By Elisa Black-Taylor
How do cats learn to hunt? Is it by instinct or do they have to be trained in this skill? As it turns out, it’s a little of both. Perhaps even a bit of genetic coding thrown in for good measure.
Michael did a similar article on this topic back in May. Here’s the link: Mouser Cat. I like his comment that cats have an instinct to hunt, whether or not the cat is hungry.
A kitten is dependent on it’s mother for food during the first month of life. In turn, the mother spends about 80% of her time with her litter. By the age of six weeks, the mother only spend 10-20% of her time with the kittens. She has to hunt for prey and teach her kittens how to turn that prey into food. Kittens and cats tend to choose prey they saw their mother kill. Even kittens who were separated by their mother at a young age still have hunting skills that improve as they grow older.
A mother cat who lives indoors also has a job to do. She must teach by example to eat from the food bowl. Kittens learn young to imitate their mother. Even with foods not normally associated with a cats diet. I found it interesting that kittens would eat a banana if they witness their mother eating a banana. This shows cats learn by watching their mother and other siblings.
Cats have been cherished for thousands of years and much of this is due to their hunting skills. They were kept on ships to control the rodent population. Farmers found them valuable in killing not only rodents, but also rabbits who would otherwise eat their crops. A good cat hunter could be sold for large sums of money and was a welcome addition to the home.
I found it interesting in the article Michael wrote that starving a cat didn’t make it a better hunter. It’s best to feed the cat and not depend on hunting skills to keep a cat fed.
We have a few mousers in our home. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the mice here are few and far between. Our calicos make the best mousers. Especially Lola. She was an orphan kitten we took in at almost three months of age. A mother cat had “adopted” her when she just wandered up one day and joined the litter. Lola’s new mother was an outdoor cat who lived in the country. I read a few years back that it’s best not to separate a mother cat and her kittens until three months of age. Not because of nutritional needs, but so the mother cat would have time to teach her kittens to hunt. Lola apparently had a very good substitute mother.
My daughter Laura has been known to open her eyes to find Lola in her face holding a dead mouse. I don’t think she screamed after that first time…
Our Furby was rescued around the age of six weeks. He’s still incompetent when it comes to hunting. He’s a very clumsy cat, and hunting is no exception. His idea of catching a mouse is to wait for Lola to seriously weaken the rodent, then Furby rushes in and “steals” it from her.
Unfortunately, there’s no proven method to stop a cat from hunting. They tend to enjoy playing with their catch before clamping down for the kill. Then they play with the prey until they grow bored. At this time they either eat the whole prey (or the parts they find tasty) or walk away from it.
I’ve watched our only dog Cujo develop an unusual skill from being around our cats. I’ve never seen a dog “stalk” before. Our cats like to play “ambush” with Cujo every night. I love to watch this. Not only for entertainment, but because it tires everyone out before bedtime. There’s nothing worse than trying to sleep with a hyper pup.
The cats like to crouch down while playing ambush, imitating how a cat will crouch down before jumping on its prey. Cujo has watched this behavior for a few months now and is now imitating the cats. He’ll crouch down with his stomach almost dragging the ground and slowly creep forward until the cat he plans to pounce on come into sight. I’ve NEVER seen a dog do this before. It makes me wonder what else my cats will teach him. Would Cujo learn to catch mice if he watched my other cats doing this?
In closing, I’d like to tell the readers about our biggest “catch.” It was with our cat Smoky and happened back in the late 1990’s. I had a hole in my bedroom closet that acted as a cat door. It led to the ground with a foot and a half drop. One day I came in from grocery shopping to find a rather large rabbit half eaten on our living room floor. The rabbit easily weighed five or six pounds. That was the last “present” Smoky was allowed to bring me. I boarded up the hole that night. I still don’t see how she managed to jump that high and get herself and the rabbit into the closet and drag it to the living room.
Cats enjoy hunting, playing with their prey, then killing and eating what they have so skillfully earned. We, as mere humans, must accept this.
Do any of you have funny cat “prey” stories?
Original Photo on Flickr