If you’re a cat owner, chances are you’ve woken up to some form of a dead critter on your doorstep – or at the foot of your bed … or in your shoe. My cat, Rascal, is guilty of all of the above, including one poor little lizard left on my pillow. Let’s just say he’s lived up to his name.
If your cat has ever left a dead mouse on the back porch, or even left their favorite stuffed mouse in your shoe, you’ve probably asked yourself, “Why does my cat do this? Are they leaving me a gift? Are they just bloodthirsty killers?” The long and short of it? It all comes down to instinct.
Though they were first domesticated nearly 10,000 years ago, housecats retain the keen hunting instincts of their wild ancestors. Almost every fluffy inch of your cat is designed to hunt and kill prey, from the tips of their cute noses to their adorable paws. Consider their incredibly sharp retractable claws, teeth meant for piercing flesh, cushioned paws designed for stealth, whiskers that detect movement and vibrations in the air, and sensitive ears that can detect tiny variances in sounds up to one-tenth of a tone apart.
Needless to say, it’s difficult for a cat to deny its nature, even if their food bowl is full.
So we know why cats are so awesome at annihilating small animals. Why do they insist on bringing them to you?
It's all about prey drive.
As explained above, cats were born to hunt. And when your cat finally lets out that natural, instinctive urge to hunt and brings it back to you, your cat is acting out its inherent “prey-retrieval” instinct, which essentially means bringing their kill back to a safe place to eat. Indoor kitties that have no live “prey” to hunt might substitute a favorite toy mouse or ball. This is because while cats are natural predators, they’re also small enough to be considered prey to larger predators. They’re just looking for a safe place to snack!
How to Redirect That Prey Drive
A cat’s natural desire to hunt cannot – and should not – be suppressed. Don’t punish your cat for doing what comes naturally to them! A great way to satisfy your cat’s natural instincts is to redirect that strong prey drive with toys. If your cat seems to enjoy stalking birds, wand and feather toys are a great solution. And if your cat likes more land-locked prey like mice or lizards that move and zip really fast, the remote control Mouse Hunt Toy is a great way to redirect that natural hunting behavior; with its realistic mouse appearance and speedy movements, it gives your cat the ideal hunt: stalk, chase, and catch. And it gets you involved and playing with your cat, too, which helps you bond with your kitty!
A cat needs mental stimulation, especially if it is a cat that seems to have a strong prey drive. If it doesn’t have anything to hunt, chase, and catch, then it will find something to fulfill its prey drive … and then it’s lights out for Mickey Mouse. And you’re left with the task of rodent body removal. Yikes.
Engage your kitty in plenty of play every day to redirect their natural hunting behaviors. This not only reduces behavioral problems for cats that are prone to bringing mice or lizards to your door but also gives your cat plenty of exercise!
Your cat thinks you’re a bad hunter.
Some behaviorists believe that cats see us humans as bumbling, inferior hunters who simply can’t provide for themselves. So the gory “gift” of a dead critter (or toy mouse, for indoor kitties) is a way for your cat to try and provide for the poor, dumb human who wouldn’t know what to do with a mouse if bit us on the butt. Which … well, they’re not exactly wrong!
Your cat is trying to teach you.
In the wild, momma cats teach their young how to hunt and eat their prey by bringing home dead or injured prey. Domestic cats may be doing the same! Spayed female cats are most likely to bring “gifts” to their owners. But unable to have kittens of their own to pass on their knowledge to, their humans are the next best thing. So when your cat brings you a dead mouse (or a half-dead mouse), she may be acting out her role as mom and teacher.