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If you’re the proud owner of a free-roaming kitty then chances are that you’ve found a dead critter on your back porch or even on your bedside at least once.
For some of you, the element of surprise at the sight of these once unexpected macabre gifts has long since dissipated, but if your kitty could talk, I’m sure you’d still like to ask them why they do it?
So why do cats bring you dead animals? The reason why your cat brings you dead or alive animals as gifts is that they see you as part of their family. They’re either trying to teach you how to hunt, or they’re presenting you with their catch as a sign of love.
Let’s dive deeper into the multiple reasons your kitty might be leaving dead prey on your doorstep, and ways you can deal with this disturbing behavior!
Why Do Cats Bring You Dead Animals?
Being a cat parent gives you the opportunity to explore the feline world, every bit of their quirky behaviors and unique personalities. While we can humanize many of their habits, there’s one part of cats that is too wild to tame and that’s their hunting instincts.
Most of us have seen this wild side of them unravel before our eyes when they walk towards us with a stuffed mouse in their mouth and with an intense bravado of a seasoned hunter, while for other cat parents their feline companions find actual dead or even alive animals to present them with.
So, what’s our role in their hunting games, why are we the receivers of their game?
Reason 1: They Bring You Gifts As A Sign Of Love
Even though feline domestication took 10,000 years ago, cats are still seen as aloof and unable to connect with humans. But this coldhearted portrayal is clearly unjust and dishonest as any loving cat parent and cat behaviorist will tell you!
To be more specific, a research paper on “Attachment Bonds Between Domestic Cats And Humans” tell us that cats are more than capable of connecting with humans, of creating attachments, and just like in human babies, these attachments can be either secure or insecure. Kristyn Vitale, a co-author of this research, also states that “the majority of cats are looking to their owners to be a source of safety and security.”
So, it only makes sense that when your kitty shares something so vital to their survival as their hunting game, they do it out of love. While a dead mouse might not be the best start to one’s morning, you can see it as a grand gesture which in cat language translates to “you’re part of the club”, or “you’re my favorite human”!
Reason 2: Your Cat Wants Praise
I know what you’re thinking, why would cats need a confidence boost? And I must agree to some extent since my kitties more often than not act like they are part of some royal feline family! But still, I think everyone needs validation from time to time, even our perfect fluffy familiars.
So, if you find your kitty staring and meowing at you after dropping a grasshopper with a missing leg in front of you, then they’re definitely expecting some form of praise for the grand trophy they just brought. They probably think that they deserve a pat on the back, a scratch under their chin, and even a treat for their hard work!
This hunting achievement on its own is bound to send signals of pleasure and satisfaction to your cat’s brain since it’s a positive mental stimulation, but your praise could also a part of it! Funny thing is that most cats will see it as a reward for their hunting prowess, and that might motivate them to bring you a bigger catch next time!
Reason 3: They Are Showing You How To Hunt
It’s also quite possible that the dead critters you keep finding around the house are a message or a hint at your own bad hunting skills. Your feline companion might be concerned that you’re not a capable provider and so they’re trying to teach you how to hunt.
John Bradshaw a cat-behavior expert states that “cats behave toward us in a way that’s indistinguishable from how they would act toward other cats.” So, this behavior could be linked to a cat’s parenting. Just like a cat mother would be responsible for teaching her kittens how to hunt, similarly, your kitty could be trying to do the same by bringing you a dead or an alive animal so you can learn a trick or two!
The biologist Roger Tabor stated that “kittens who are able to observe their mothers hunt and kill become better at these skills themselves.” Maybe next time leave some money in front of your cat, who knows, perhaps they’ll start bringing in some cash to pay their share of the rent.
Reason 4: They Are Bringing Food To The Table
Cats might have taken over our hearts and homes, but before that, they had a different role. Historical studies have shown that from the moment cats decided to be a part of human settlements, “they settled into a mutually beneficial relationship as human’s rodent patrol.”
So, while some kitties might be enjoying the internet stardom, others might miss the good old days when they could be practically useful. Basically, another reason you might have a kitty bringing you unwanted gifts because they want to provide for you and pay your kindness in the form of a dead animal. But in all seriousness, if cats do see us as part of their family then they’ll want to share their bounty with us.
Reason 5: They Might Get Hungry Later
Cats usually go for much smaller prey not only because they themselves are petite, but because it’s easier for them to hunt down, catch and eat the small prey in one go. There are of course situations when a cat might be full, especially if they also have kitty kibble available in their house, so they’ll instead bring their catch back home or in a secret location to eat later. It’s also possible that they associate your house with food, and their home is a safe space where they can consume the hard-earned game.
If that’s the case for your cat then you might see them move their prey around until they’re hungry enough or they feel safe enough to concentrate their efforts on finishing their meal. In my experience when one of my cats caught a sparrow he instantly knew he was in trouble, so he went under the bed where I couldn’t reach him. Fortunately, after some effort, I did get them out of his hiding spot and I let the sparrow escape through the window!
