Perhaps, the jury is out on the reason why hunting domestic cats sometimes bring half-alive prey back to their caretaker/owner’s home. If we are to find the answer in wild cat behavior, the scenario of our family home and an outdoor/indoor, wandering cat is only replicated in one instance, namely when the wild cat mother is raising her kittens (cubs) in the natal den.
At a timely moment in raising her kittens she has to train them to hunt and rather than bring back dead prey she brings back live prey which she kills in the den while the kittens observe. This is as a key stage in learning to hunt. After this stage in the learning process, when the cubs are able, she takes them out to hunt for real, to show them the ropes.
The alternative reason is that our domestic cat companion brings prey back because it is surplus to immediate requirements. This replicates the wild cat hiding partly-consumed prey under leaves (cougar) or in a tree (leopard) or whatever to return to when the appetite returns. This argument does not sit squarely with wild cat behavior because a hunting domestic cat could bury the prey outside.
The former argument is better and it is suggested that female cats are more prone to partake of this behavior. It suggests that, in this instance, the cat relates to his caretaker/owner as a hopelessly, inept kitten with no hunting skills. This is a role reversal to the classic relationship between cat and human, namely that the cat is the kitten and the human is the adult cat.
No doubt there are other suggestions for this behavior. If the reason is training kittens then obviously the cat’s caretaker must respect the behavior even if the owner finds in uncomfortable and messy. Punishment is unwarranted and banned 😉 . Punishment is, in fact, never justified and counterproductive.
Note: one negative to the preferred reason is that cats don’t always present prey to their human owner and neither do they always kill the prey while the owner observes. However, I think this not significant because the domestic is following hard-wired instincts in an unnatural environment which distorts the behavior.