Why Do Cats Chase Mice?

Why Do Cats Chase Mice?

Your well-fed, regularly entertained cat insists on tormenting small animals, reptiles, and insects. The reason for this behavior is not about the food or even about the fun. While it may be disturbing to see your sweet, gentle ball of kitty fluff turn into a merciless torturer and killer before your eyes, conscience has nothing to do with it. Domestication cannot tame a feline’s instinctual drive to hunt and conquer, just as humans will use their hands to protect their face from water flying toward the barrier of a car windshield. Nature’s blueprint is strong and deeply ingrained, even if a feline has never been in the wild.

But They're So Cute...

And even if they’re ugly, it can still be tough to take seeing kitty carnage before your very eyes. The key attributes of any cat’s prey are that it’s smaller, slower moving, and conquerable. No pet store toy can take the place of the real deal for any self-respecting feline. These traits describe victims other than mice, such as birds, frogs, and as any southerner can tell you, large flying roaches known as Palmetto bugs. Although it can be sad to see furry and feathered creatures’ lives ended by your little huntress.  But bug killing can not only entertain your fun feline, it can also eliminate the cost of an exterminator, reinforcing your cat’s opinion that she’s doing you a service.

Why Does She Torture Her Kill?

Admittedly, even if her kill is not cute, seeing your cat torture it can still be hard to take. How can your kitty be so sweet and yet so vicious? The answer lies again with her wiring as well as her domesticated environment. Maiming her victim ensures that she’s in charge of the fight and protects her from being bitten herself. For homebound cats who live an exclusively indoor life, opportunities to catch prey can be rare. Once they finally get to flex their predatory muscles with catching a mouse or other small creature, kitties recognize that the chance may not come again soon and want to draw out the ecstasy of the event for as long as possible. If this is not her first time having you witness her antics, she may also know that you may soon put a stop to it and want to get as much out of her thrilling experience as possible.

She Brought a Present- Now What?

In kitty’s mind, bringing you her prey is presenting you with a gift, showing you how strong and brave she is, and honoring you by choosing to give her hard-earned reward to the one she loves the most. To you, it’s probably just gross, especially if she places it in your lap or lays it beside you in your bed. So how can you best handle her habit of killing creatures and giving them to you? First, establishing parameters on how she presents it is crucial and can be part of her training, like with any other behavior you want her to learn. When she brings it to you and drops it on the floor, praise her for being such a good huntress. However, if she drops it at your feet in an unacceptable area, such as your bed, pick it up with a napkin, bring it to a kill-friendly place (perhaps your living room), and then praise her – not before.

You can still get out her hunting ya-ya’s by tossing around a store-bought toy mouse and encouraging her to bring it back to you. But nothing can ever take the place of the real deal.

 Image: Vorstius / via Flickr

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