If your cat hunts a lot and brings home prey, this can be very annoying and potentially distressing. Most cat owners would rather their cats didn’t do this, but it is still a natural cat behaviour that comes as part and parcel of cat ownership!
Many people try putting a bell on their cat’s collars to try and curb their hunting behaviour or limit their success rate, but does a bell stop a cat from hunting? No, not usually. This article will tell you more.
What’s the logic behind putting a bell on a cat’s collar?
Cat owners who put a bell on their cat’s collar or that are considering doing so work under the logic that when the cat moves, the bell will sound and so, alert potential prey to the cat’s presence so that they can get away and avoid becoming a snack!
Additionally some cat owners theorise that over time if the cat isn’t successful when they hunt due to the effect of the bell, they may lose interest in hunting entirely.
This is very unlikely. Even if the bell gave your cat a disadvantage by warning prey off (which is unlikely, as we’ll explain in a moment) it will not cancel out your cat’s prey drive. The domestic cat is sometimes referred to as “the ultimate hunter” in terms of how their conformation, activities and minds support their abilities as a hunter.
In terms of hunting success, few other mammals could even come close to the domestic cat when it comes to catching and killing their target prey, including large wild cat species like lions and tigers.
The cat’s innate prey drive is an integral part of it, and evolution over millennia has ensured that this drive is hardwired into the nature of the cat itself, and this cannot realistically be undone overnight for individual cats with a bell.
The main logic used for putting a bell on a cat’s collar is that the sound the bell makes will warn your cat’s target prey of the cat’s approach and so, give the unfortunate prey in question an early warning and the chance to escape unharmed. Is this true? Well, again probably not.
When it comes to catching small rodents, cats tend to sit in wait for prey, often for long periods of time, during which they sit very still; still enough in fact that they would not make their bells tinkle. When prey is in sight and in range, cats gather explosive energy to pounce quickly and decisively, and this happens so fast that it the negates the need for silence; the prey hears your cat at that point but they’re unable to get away, if the cat got things right!
The point at which the cat moves to pounce and so makes sound anyway is the same point at which the bell would make a sound, and so is too late.
When it comes to birds, cats are usually far less successful at catching them than they are with rodents. Exceptions to this are baby birds and fledglings that are unable to get away, for which a bell wouldn’t help. However, some cats do stalk and sometimes catch adult birds, although this tends to be opportunistic rather than a common approach.
When stalking birds, they move as low to the ground and smoothly as possible, but their bells may still sound; but birds are used to background noise and birdsong, and so a musical sound like a bell will not necessarily register. Unless the bell sounds particularly loud, incongruent, or startles the bird, it is unlikely to help them get away, but this is moderately more likely than it is for a rodent.
Regardless of the prey being targeted too, you have to bear in mind that there are a lot of sounds always naturally present in nature and a not very loud bell won’t necessarily penetrate them; nor be associated with alarm or danger in the animals that hear it.
Even if putting a bell on your cat’s collar doesn’t actually necessarily stop them catching prey, is there any downside to this or any reason why you shouldn’t try it out? Potentially, yes.
Collars can be a hazard for cats on their own, as they can catch on things and hang the cat. Even safety collars don’t release with 100% reliability, and so putting a collar on a cat is something that you should weigh up and consider very carefully.
When you put something on the collar that dangles, like a bell, the risk of this catching on something increases and can become an acute hazard.
Also, the bell will sound more or less continually when your cat moves, and over time in order to counteract this (as you can imagine, a constant tinkling sounds close to your ears would be annoying and potentially mess with your hearing and perceptions) they begin to tune out some noises.
This can place them at risk of missing the sounds of hazards and warnings; and the sound of the bell itself can disadvantage your cat when it comes to hearing things that may be dangerous to them (like dogs or cars) from approaching.