Cat Critter Gifts

Here in Texas, the warm weather continues to bring big-bug migrations from outside to the living room. The cats are thrilled with cricket carcasses and the occasional disoriented field mouse that takes a deadly detour. Thank goodness, both Karma-Kat and Seren-Kitty haven’t presented me with anything beyond a cricket drumstick. But it’s not unusual for cats to share their bounty. Mousey morsels end up on the front porch or (Ew!) a beloved owner’s pillow. Why do cats bring us critter gifts?

Why Cats Hunt

No matter that cats were domesticated centuries ago, the instinct to hunt remains. Whether feral feline, barn cat, indoor-outdoor pet (to a safe enclosure of course!) or exclusively house kitty, many cats channel their inner wild child to hunt. They capture feather toys with great leaps, stalk anything that wriggles, capture grasshoppers, or ambush ankles. Very successful cats capture rats and bunnies and snakes, oh my!

Sheba doesn’t have to be hungry to hunt, either. Well-fed cats hunt better, because they have energy to burn. The behavior is hardwired in the cat brain so that the scurrying motion and ultrasonic squeak simply triggers a knee-jerk (paw-jerk?) reaction to pounce.

Kitty Critter Gifts

So what do these well-fed cats do once they’ve captured that ferocious moth or decapitated the vole? If they love you, some cats share the bounty. Such “gifts” may be displayed on the back step, in their food bowl, or (oh, joy!) on your pillow.

There are a few different theories on why cats bring us their hunting trophies. Some behaviorists believe these cats look on their humans as inept hunters unable to bring home the bacon (or butterfly) without feline assistance. After all, he’s never seen YOU get down on all fours and pounce on your evening meal! These cats may even bring home live prey, and turn it loose in the house, much as they would do to teach a kitten the ABCs of hunting.

Other experts theorize that the cat simply brings his trophy to his nest–the house–with plans to play with, enjoy, and munch later. How frustrated our kitties must be to have their plans thwarted by dense, unappreciative humans when we (gasp!) rescue the still-living creature and turn it loose. Or dump the gift in the garbage. How rude!

What To Do With Critter Gifts

Placing a bell on the collar may help give the cat’s prey an early warning and prevent or reduce the number of undesirable gifts you receive. However, truly proficient cat hunters learn to move without ever ringing that bell. A better way to thwart the behavior is to simply keep the cat inside, and provide your indoor tiger with alternative toys that fulfill the desire to hunt.

Of course, some houses are more critter-proof than others. Critters crawl under doorways, or enter through attic spaces and (maybe?) deserve what they get from the resident feline.

So, what’s a sensitive, caring owner to do?

Pay your cat a compliment, of course! Smile, praise the cat, let him or her preen with pride when you extol exceptional hunting prowess. Then (when kitty isn’t looking) carefully dispose of the trophy and perhaps replace it with a more wholesome treat.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT