Cats On The Hunt
(This article was originally published in the Fall 2009 Issue of Cat Basics and is reproduced here with the permission of the publisher.)
Hunting is a learned, not an inherited, behaviour so if Mamma Cat teaches the kittens to hunt, that kitten will always hunt.
Animal capture does not always lead to the prey being eaten. Sometimes the cat will just play with his victim for a while.
Home-fed cats will still hunt so it is not necessarily hunger that drives this behaviour. The typical adult feral (gone wild) cat will enjoy about seven prey meals per day. A hunting barn or feral cat does not need any supplemental feeding if prey is plentiful.
When your cat drops a lovely dead rodent at your feet, he isn't trying to be mean; in fact, he is showing his affection. According to some cat psychologists, cats see their favourite person as a mother figure and offering his hard-won prey to you means you are his "special" human.
Scolding the cat is not an effective deterrent, so accept the "gift" graciously (as much as possible), wrap it up and place it in the trash. Remember that gloves should be used to handle any wild offerings.
Good or Bad?
Many people wonder if hunting is a good or bad thing. Cats that eat this food source enjoy Mother Nature's bounty and the nutrient balance is perfect for this obligatory carnivore species. An all-natural diet like this will ensure excellent health from a nutrient balance perspective.
On the downside, parasites can be passed to cats from certain prey. Tapeworms can exist in some prey and thus, enter the hunting cat. Tape segments look like rice if they come out the back end of the cat and dry out in the fur. Otherwise, no signs may be noted. Your veterinarian may find eggs in a microscopic check of the feces, or sometimes live, moving segments will be passed in the stools. Treatments should be done promptly for cat worms since some parasites are zoonotic (shared between people and animal). Birds may also carry harmful germs such as salmonella which can potentially cause illness, but studies to examine the frequency of cats becoming sick or just germ carriers are not published.
Save the Birds!
Since many songbirds are endangered, many people now keep their keen hunters indoors, or place bells on the cat's collar to help warn the birds when they are being stalked. Mind you, cats soon discover how to move with such stealth that they do not activate the bells. Outdoor play enclosures with wire sides and top can be built or purchased so that the cat may look around, get exercise and fresh air, and enjoy the birds outside, but will not be able to kill them.
Hunting is not something one can teach, nor is it a habit you can break, so you must take measures to prevent hunting; or; next time kitty brings you an offering, take it as a compliment!