Why do domestic cats bring prey animals into their owner’s home?

You may know the answer so I won’t go on about this. It’s actually often a reversal of roles depending on the gender of the cat. Normally the human owner of a domestic cat is the surrogate mother, the provider of food and security. Under these circumstances, normally, the domestic cat behaves as a kitten to the human owner even though they are adult.

Cat eating mouse under bed
Cat eating mouse under bed. Camera phone shot by Michael.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

When a domestic cat brings prey home, the roles are reversed. The cat is bringing prey back to their den as an instinctive process of training their kittens. This is what happens in the wild. They might bring back an animal that is alive and then teach their kittens how to kill the animal. It’s a gradual step-by-step process of training to the point where the kitten becomes independent as a sub-adult.

That’s the theory as promulgated by Dr. Desmond Morris and I agree with him. The slightly odd aspect of this theory is that both male and female domestic cats bring their prey animals home. It doesn’t happen all the time but it does happen frequently if they have access to the outside and are keen hunters. But in the wildcat ancestor of the domestic cats is uninvolved with raising offspring. It is the female, the mother, who trains the offspring to survive independently. The European wildcat mother introduces to live prey when her kittens are about 6 days old (captive wildcat). However, in feral cat colonies males can become involved in raising kittens.

It might be reasonable to suggest that when females bring prey animals home, they are training their kittens, which in her mind become the human owner, but when male domestic cats bring deceased or live prey home, they are either taking their prey to a safe place where it can be consumed without it being stolen by another animal or training kittens (the human owner). I favour the former argument.

We know that many wild cat species protect their prey in various ways such as consuming it very rapidly (the lion) or hiding it under leaves (the puma) or dragging huge prey animals half a mile (the tiger) or depositing the prey animal in the branches of a tree (the leopard). I would suggest, therefore, having reflected on this, that there are two aspects to the answer as mentioned.

The motivation for the male is probably often different to the motivation of the female. But there are good wild cat reasons for both. All aspects of domestic cat behavior can be understood by reference to the behaviour of the wild cats.

P.S. Sometimes we see indoor/outdoor domestic cats ‘stealing’ clothes and other items from neighbours and bringing them back to their owner’s home. This is a ‘confused’ cat. They (1) think the clothes are prey animals and (2) they want to either teach their owner to ‘kill’ the clothes or protect their ‘prey’ against predators! The domestic cat is betwixt and between the human world and the wild world.


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