Do feral cats eat rats? Yes some feral cats eat rats. However I’d suggest that the rat is not a primary prey item of the feral cat. Small mammals, mainly rodents (which includes the rat) and rabbits and hares are the dominant prey animal for the feral cat as confirmed by the vast majority of cat studies.
Lihong Yuan, live in Guizhou (China) says on Quora:
“Cats certainly eat rats. I saw it many many times…But, some cats don’t eat rats, esp many pet cats tend to playing with them rather than eating.”
A study by P. Leyhausen entitled Cat behaviour: The Predatory and social behaviour of domestic and wild cats (1979) confirmed that adult Norway rats are sometimes killed by cats, ‘but laboratory studies show that few cats will attack an aggressive adult Norway rat’. It seems that some species of adult rat are considered a little hazardous to feral cats so they’d rather select easier prey. It depends of the character of the cat I’d suggest. Some cats will attack and eat rats but a others won’t.
“I look at this cat [the cat in photo above] and I can see a small lion inside. It’s amazing that we can have small fierce predators as a loving pet like cats are.” (comment below a video of cat attacking and killing a large rat)
I think the conclusion of the study stands up generally regarding the predation of rats by cats. Feral cats can be good deterrents to rats but it is another matter as to whether they attack and eat them. Also studies indicate that the deterrent factor can wear off and so the rats return. That said feral cats are employed by some authorities e.g. New York City (csmonitor.com) to help control the rat population.
Returning to Norway rats, further studies found that feral cats can be an important factor in holding rat numbers down. Where rat numbers had been reduced by human intervention cat predation was able to hold the numbers down but where rat numbers are high cats were ineffective. And these studies did not confirm that cats ate rats but that they deterred them. There is no doubt in my mind though that the feral cats in the study did attack and eat some rats.
The world’s champion ratter was a British tabby cat living at the White City Stadium. Over six years she caught 12,480 rats; an average of five to six daily 1. But once again, how many did she eat? That’s the question before me today. We know that cats hunt and kill even when they have a full stomach and have no desire to eat. It is instinctive.
The feral cat is a good pest killer but not such a good pest eater and rats can be too formidable. Cats do have this undeniably cautious approach to prey unless they are a cat species at the top of the predator tree i.e. the jaguar, lion and tiger. They’ll normally select the easiest and avoid potential injury. It is a simple question of survival. The top predators attack and eat anything.
The great plague of London in 1665 informs us about the feral cat’s ability to kill and eat rats. The plague was caused by the Yersinia pestis bacterium. This is normally transmitted by the flea bite. Rats carried these fleas. Feral cats attacked the rats and kept the population down. However, the authorities culled feral cats and dogs which arguable exacerbated the spread of the plague. A quarter of London’s human population died of it (100,000).
Going back further I can’t ignore the conventional view of cat history that the first domestication of the North African wildcat took place 9.5k years ago because there were mice and rats destroying farmers’ grain. The feral cats of that time were in effect employed to deter and attack these rodents. The ancient Egyptians did the same.
1. Dr Desmond Morris’s Catwatching.