Can Cats Get Rid of Rats?

Can cats get rid of rats? This is a question people ask using Google search. The answer depends on whether you like or dislike cats! That is not entirely true but it’s a factor when discussing this subject. The question could be “should cats get rid of rats?”.

Rat and Cat Friends
Rat and Cat Friends!
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The reason why I want to discuss it is because in the news there is a story about a politician in Italy who proposes to import 500,000 feral cats from Asia to be deployed throughout Rome to deal with the city’s rat infestation! He thinks the cats can be housed with little old ladies who will look after them. The city would subsidise the ladies and everything will be hunky-dory in this beautiful city. I think his idea is highly impractical and it won’t work. His proposition sounds like an April fool’s joke! If you live in Rome or if you are visiting Rome you will see lots of feral cats anyway so you don’t need to import them from Asia of all places unless you want to save the lives of these cats because they like to eat them in that part of the world.

Anyway, back to the question as to whether cats can get rid of rats. There are pros and cons to this discussion. Of course your views are welcome. There are no studies on this as far as I am aware.

The Pros

How efficient is the cat as a pest killer? We know that before the cat became a beloved companion to millions of humans there was “a contract”, 9,500 years ago between human and cat and it was based upon the animal’s ability to destroy pests. From the time that humans started to store grain on their farms the cat had a role to play in keeping those areas free of rodents. That’s the reason for the domestication of the African wildcat.

Therefore, you would have thought that the domestic cat is an ideal companion or “employee” to get rid of rats. Even today there are many barn cats on farms who keep rodents away. It doesn’t matter whether the cat is hungry or not. Cats hunt for the sake of hunting. It is believed by many that a small group of farm cats who are well looked after could prevent an increase in the population of rodents.

I have mentioned it before; there are some famous rodent killing cats in the history of the domestic cat. For example, a male tabby cat living in a Lancashire factory killed more than 22,000 mice over his long life span of 23 years. This works out at about three mice a day. There is a more famous rodent killer. She was a female tabby who earned her keep at the White City Stadium in London. Over a period of a mere six years it is said that she caught no fewer than 12,480 rats. This works out at an average of 5 to 6 per day1.

The domestic cat’s primary prey is rodents. Rodents in this instance means mice and rats. Of the two, the domestic cat much prefers the mouse because it is much easier to attack and kill. I should think many of us who look after a cat who is allowed outside have dealt with their cat bringing in a mouse either dying or dead. I suspect very few of us have seen their cat bringing in a rat, although it does happen from time to time.

Also the modern rat (at least in London) is getting bigger it seems. Sometimes they are the size of cats! Obviously domestic cats will steer clear.

rats the size of cats
Rats the size of cats from London.

Therefore, the modern domestic cat is not a great ratter. He/she is a much better mouser, which brings me to the cons.

The Cons

The fact of the matter is that in the early days of domestication of the North African wild cat, the cat was a tame wild cat. At that period in history of the domestic cat he/she was a much better hunter in my view. Domestication over many thousands of years has reduced the ability of the domestic cat to hunt to the same level of expertise as the African wild cat.

It does depend to certain extent on the individual cat, some cats are much keener than others to hunt. Some cats are more expert at it and more interested in it. Many cats don’t even get a chance to do it because they are full-time indoor cats.

I don’t honestly think that the modern domestic cat is that good at preventing an infestation of rats or getting rid of rats. Although the presence of semi-feral or semi-domestic cats, perhaps in a group, on a farm should be effective in keeping down the rat population. In my opinion, feral or semi-feral cats are better hunters, in general, than domestic cats.

The story of Rome may be indicative of the ineffectiveness of the modern cat to control rat numbers. The politician says that there is a rat infestation. At the same time, in my personal experience, there are many feral cats in the city – go to a restaurant and see. Clearly the rats are living side-by-side with the cats.

Another argument against using cats as a means of keeping down rats and/or killing them comes from the large group of people who dislike the presence of feral cats and they dislike the many trap-neuter-release programs in America. They are against TNR programs and against the use of feral cats to keep rodent populations down. This is because there are against the presence of an invasive species in their country. They argue that cats are not a natural part of the ecosystem in America. They are non-native and an invasive predator. If you employ them to try and control rats and mice they won’t necessarily kill those animals; they may well kill endangered bird species instead. Therefore, they argue, it is impractical and simply wrong to use cats to keep down rat populations.

In addition people who dislike cats use the argument that cats spread the parasite toxoplasma gondii in their faeces. They would argue that this is an environmental problem which is once again a barrier to employing cats to keep down rat populations.

These arguments are not about the skill of the modern domestic or feral cat in keeping down rats and killing them but more a political argument regarding the presence of feral cats and how they should be dealt with.

Conclusion

In the early days, at the beginning of domestication of the cat, they were used to kill rats and keep down rat populations. Nowadays, in general, they’re not, although there are exceptions. The cat is probably much better at keeping mice away than rats but it is surely reasonable to suggest that the presence of the domestic cat (or cats) in an area where there are rats would be beneficial in controlling their presence.

Is is fair to say that the presence of cats simply moves a rat infestation problem to another area? Is that sensible? My conclusion is uncertain because there are no certain answers.


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Ref 1: Cat Watching by Desmond Morris.

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