Purr-vider: Why Do Cats Bring You Dead Animals?


Updated: October 12, 2023

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In the feline world, expressing love to their human is an art form, and for cats, it often involves presenting a rather unconventional gift – a deceased or struggling small creature. While this may evoke a mix of emotions in their human companions, it stems from a deeply ingrained hunting instinct that defines their essence.

Even in the cozy confines of modern households, where kitties exude affection and companionship, it’s crucial to acknowledge their primal roots. Mother cats diligently pass on the hunting legacy to their offspring, a tradition that endures even when a female is spayed. The urge to track, capture, and offer their bounty to their ‘family’ persists as a testament to their innate nature as skilled hunters.

Natural Born Predators

Cats are born predators, a trait deeply ingrained in their DNA. This hunting instinct is vividly exemplified by their wild counterparts, the formidable wildcats.

Even in our domesticated companions, this primal drive to hunt and provide persists. Within a feline pack, it falls upon the females to secure sustenance for the group, mirroring the traditions of their forebears. The mother cat takes on the vital role of instructing her kittens in the art of the hunt.

For indoor cats, the absence of live prey doesn’t diminish their innate hunting impulse. Instead, they redirect it towards toys, still driven by an ancient calling. While they may not gift their humans with live animals, they’ll gladly present their playthings.

Regrettably, patience isn’t always a feline virtue. Many a cat owner has encountered the surprise of a lively mouse, bird, or squirrel brought forth by their vigilant companion. Should such a guest be released, it’s not uncommon for it to find its way back, perhaps adorning your doorstep or even your shoe.

Read also: Why Do Cats Hang Around Your House? (Homebody Housecats)

Domesticated Cats Through History

For over 10,000 years, since the initial records of domesticated felines, cats have frequently been valued for their prowess in hunting mice and other small creatures, serving as diligent pest controllers in their owner’s homes or farms. This aptitude is an inherent and instinctual skill for them.

Ancient Egypt

In ancient Egypt, cats held not only a revered status but were also considered sacred beings. Inflicting harm or causing the demise of a cat incurred severe consequences. The Goddess Bastet was often portrayed with the form of a human female and the head of a cat, signifying her deep connection to feline symbolism. While various deities in Egyptian religion were depicted with feline attributes, Bastet was the first to be represented as a domestic cat.

The grandest and most intricate festivals were dedicated to Bastet. Among the relics of that era, miniature cat statues were prevalent, likely offerings to the goddess. In the vicinity of her temple in the northern city of Bubastis, burial grounds were discovered, yielding numerous mummified remains of domestic cats.

Cats, regardless of their size, were regarded as guardians within the Pharaoh’s residence. Mythology recounts that this reverence might have originated when a cat thwarted a venomous snake poised to strike a high-ranking individual. They were kept in palaces to eradicate scorpions, snakes, and small rodents, and were believed to repel malevolent spirits.

The mummification of cats was likely a means of offering to the various deities associated with feline attributes. This veneration extended from regal lions and panthers to the tiniest domesticated breeds. Ironically, the mummified remains revealed that the cats met their end before reaching two years of age, with strangulation being the primary cause of their demise.

Other Religious Connections

The reverence for cats, along with the practice of mummification, gradually waned with the rise of Christianity. Legend has it that during the birth of Jesus, a cat leaped into the manger to offer comfort to the infant. It’s said that the distinctive ‘M’ pattern on the foreheads of many cats emerged from this encounter, as a mark of gratitude from Jesus’ mother who gently stroked the cat’s head in appreciation.

Within Islam, cats hold a special place of honor, attributed to the belief that the Prophet Muhammad cherished them as pets. It’s recounted that he would willingly leave his cloak behind if a cat had settled upon it. Present-day Muslims often regard cats with great respect, seeking to emulate the behavior of the Prophet Muhammad in their reverence for these feline companions.

The Renaissance

Tragically, cats found themselves entangled in superstitions about witches. In 14th century Europe, this led to the mass slaughter of thousands of these creatures. It is believed that this reduction in their numbers played a substantial role in the proliferation of the Black Death, as the disease-carrying vermin thrived in the absence of their natural predator.

