Friday 18 May 2012

Domestic Cat Predatory Behavior

Expectations, knowledge and education are important if you keep a cat. If you have a reasonable knowledge of cat behavior and sensible expectations based on that knowledge, it is highly likely that you will have a successful relationship with your cat and that you will respect your cat and cats generally.

Take predatory behavior. It is said that the cat is the world's most skilled predator. It does not matter if we are referring to wild or domestic cats. In the wild, cats have varying degrees of success when capturing prey. Sometimes the success rate is unexpectedly low reflecting the difficulty of catching prey. Apparently feral and domestic cats have a success rate as low as 17% when hunting rabbits (Corbett 1979). See hunting success of wild cats.

You can see the predator in the cat when she pokes a pen around a desk and it falls onto the floor - it is fun to see that or a bit irritating. However,  when your indoor/outdoor cat comes in with a mouse and shows it to you after playing with it all over your hardwood floor, you might become a bit squeamish or annoyed. A reason that some people find this irritating is because they have probably fed their cat the best available commercially manufactured food. Their cat is not hungry. They think their cat gets a kick out of cruelly playing with and then killing a cute mouse. It can be distressing. I understand that.

It helps to accept our cat's predatory behavior if we understand that the motivation to hunt and the feeling of being hungry are separated in a cat.

Cats are finely tuned animals that respond to stimuli that tells them that prey is in the vicinity. The cat will automatically respond to these stimuli such as the high pitched sounds of a mouse and rustling in undergrowth. This automatic response to the presence of prey means that the cat is hunting when at maximum strength as opposed to being hungry and perhaps underfed, thereby in a possibly weakened condition. Killing prey surplus to requirements is a proactive measure in the interests of survival. We should respect cats for that.

Desmond Morris says that the domestic cat plays with his prey as a cautionary measure and/or because the domestic cat has less opportunity to hunt and so extends the process. Some wild cats also play with prey; servals come to mind (they kill 4,000 rodents per annum).  Batting the mouse all over the floor is safer for the cat than biting it in the nape of the neck to kill it.

Female domestic cats will bring prey back to your home as an instinctive desire to teach offspring how to hunt and kill prey. We should be proud of her rather than annoyed.

In the modern, sterilized human world we need to get a bit rough and raw when we keep a domestic cat that goes outside. Despite 9,500 years of domestication and adaptation the domestic cat is wild cat heart.

There is much debate about the effect of the domestic cat on wildlife. The effect is often exaggerated especially by bird conservationists but there must be some effect and it would be nice to reduce the predation of wildlife by the domestic cat. This can be done by keeping the cat in at all times or at least at dawn and dusk, the preferred times, it is thought, for a domestic cat to hunt. However, is that fair on the cat; to prevent the expression of entirely natural behavior? In addition, restricting natural innate activity can lead to stress and unwanted behavior such as aggression. Clearly a good substitute to predation needs to be found and that is play that we manage. However, with the best will in the world, I don't think people want to play with their cat for long periods or at all. That is why manufacturers invent devices that do the work for you. Domestic cat predatory behavior can certainly present problems.

Associated: Domestic Cat and Mouse Picture.

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