2 reasons why domestic cats 'play' with prey (and it is not because they are psychopathic)

You might know the 2 reasons why your domestic cat - if she is allowed to go outside - 'plays' with the mouse she catches but I'd like to play with the topic for a while. Sorry about the pun. 

2 reasons why domestic cats 'play' with prey (and it is not because they are psychopathic)
2 reasons why domestic cats 'play' with prey (and it is not because they are psychopathic). Image: MikeB.

The first reason is that most domestic cats don't really get enough hunting time. Hunting is in their DNA, and they need to express this desire. For indoor cats it is in the form of play-hunting. When a cat is able to successfully catch a mouse, they want to extend the fun as long as possible and so they toy with the poor animal both before they die and after death. It looks horrible, callous and psychopathic to some humans, but we can't measure cats by reference to human characteristics. 

Cats are insensitive to the pain they cause. They are insensitive to the emotions of the prey animals that they terrorise. We must avoid anthropomorphising cats. So, the first reason why cats play with prey is to extend the excitement of the hunt and the kill because they don't get enough of it. 

Hunting becomes more than an act of survival. It is playing out the hunting instinct and as you know cats hunt when they are not hungry.

The second, instinctive, reason is linked to the first. Many domestic cats get a little bit out of practice on their innate hunting skills and want to make sure that they don't suffer a nasty bite from a highly defensive and athletic little mouse. And so, they bat, slap and toss around the poor creature using their paws thereby avoiding getting their head near the animal, which exhausts the mouse and makes them less of a threat in terms of acquiring an injury. 

Cats want to kill mice with a bite to the head but that exposes them to a bite from mice. The safer way to kill is to exhaust them and this has the added advantage of taking longer. As there is no need to eat the mouse taking longer over the kill is not a problem. In the wild, the domestic cat's ancestor would not mess around so much. They get on with killing and eating.

Rats certainly can harm cats. You don't see domestic cats playing with birds so much or hardly at all because they are harder to catch and less of a danger to the cat. Also, when birds are caught by a cat they don't respond in the same exciting way as mice. 

They just try and fly off. Mice gallop along the skirting board and hide. Cats love that. They love to prod and poke their paws into tight places where the mouse has found sanctuary. And one cat hunting strategy is to sit and wait by a burrow. When a mouse hides under the sideboard it is the same thing to a cat.

The whole hunting process for a domestic cat is like a play - another awful pun.

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