Categories: hunting

Do domestic cats hunt together?

No, domestic cats do not hunt together. I think that about answers the question in its entirety because there are no caveats to the statement. I have read many books on domestic and wild cats. I have never seen a reference to domestic cats hunting together and neither have I seen a reference to the wildcat ancestor of the domestic cat, Near Eastern wildcat, hunting together. They hunt and live on their own. I’ll describe in outline how domestic cats hunt.

Cats are famous for their stealthy approach to prey – Fiona Sunquist.

Cat stalking while hunting. This is a copyright free image.

They are essentially silent, stealthy and still to use the well chosen words of Dr Desmond Morris in his book Cat World. They are patient hunters effectively using their highly sensitive organs of hearing, sight and smell. They will wait in a good spot to watch for prey. They watch for movement and sound; even the slightest hints of the presence of prey. Sometimes prey is obviously in front of them. I can describe my cat’s behavior.

My cat hunting as a solitary hunter

He hunts mice and birds. If it is a bird in the garden, perhaps a pigeon on the ground eating the leftovers from a squirrel feeder above, he will stalk the bird using the cover of some garden furniture or the garden landscaping. He will stalk the bird and get as near as he can, slinking along the ground, keeping low. When he is as near as he can get using the existing cover he will wait for his moment and then charge. Perhaps a pigeon has wondered towards him. The distance he needs to travel to get to the pigeon has been reduced. He takes that opportunity to attack. He succeeds and fails. Pigeons struggle quite effectively. They flap their wings vigourously and try and take off. They lose feathers in the struggle and then escape if they are lucky. Sometimes he gets them. He kills pigeons by suffocating them. It is strange because this is the throat bite that the big cats use to kill large prey animals.

He pins down the pigeon using his forelegs and paws while his teeth are around the pigeon’s throat. The bird gasps for breath, gradually dying before me. I can’t save it and he dies. The normal way that domestic cats kill small prey items like birds and mice is the killing bite to the back of the neck. I then take the pigeon from him and place the body in a safe place. My cat more often than not hunts mice.

He will go to a certain place which I believe is in a shed because he always comes back smelling of something which is not foliage but some sort of rubbish. And he will wait there for hours looking for the movement of mice not far away. Patience, as mentioned, is a great strength of the domestic cat when hunting. He succeeds often and brings a live mouse back to the home through the cat flap.

If I can’t get it off him he kills the mouse or it dies out of fear and exhaustion. He then eats it, the head first moving towards the tail. He can devour a mouse in about 60 seconds. He leaves little blood but sometimes the gallbladder and the bile duct are all that remains.

Binocular vision

Sometimes before the final charge and pounce domestic cats move their heads from left to right horizontally. This is to allow them to use their rangefinder (binocular) vision to greater effect to allow them to measure accurately the distance that they need to travel before grabbing the prey and subduing it. It’s a refinement of distance measurement.

Uncertainty

Sometimes domestic cats swish (wag) their tail from left to right when observing a prey animal. There may be inadequate cover between the cat and the prey and therefore the cat is indecisive as to whether to pounce or stay back. The movement of the cat’s tail indicates an ambivalence and uncertainty in the cat’s head. This swishing of the tail would rarely happen except on neatly cut lawns.

Three styles of catching prey mirrored in play activities

When catching a bird, domestic cats are able to foresee and anticipate the possibility that the prey animal will fly upwards to escape. The cat therefore performs an “upwards air-leap” during which he swipes at the rising bird with both feet at once. The bird is trapped in a pincer movement of the forelegs. The bird is pulled to the ground to deliver the killing bite or as my cat does the suffocating bite. When attacking a mouse it is a simple downward action.

The third form of killing behaviour is one in which the domestic cat’s ancestor and domestic cats catch fish (albeit very rarely) on the water’s edge by flipping it up out of the water. This flings the prey clear of the water. These actions are reflected in the desired play behaviour of the domestic cat when using toys in the home.

P.S. Domestic cats do some activities together. For instance, females sometimes help other females to raise kittens. It is an altruistic form of behaviour which enhances the survival of the group. It is also believed to be an adaptation for defence against infanticidal males. However, I have reported on mothers killing their kittens in the most brutal of ways.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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