Cat Care

Cat Behavior

Cat Care > Cat Behavior

Cat Behavior

The hunting instinct is strongly developed in all members of the cat family, and the act of stalking and killing prey is arguably the most important activity in their daily life. Domestic cats, even after thousands of years of association with human beings and having food regularly provided for them, retain the strong instinct to hunt and kill.

Although their natural prey is small rodents, cats also hunt birds, fish out of garden ponds, frogs, squirrels, young rabbits and even insects such as bluebottles and butterflies. Like most members of the cat family, cats hunt by stealth, relying on a final burst of speed actually to catch and dispatch the prey animal. The cat crouches low in the grass, watching its prey intently with narrowed pupils and ears pricked, displaying great concentration. The whole body is tense, and before making a final spring the cat raises itself and may rock slightly and lash its tail before pouncing. The animal is caught with the front paws, claws and teeth.

As is well known, however, in many instances a cat does not kill its prey outright but spends some time apparently tormenting and playing with the animal before finally finishing it off. It is this aspect of behavior that many people find extremely distressing and abhor the apparent cruelty of the cat. It is a mistake to seek to endow animals with human motives and feelings, and one explanation for this behavior is that it is a means of dealing with nervous energy following a capture.

It is also the case that a mother cat brings live prey to her kittens when they are between six and ten weeks old so that they can learn how to pounce and kill. They also accompany their mother and learn how to hunt by watching her. Playing with prey may be behavior that persists into adult life, reflecting these earlier experiences. Kittens born to a mother cat that does not hunt or bring back live prey are much less likely to become adept hunters themselves. Cats often present their catch to their owner, bringing it back for inspection. This would seem to be a throwback to the days of kittenhood when a mother cat brought home live prey to teach her family how to hunt. It has to be said that it is their hunting skill that enables pet cats to survive on fear own if the need arises.

A well-fed pet cat certainly does not need to hunt to survive. It perfectly in order to try to discourage hunting, for instance by fitting the cat with a collar and a bell.