Why do kittens throw toys in the air over their shoulder?
This is an instinctive fishing action by a kitten who knows how to do it even if they weren't taught by their mother. It is not a kitten trying to create a bird flying through the air which they then catch and bring to the ground. In a study, it was found that kittens learn to catch fish from ponds at about seven weeks into their life. If they were taught to do it by their mother, they did it at five weeks-of-age. They learn faster when taught by their mother but it is still in their DNA to hunt like this.
|Why do kittens throw toys in the air over their shoulder? To replicate fish hunting. Image: Pixabay.|
There are three primary animals that cats hunt namely mice, fish and birds. Of course, they also catch insects quite often and other prey animals such as reptiles and amphibians. It is the hunting action when catching fish which is replicated in this kitten play behaviour.
They scoop the fish out of the water with their sharp claws and throw it over the shoulder onto the ground behind them. They turn, pounce and kill the fish with a bite. I would expect them to eat the fish while it is still alive.
Catching birds is a different process. They stalk and pounce but often the bird takes off. The cat has to leap up and grab the bird in their claws. If successful, they bring it to the ground and then kill the bird with a nape of the neck bite or a suffocation bite.
As for mice, often cats wait incredibly patiently by a mouse den. When the mouse emerges they pounce and kill with a bite. They immobilise the mouse with their front paws. This is essentially a stalk and pounce process again but a variation on the bird hunting technique.
Of these three techniques the kitten throwing a toy into the air most accurately replicates the fishing technique. Kittens will do this over and over again and pounce on the toy at the end.
Some people think that when kittens do this they are trying to make a bird fly. This appears to be a misconception because very rarely do cat owners see their cat hunting fish but it is commonplace to see them hunt mice and birds if they are allowed outside.