Cat Raking “Prey” with Back Feet is Play. True or False?

Cat back claw raking action on prey
Cat back claw raking action on prey
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Almost all domestic cats rake their toys (their “prey”) with their hind feet. They grab the toy with in their forelegs and paws and bite it while simultaneously raking the toy with their hind claws.

The addition of raking with hind claws doesn’t occur every time but frequently. It is something that cats do when playing with their caretaker’s arm too 😉 . This can be a tricky moment because the way to stop it is to relax and not fight back and struggle because if you do your cat is instinctively triggered to fight harder as if he was struggling to kill prey.

If the caretaker relaxes, distracts his cat and gently extricates his arm the cat will let go. If you start struggling with your cat in play you’ll quite likely end up with a scratched hand and arm and you’ll blame the cat!

Cats don’t usually, or hardly ever, rake genuine prey (living prey) with their hind claws before the kill. Perhaps they might once it is dead. It would be too dangerous for the cat to do it and too inefficient. Cats kill efficiently and with an eye to minimising possible injury to themselves. Killing prey can be dangerous for a cat. We see this with the wild cats all the time, especially the bigger cats. Many large wild cats are killed while killing large prey.

So the answer to the question in the title is; True, this is about play rather than a genuine kill. There may be exceptions to this general observation.

We know that domestic cats usually kill by breaking the neck of the prey item. A canine tooth is accurately placed between two vertebra of the neck snapping the spinal cord.

I can remember one visitor arguing that it was okay to declaw the front paws because cats killed with their hind claws. Wrong. Sorry.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

3 thoughts on “Cat Raking “Prey” with Back Feet is Play. True or False?”

  1. “Cats don’t usually, or hardly ever, rake genuine prey (living prey) with their hind claws before the kill.”

    Tell that to the thousands of animals that were gutted-alive and skinned-alive by stray cats on my lands. My driveways and woods used to be lined with the senseless writhing carnage from cat-attacks on a daily basis. Animals whose screeching drew me to them to help them. Only finding them beyond help, with their skins pulled up over their heads so the cat’s play-toy couldn’t even fight back, as a stray cat ran off its “play toy”. Then my having to stomp those poor suffering animals to death with my own foot to hush their agony and suffering.

    Have you ever felt and heard the sound of a small animal’s skull pop beneath your own foot to stop its suffering? Would you even begin to understand the strength-of-heart that you must muster in order to do that for a suffering animal?

    You need to experience that, every day for 2 decades, just like I had to do. Maybe then you’ll “get it”. ALL of you most certainly deserve it, that’s for certain.

  2. I agree that, when we see the back claw rake, on a stuffed toy it is mostly play. But I, also, believe that this may be a practice in self-defense. In a cat fight, you may see some rolling on the ground. It appears that each wants to be on their side or back to have the advantage of using all fours.

    1. I’ve always understood that when they rabbit-kick toys, that they’re practising fighting/defensive skills.

      I agree with Dee. In serious cat fights it’s more advantageous for them to be on their backs so that they have all four sets of claws and teeth at the ready. Often, they will end up lying on their sides, facing their opponent whilst attempting to rabbit-kick them in the belly. The belly flesh is very soft and vulnerable to serious injury. This might also explain why many cats are instinctively protective of their bellies.

      Merlin and Sophie enjoyed play fighting and she would always try to lay behind him so that should could rabbit-kick him in the back of the head!

      I would imagine using the rear claws as weapons could come in handy if they are attacked by a larger animal and may just buy them valuable seconds in which to make an escape.

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