Reason 6: They Want To Play
Whether our cats are allowed to go outside or not, most of them enjoy the company of humans. Some might prefer to cuddle, others enjoy the process of grooming while there are those who mostly connect with their owner through play.
As most of you probably have noticed cat toys are specifically designed to ignite their inner hunter spirit, so they come in the shape of mice, snakes or they’re feathery like the tail of a bird. For some cats, it can become confusing since they truly immerse themselves in this playful hunting experience, but what happens if they find a real mouse, a live snake, and an actual feathery bird?
Most likely they will hunt this prey down and there’s a possibility that once they’re done and the animal is no longer moving they might bring it to you as they usually do with their toys, so the game can go on.
Why Do Cats Kill Their Prey And Don’t Eat It?
Cats use different methods to capture their prey, one method relies on short bursts of energy as they actively stalk, run and pounce after the small animal. The other method is less active and the cat will spend a long-time sitting and waiting for the right time to attack the prey as it emerges.
No matter the method, cats won’t always go for the kill when they hunt, and sometimes they’ll even “play” with the prey before eating it. Dennis Turner, a Swiss-American biologist, explains that “cats are opportunistic hunters and must be ready to stalk and catch any prey they discover by chance – even if they’re not hungry.”
This means that even if a cat isn’t hungry, it’s part of their instincts to go for the next kill and they have to be able to catch this prey each time the opportunity arises. Sometimes cats will also play with the prey until they get hungry, and the journal Animal Behavior shows that “the bigger and more dangerous the prey, the longer the cat plays with it” so by this logic a larger bird or a rat would stay alive longer than a smaller critter.
Take for example this video of a cat that brought home a duck (spoilers there’s a happy ending!). The kitty looks quite pleased with his achievement, their owners are geniounly shocked, but it’s I think it’s clear that the size of the duck is probably what saved it!
I also want to note that while some people see this playful hunting style as cruel, that’s not a fair description. Cats aren’t human and they can’t know what cruel is. What we see as play isn’t necessarily a game for them, but constant practice and honing of their hunting skills. It’s not malice that drives them, but survival.
Is It Safe For My Cat To Eat Rodents And Birds?
Some cats might spend most of their life hunting and killing insects, rodents, and birds, without it affecting their health, nonetheless this habit can still prove unsafe for many cats and even fatal for others.
Whether you let your kitty enjoy the outdoors or they have their own balcony, chances are that they will one day catch some small prey. If your kitty ends up eating a bird that means that they’ll have to go through feathers and most importantly small bones that according to Patricia Walters from the New England Animal Medical Center, are the most common foreign object that can get stuck in the esophagus.
If you find a dead bird at your house, it’s important that you check in with your kitty. If they’ve eaten some or most of the bird then you might find your cat drooling excessively, gagging, and regurgitating, in which case they’ll need the immediate attention of a veterinarian.
Aside from bones and other small parts of animals, food poisoning is also something to be aware of, since rodents and birds are usually carriers of fleas ticks, bacteria, and parasites. According to studies on birds in urban areas, sparrows were the most infected birds (52.4%). The bird or rat on your doorstep might not even be a hunting catch made by your cat and the prey could’ve been already dead or dying when they caught it.
It’s important to note that birds can also cause a condition called “songbird fever” which happens when cats are infected with salmonella. This serious infection not only affects your cat’s health, but it could transfer to humans. Mice and other various rodents are also dangerous and can infect a cat with serious diseases like hantavirus and leptospirosis, and while these won’t affect the owner, another disease called toxoplasmosis most likely will.
Next time you find a gift brought to you by your loving kitty, keep an eye on their health and I’d even suggest you call or visit your trusted veterinarian to make sure that you’re all safe.
The Danger Cats Pose To Wildlife
As we’ve established, cats are great hunters, but this activity can easily prove hazardous for their furry health and for ours, as well as have a serious impact on wildlife.
According to research “cats undoubtedly have significant detrimental effects on some vulnerable species, especially in island ecosystems.” And while feral cats do share a large part of this responsibility, domestic cats are also causing this problem.
Depending on where you live this impact might be different, but for countries like Australia or the Hawaiian Islands, the numbers of endangered birds are taking a big hit and other species which didn’t evolve to defend themselves against animals like cats.
As more studies emerge the more it’s clear that domestic kitties that are free to go about their day outside greatly affect the wildlife in their area. This can be a difficult conversation to have especially for cat owners who want to do what’s best for their cats, but it’s also necessary to understand that managing our cat’s hunting instincts won’t only benefit the birds or small animals, but also the cats themselves.
How Do I Stop My Cat From Bringing Home Dead Animals?
Understanding the dangers your cat’s gifts pose is one thing, but stopping your kitty from bringing them is a completely different story. As a cat parent I oftentimes find it difficult to say no to my cats, and most of the time I’m ok with them ruling over me, but when their safety is at stake, I think most of you know that it’s time to take action, and the question here is how?
