Monday 17 January 2011

Cat Preying A Priority Over Eating

People who are involved in wild bird conservation are eager to quote unsupported statistics that suggest that the domestic cat is responsible for a mass slaughter of birds (misleading see this) and that cats breed like flies and as a consequence the domestic cat as a feral cat should more or less exterminated. An example of the antagonism between bird conservationists and cat lovers is seen in a Los Angeles court ruling regarding the city's funding of trap-neuter-return programs: Feral Cats of Los Angeles.

F1 Savannah kitten FOCUS preying on birds
Photo by Michael Broad of PoC - licensed to be used as is and with a credit please!

The bird conservationists are also incensed by what they see as the wanton and murderous behavior of feral cats in killing prey for what seems like the pleasure of it. Cats catching and playing with prey but not eating it are cited as another reason why cats should be dealt with more strictly.

I write this to try and put a bit of balance back into the discussion. Firstly, there are an endless number of articles on the internet about the breeding capability of cats - they are nearly all wrong. Please read this article: How Fast Do Cats Breed?

However in this short post I want to see if I can explain why cats do seem to catch prey for the hell of it.

A study presented on Science Direct seems to help: The interaction of hunger and preying in the domestic cat (Felis catus): An adaptive hierarchy? - author: Robert E. Adamec Psychology Department, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, B3H 4J1

In this study - and I read from the abstract only - the commercial food preferences of six domestic cats (Felis catus) was assessed. Their preferences in ascending order of preference was given to them as well as a live rat! The cats where allowed 45 seconds eating time of the commercial food before the rat was presented to them nearby.

In each case the cat stopped eating, chased and attacked the rat, killed it, brought the dead rat back to the commercial food area and recommenced eating the commercial food! And neither did the cats change their preying behavior when commercial food was not presented to them.

What does this tell us? The scientist who conducted the research says this: "These data suggest that eating is not a terminal “consummatory” component of preying as a food-getting response"

I interpret that as follows. A cat does not prey on animals to necessarily eat. The ultimate goal of preying on animals is not to consume the animal but to get the food in the store and maintain an adequate food supply. A cat is motivated by hunger to prey.

Isn't the cat's behavior then wholly acceptable and normal. Wouldn't you as a person do the same thing if you were trying to survive under extremely difficult circumstances? Cats can't pop down to the supermarket or buy online. And in any case we buy food for storage.

Lets try and equate our behavior to the domestic cat - i.e. place outselves under similar cirmcumtances.

Recently when there were floods looming in certain areas of England people began to panic shop. The supermarkets were cleared out of essential foods. People had foreseen a shortage and planned to create a store.

Isn't this exactly what the cat does or is programmed to do. Yes, domestic cats don't have to kill prey because we feed them but they are hard wired to follow wildcat behavior and have wild cat instincts. They kill to store food against a rainy day.

We should not punish cats for that. If we do we must punish ourselves too.

See also: Domestic Cat Hunting and Cat Behavior

Michael Avatar

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