Does your cat spent their time outdoors hunting the local wildlife?
Are you fed up with birds, fish, mice, frogs and maybe even rabbits being brought inside, dead or alive by your pleased with themselves feline companion?
Do you put this down to their natural instinct and accept there’s nothing you can do?
You’re right that cats have a natural instinct to hunt prey, however that doesn’t mean you can’t reduce it.
Why does your cat enjoy hunting wildlife?
In a domestic environment, cats are usually well fed and don’t need to catch prey to survive. However, the need to stalk and hunt prey is a natural instinct. Ambushing, stalking, hunting, fishing and killing prey helps fulfil a species need. This doesn’t just relate to the need for finding food, but for play, activity and stimulation. That’s why domestic cats will often kill prey and leave it uneaten, or bring it inside alive and play with it. What and how much your cat likes to hunt prey will depend on various factors including, their temperament, surrounding environment and their learnt experiences as a kitten.
What not to do to stop your cat hunting wildlife…
Firstly here’s what not to do. Do not tell your cat off for catching and killing prey. As discussed above, it is a natural, normal feline behaviour, which helps fulfil their physical and mental species needs. If they bring it inside, it likely means they feel comfortable and safe at home. So, telling them off, shouting at them, or other punishment methods, may make them feel worried and that their home isn’t a safe space. It’s also unlikely to work. You can tell them off as much as you want, but it’s unlikely to stop their natural instinct.
Keeping your cat indoors all the time without appropriate stimulation, is not ideal either. The inability to carry out normal behaviours can cause stress, which will increase the likelihood of your cat displaying problem behaviours.
Increasing their food ration is also unlikely to help. They may eat more than they require and may put on weight. It won’t stop them engaging in hunting type activities when outside, as they’ll still want stimulation.
What you can do to reduce your cat hunting wildlife…
Thankfully, there’s lots you can do to reduce incidences of your cat hunting prey outdoors, or to keep them indoors (preventing hunting) and also fulfil their species needs.
Add a bell to their collar
Firstly, it’s worth looking into adding a bell to your cat’s collar. This can help alert prey to your cat’s presence. Research shows that bells and similar devices can work to reduce prey catches. However, if your cat struggles to keep a collar on, it may not be the right solution for you.
Increase activity, play and stimulation
Keeping them inside at times when prey are most active may help, however you should implement changes gradually and only if your cat seems happy with the change. Suddenly changing what they are used to may cause stress.
The best way to reduce your cat’s hunting adventures, is to provide them with enrichment and stimulation to fulfil their natural species needs, without the prey!
Take note of their preferences
Take time to consider what and how your cat likes to hunt. For example, do they usually catch fur or feather? Are they a fan of an ambush or a stalk?
Then you can select appropriate toys to help mimic your cat’s natural preferences. Encouraging play multiple times a day will provide an outlet to keep them active and engage their brain to meet that natural need! Toys with a feather or mouse on the end of a stick can help encourage stalking, chasing and pouncing.
Catnip can also be used to add interest to the toy if your cat is a fan.
Use their food ration to encourage activity
You can also create stimulation with food puzzles games. For example, hide some dry food in a toilet roll tube. They will need to paw at it to get the food out. Keep it simple at first and build on the difficulty. If you make it too challenging, this may cause frustration and they might loose interest. Keep play short and sweet. It should mimic hunting, which tends to happen for a short time, multiple times a day. Using their food ration for small and frequent meals throughout the day with activities, rather than feeding from a bowl twice a day will help fill their day with stimulation and activity. We have a habit of feeding pets twice a day because it suits us, not necessarily our pets!
As long as safety is considered, you can use all sorts to create toys, for example cardboard boxes with treats hidden in, or string with a feather attached to the end. Always ensure that your cat’s predatory play is directed at a toy and not hands, feet, legs or hair! If your cat shows signs of inappropriate or unsafe play, then contact a qualified behaviourist for guidance.
Enjoy the play
Ensure your cat receives a balanced diet and add lots of play and stimulation to their daily routine. This will mean they have less need to catch prey. It is also a great way to bond with your cat!