats are naturally programmed to catch small rodents, but in urban areas where these may be in short supply, they will also hunt small birds. If your cat is sitting indoors looking out of the window, you will sometimes see him making a chattering noise with his teeth, to indicate that although he is very close to his prey, he is unable to catch it, and this is the sound of frustration. Once out in the garden, cats will chase and often attack any small creature that moves, including frogs, a wide range of insects and butterflies as well as young rabbits and fish in a fishpond. They tend to adapt their hunting techniques to match the habits of their intended prey, and will lie in wait outside a burrow or mouse-hole, whereas they openly stalk birds. Hunting is a solitary occupation and cats tend not to collaborate in their hunting activities, as can be witnessed if another cat tries to take any prey away from the cat that actually caught it. Domestic cats don't necessarily hunt because they're hungry, and a cat hunting for sport rather than for food will usually lose interest once their prey is dead. However, having captured their prey, they will first of all 'play' with it by carrying it around and tossing it in the air without attempting to kill it, even letting it go again so that they enjoy the thrill of the chase once more. As a cat owner, it can be distressing to watch your pet torturing another creature, but it is perfectly natural behaviour for a cat and there is nothing you will be able to do to prevent it, apart from keeping your cat indoors. Sometimes people try to discourage their cats from hunting by putting a collar with a bell around the cat's neck, but cats are smart creatures, and will soon learn to move slowly and stealthily so that the bell doesn't sound. There seems to be no connection between whether a cat is entire or neutered, male or female, as all cats have an in-built hunting instinct. Cats that are kept as 'mousers' on farms and in businesses where the rodent population needs to be kept down, still need to be fed regularly, as research has shown that if the cat doesn't have to hunt for his own survival, this will actually reduce anxiety and increase efficiency. You can try and prevent your cat from hunting live prey in your own garden by removing bird tables and bird baths, and not putting out food for the birds, all of which will help to reduce the availability of his 'ready meal', but the chances are that he will then move to richer pickings in a neighbour's garden. It tends to make people very unpopular with the neighbours if cats start killing birds in their gardens, and although you are not legally responsible for the actions of your cat (unlike the actions of a dog) it might be worth considering either keeping your cat in, or else erecting fencing that will keep your cat in your own garden. If you have other pets that might be a source of tempting prey for your cat, such as tropical fish or a hamster, make sure that they are kept well out of sight, preferably in a room that the cat does not go into, as cats tend to be quite ingenious at prising off lids and covers. Many cats will bring home their dead (or even live) prey, and present it to their owners, usually making a chirruping sound to attract human attention. It is thought that rather than being a gift, this is done to help what is perceived as being either an elderly or very young animal that is not capable of catching its own prey, and they are hoping you will show some interest in what they have caught, rather than praise them for it. They are probably rather surprised by typical human reaction of horror or fear! Cats normally learn to hunt from a very early age, often by watching their mother capture prey that she brings home for them - having a litter of kittens to feed tends to intensify the mother cat's instinct to hunt, even though she is being provided with regular meals by her owner. Those cats whose mothers were good hunters are more likely to take to it themselves from an early age, whereas cats whose mothers were not hunters (or not given the opportunity to hunt) may learn the art at an older age, but will never be quite so successful. Unlike many other animals, cats learn a lot of skills by watching the behaviour of other cats, and in the wild, kittens accompany their mothers on hunting trips so that they learn how to fend for themselves. Sometimes a cat's hunting instinct will actually harm them if they attack something bigger than themselves such as a squirrel, or a large rat that will often fight back, and injuries from these meetings can often lead to abscesses, which will require veterinary treatment. If your cat appears with a swollen face or paw, and there is no immediately obvious reason, he may well have been stung by a wasp or a bee, and you will need to seek immediate veterinary assistance.

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