It wasn’t until a medieval Welsh king enacted laws protecting cats that their population was permitted to thrive once more. In contrast, other regions held distinct perspectives on cats. The Vikings held these creatures in high regard for their exceptional skills in hunting and eradicating rats.

How to stop your cat from bringing dead animals and mice home

While your cat’s intentions are well-meaning when they bring you deceased animals, it’s not always the most pleasant gift to receive, and it can also have negative environmental impacts. According to a report by the RSPB titled “How Many Birds do Cats Kill? UK Bird Declines,” it’s estimated that cats in the UK alone capture up to one hundred million creatures during the spring and summer seasons, with twenty-seven million of them being birds.

Given that this behavior is deeply ingrained in your pet, it’s not as straightforward as simply training it out of them. However, there are some straightforward steps you can take to safeguard the wildlife in your vicinity.

Attach a bell to their collar

Affixing a bell to your cat’s collar is a straightforward and effective method to deter them from hunting. The sound of the bell will alert potential prey to your cat’s presence, giving them a chance to escape to safety. Ensure that the collar is of the quick-release variety to prevent any accidental entanglement.

Strategically place bird feeders

If you have bird feeders in your yard and share the space with a feline friend, exercise caution in their placement. Avoid positioning them within easy reach of your cat, especially low to the ground. If your cat is an adept climber, it might be best to reconsider having bird feeders in the garden altogether.

Restrict outdoor access during peak hunting times

Preventing your cat from going out at night and in the early morning can significantly reduce their hunting activities. These are the times when small mammals and birds are most active and vulnerable. While it may be a challenge due to cats’ crepuscular nature (being most active at dawn and dusk), managing their indoor-outdoor access during these times can make a difference.

Channel their hunting instincts through play

Providing your cat with an outlet for their hunting instincts can help satisfy their natural prey drive. Stuffed mice that mimic prey, along with toys that they can chase, such as wind-up mice or wand toys, can be particularly engaging. Play not only fulfills their hunting instincts but also offers exercise and strengthens the bond between you and your feline companion.

Modern Era Cats

The study of cats’ behavior began to pique interest and draw the attention of researchers in the 14th century. Their enigmatic and often aloof demeanor fascinated many, prompting a deeper exploration. As understanding of feline behavior grew, their inherent value became increasingly evident.

Even in modern times, domesticated cats continue to be cherished for their hunting prowess. Farmers and ranchers frequently keep barn cats as essential partners in maintaining their properties, ensuring that rodents like mice and rats are kept in check. Regardless of domestication, the innate drive to hunt and provide persists strongly.

Observing a cat perched by the window, chattering at passing birds, it’s evident that this behavior stems from their instinct to stalk prey by communicating. Perhaps they believe that mimicking bird-like sounds may lure their quarry closer. At times, they seem unaware of the barrier between them and their potential prey.

Given their capacity to collectively eliminate billions of rodents annually, cats play a crucial role in controlling rodent populations. This innate ability makes them highly sought after for properties struggling with mice or rat infestations. It’s this very instinct that rendered them invaluable on ships across the ages.

Cultural Views Of Cats

Cultural beliefs about cats vary significantly around the world. In the United States, black cats are often associated with bad luck, whereas in England, they are seen as harbingers of good fortune, believed to bring blessings to any home or ship they enter.

Japan reveres cats as symbols of good luck, with a particular island where feline inhabitants outnumber humans. Much of the island’s population is dedicated to caring for these cherished creatures. Similarly, China is known for pampering their feline companions.

Russian history has always featured cats prominently. In St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace, a dedicated human staff attends to a community of cats, providing them with specialized care. These Russian feline residents have held a place of high regard, offering solace and companionship to their human counterparts.

Ancient Greece and Rome did not commonly keep cats as pets, preferring other animals like ferrets and weasels for pest control. Historical depictions rarely portrayed cats positively. However, over time, cats were welcomed indoors to replace these earlier choices, reclaiming their status as favored household pets.

Regrettably, not all beliefs about cats are positive. Beyond the superstition surrounding black cats and their association with witchcraft, there was a long-standing fear that allowing a cat near a newborn could lead to suffocation, a misconception rooted in folklore.