Restrict Your Cat’s Access To The Outdoors
The easiest way to guarantee that your kitty won’t ever bring you dead animals is by keeping them as indoor cats only. Of course, for cats that are used to go out all their lives, it can be a difficult change, and certain adjustments will need to be made to turn the transition into a positive one. The first step is to take it slow, and not restrict your fellow familiar completely. One trick is to always feed them indoors when they return from their trip and begin to gradually decrease the amount of time you let them go outside.
According to veterinarians “many cats will adjust with little effort, while others will be miserable—and let you know it. They might scratch at doors, claw at windows, yowl, and try to dash through open doors.” If your cat reacts badly, try to be patient during this period and try to support your kitty as they struggle to adjust to a new reality. To help your kitty enjoy the inside of your home, you’ll need to make sure they have the perfect environment. While food is a great way to train them, indoor play sessions, scratching posits, tall cat trees, and a clean litter box are also essential.
Turning your house into a kitty playground can truly help them redirect their prey drive and appreciate their indoor life, but if your kitty really can’t handle staying inside then perhaps you could train them to walk on a leash. This way you’ll have complete control over their hunting behavior, but your kitty will still feel stimulated from the outdoor excursions. It’s also helpful to remember that cats are crepuscular animals, meaning they’re most active during the twilight hours of dusk and dawn, so keeping them inside in the late hours can also help bring down their hunting success.
Let’s also not forget another great way to offer your kitty a truce between the outside and inside world by investing in an outdoor portable enclosure. If you’re handy and you’d like to take up a DIY project then a catio could be a great choice. This way not only will you find zero dead animals at your doorstep, but you can also help your kitty keep in touch with the outside world.
Finally, spaying and neutering can greatly reduce your cat’s urge to mate and mark their own territory which happens to be outside. This will both help decrease the number of stray kittens, but you will also be keeping your kitty safe from outside dangers. Studies have shown that “urban cats that go outdoors have far shorter life spans (averaging 2 years or less), while most indoor cats will live over 15 years.” So, if you’ve got a cat in heat, you can find a list of low-cost spay/neuter clinics across the globe thanks to PetSmart by clicking here.
Attach A Bell To Your Cat’s Collar
I know that changing your cat’s outdoor habits can be tough. I mean how can you possibly explain to your adventurous kitty that the outside world can be dangerous and the dead animals they keep bringing you are potentially dangerous and not part of your aesthetic.
Well, an easy solution that could definitely lower their chances of striking gold when they’re out hunting are belled collars. Having a cat wear a collar is always a great choice since the tags can be really useful in identifying them in case they get lost, but the bell also alerts the prey that they’re about to be caught.
A wildlife research state that “Belled collars are probably one of the cheapest and least intrusive methods” and their results also have shown that “prey caught and brought back home by cats that were regular hunters during 6 weeks when they wore a belled collar was compared with prey caught during 6 weeks when they did not wear a collar. Key results. Predation of birds and rodents was reduced by 50% and 61%, respectively.”
My favorite collar is the GoTags Personalized Cat Collar because it has a quick-release mechanism, you can customize it by adding your kitty’s name and your phone number which will be permanently stitched into the nylon webbing! So, the tag isn’t going anywhere and you’ll have a bell to keep the wildlife safer!
Change Your Cat’s Feeding Conditions
It’s true that our cats aren’t always motivated by hunger when they go out for a hunt but altering their feeding habits could still help limit their hunting desire. A recent study done by the University Of Exeter found that “introducing a premium commercial food where proteins came from meat reduced the number of prey animals cats brought home by 36%, and also that five to ten minutes of daily play with an owner resulted in a 25% reduction.”
Feeding your kitty a protein-rich food is certainly the key, but overfeeding isn’t, so make sure you get a professional opinion on what brand will suit your cat’s needs. Letting them graze is also not the answer, instead try to mimic their natural feeding patterns, which are usually small portions throughout the day. If you’re too busy to keep track of your kitty’s feeding then let an automatic cat food feeder take on this responsibility!
Take Care Of The Mice So Your Cat Doesn’t Have To
Before commercial food came to be out cats earned their share of food by spending their time in barns hunting for mice and rats. A lot of things have changed since then, and humans have learned to love and cherish cats as their animal companions, and while cats can still be useful mousers on farms, overall rodents and other small animals can carry serious diseases that can hurt you and your cat.
So, instead of using your kitty as a mouser, or if you don’t want them to bring the dead mice inside, try tackling the mice population on your property yourself or with the help of professionals. if your cat hangs out in the storage room make sure you keep all the food in airtight containers so the mice aren’t attracted to that area. Most importantly, by taking care of this problem, you’ll keep your kitty, and your family safe from any infections and diseases that these rodents can spread.
I know when we think of gifts, a dead animal isn’t at the top of our list, but for cats, this is the ultimate present. Catching a flying bird or a cunning rodent and bringing it back to us is a symbol of their prowess and their big cat energy! Moreso, it’s a sign of affection, and in the feline language what can be more romantic than sharing the catch of the day with you their fellow human?
Now tell us, have you received any dead animal from your kitty lately and what do you think is the message behind this gesture?