Tortoiseshell cat hunting for prey

Even domestic cats have a natural hunting instinct. As crepuscular animals they hunt at dawn and dusk.

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How can I stop my cat from bringing in prey from outdoors?

By Greta Inglis Dog Behaviourist | Animal Behaviourist

Published on the

Has your cat’s habit of bringing home prey become too much? Here we take a look at why cats do this, and ways you can stop the gifts from coming.

Many cat owners have experienced the contentment of their cat as they bring home an animal, leaving it as a gift in the most undesirable of places. While this is often thought of as part of life with a feline friend, you may not appreciate the gesture.

Thankfully, understanding why your cat does this and implementing steps to stop it is possible, it just takes some planning and management along the way.

Why do cats bring you dead animals?

Some owners believe their cat is bringing home dead animals to mark their territory or signal appreciation for their home. Without being able to ask your cat we can’t rule this out completely, but it’s likely that hunting instincts are largely at play.

All cats have a natural instinct to hunt, and a female cat will teach her young kittens a range of hunting skills from a very young age. As opportunistic hunters, it may be that your cat can’t resist the movement of small birds and mice, feeling compelled to carry out the hunting sequence of stalking, pouncing and killing. Once caught, they’ll look for a safe place to retreat to hide their prey, and as territorial animals, where better than to bring it back to the safety of their home. This avoids the risk of their catch being taken away by another animal.

Stray cats can be very protective over their food and may use your house to hide their prey.

Why do cats play with their prey?

There are various possible explanations for this behaviour, which come down to both instinct and experience.

Kittens are usually taught their hunting skills by their mother, but if they were taken away too early or kept in an environment as an indoor cat, they may never have learnt the full hunting sequence of eye, stalk, pounce, grab and kill. If this is the case, you may find that your domestic cat understands the stalking and pouncing, to the point of re-catching and chasing, but they don’t quite know how to end the hunt.

Another reason you may find your cat plays with prey, is just that they don’t need to hunt for their food. Our domestic pets are fed on a regular basis, meaning they don’t actually need to eat what they catch to survive.

How to stop your cat from bringing in live animals

Bringing in dead animals is one thing, but when your cat brings in live animals this can be particularly hard to handle.

Cats are both obligate carnivores, and crepuscular, meaning they’re most active at periods of low light in the morning and at dusk. With hard-wired hunting instincts, cats will be trying to complete their hunting sequence and catch the animal. If they get distracted or decide they need a safe space to kill their prey, you may find they bring live wildlife back into the home.

When it comes to stopping your cat bringing in prey, there are steps you can take. Try these simple ideas to avoid your cat’s gifts being brought home, dead or alive…

Make your space less attractive to small animals

Prevention is better than cure when it comes to your cat’s hunting instincts, and structuring your garden in a way that keeps small animals up high is always a good idea.

Keep bird baths away from your cat’s usual exercise area and make sure all food you offer is out of reach. Your cat will be able to watch the wildlife, but they won’t be able to reach them.

Stop your cat from hunting with a collar

It may sound like a simple solution, but putting a collar on your cat is a great way of warning prey that they’re coming. This removes your cat’s stealthy hunting ability, and will make hunting little animals much more difficult.

If you do go down the collar route, be sure to choose a breakaway collar that will open immediately if your cat gets stuck somewhere. This is always the safest option for cats that roam freely.

Consider a meat rich diet and lots of play-time

While research has always looked at inhibiting the hunting sequence – from the use of a collar to restricting the amount of time your cat can be outdoors – a recent study at the university of Exeter, has found that a meat-rich diet and lots of play can significantly reduce the problem.

Playing with your cat indoors or outside on a regular basis can go a long way in stopping them bringing prey inside. Interactive toys such as a cat wand or a toy on a string are perfect for simulating a hunting sequence in the safety of your own home.

When it comes down to it, stopping your cat from bringing prey indoors is as much about protecting local wildlife as it is your cat. Preventing all access to the outdoors can lead to stress and changes in behaviour, but luckily there are many other things you can try, from lots of fun games to a meat-rich diet.

Playing regularly will not only keep your cat active and well-balanced, but will also strengthen the bond you have with them in the long-term. As a bonus, the local small animal and bird population will be able to move around freely, without the fear of being taken home as a gift from your feline friend.

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