Gift Giving Behaviors

Numerous behavioral theories attempt to explain why cats present their human companions with deceased animals. One hypothesis suggests that cats perceive their humans as incapable hunters, hence taking it upon themselves to provide sustenance. In their feline perspective, humans are akin to fellow cats, and offering these small prey is a gesture of goodwill.

Due to their innate instincts, mother cats instill hunting skills in their kittens. Many believe that spayed females might exhibit more predatory behavior than their unaltered counterparts. Studies indicate that female cats are more inclined to bring back prey than males.

Another theory posits that this gift-giving behavior is a cat’s way of expressing gratitude for our care. It’s their unique method of acknowledging our role as providers of shelter and sustenance. Cats less accustomed to hunting in the wild are equally likely to present us with live prey as with lifeless ones.

Yet another theory contends that cats offer these tokens in a bid to engage us in play. They may be inviting us to join in their pursuit of prey, within the confines of the household. Instead of presenting us with actual animals, they may proffer their toys.

This explains the popularity of fuzzy toy mice, available in various sizes and shapes. These toys mimic the appearance of the prey cats naturally seek to present to us. Clearly, they are the favored choice among humans.

There are risks associated with accepting these offerings. Much of the prey cats catch are vermin that can carry perilous diseases like rabies. Additionally, the wildlife they bring may introduce less desirable gifts in the form of fleas.

Outdoor cats are more prone to engaging in this behavior. Given the potential health hazards, it becomes even more crucial to keep domesticated cats indoors. A faux mouse toy is far more appealing than a genuine one.

Understanding that cats perceive humans as a distinct feline variation sheds light on their well-intentioned gestures. Despite our initial shock at receiving such a gift, we must recognize that, in their eyes, they’re offering us the most generous token of their affection.

Why do cats bring dead animals as gifts?

Cats see this as a gesture of love and trust. It’s a behavior rooted in their natural hunting instincts. By offering you a ‘gift,’ they’re essentially sharing their hunting success with you, as they would with their own family in the wild.

How should I react when my cat brings me a dead animal?

While it may be startling, it’s important not to scold your cat. Instead, appreciate the sentiment behind the gesture and consider it a sign of affection. You can discreetly dispose of the gift later.

Can I stop my cat from bringing me dead animals?

It’s challenging to completely eliminate this behavior, as it’s deeply ingrained. However, you can try to redirect their hunting instincts through play and providing toys that mimic prey. This can help satisfy their need to hunt without bringing actual animals.

Is this behavior more common in outdoor cats?

Outdoor cats are more likely to engage in this behavior, as they have more opportunities to hunt. However, indoor cats may also display this behavior, especially if they have access to windows where they can observe potential prey.

Should I be concerned about health risks associated with these gifts?

While it’s generally safe, it’s advisable to handle any animal your cat brings with care. Use gloves or a scoop and dispose of it properly. If you have concerns about potential diseases, consult your veterinarian.

Does this behavior change if my cat is spayed/neutered?

While spaying or neutering may reduce the frequency of this behavior, it may not eliminate it entirely. This is because it’s driven by deep-seated hunting instincts that persist even in altered cats.

Can I discourage this behavior?

You can try to redirect their hunting instincts by providing stimulating toys and engaging in interactive play. Additionally, offering regular, nutritious meals may help lessen their drive to hunt for food.

Does this mean my cat doesn’t love me if they don’t bring me gifts?

Not at all. Cats have various ways of showing affection, and not all of them involve hunting. Pay attention to their body language, purring, and other behaviors that indicate their attachment and love for you.

Conclusion

Why cats bring dead animals as gifts sheds light on their unique way of expressing love and trust. This behavior, deeply rooted in their hunting instincts, is a testament to their natural instincts as skilled hunters. While it may be surprising or even unsettling for us, it’s important to appreciate the sentiment behind the gesture and refrain from scolding our feline companions.

Instead, redirecting their hunting instincts through play and providing suitable toys can be a constructive way to satisfy their innate drive. Remember, there are various ways cats express affection, and each one is a testament to the special bond they share with their human companions.


Michael R

Michael R

I'm a publisher and editor at Cat Guide 101. I imagine that since you’re here, you likely own a cat — or two! — so helping you better understand them is my aim. I'd like to invite you to check out our about page to learn more about the Cat Guide 101 story.

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