Why do cats bring you pray?

Cats bringing home dead or injured prey and presenting it to their owners is a common feline behavior that many cat parents have experienced. This strange gift-giving tendency leaves many cat owners wondering why cats do this and what they can do about it.

What Does It Mean When A Cat Brings You Prey?

When cats hunt prey and bring it home, it generally means a few different things:

  • They are trying to teach you to hunt. In the wild, mother cats teach their young how to hunt by bringing home dead or injured prey for their kittens to practice killing. Domestic cats seem to retain this instinct and may attempt to teach their human owners how to “hunt.”
  • They want to provide food for the family. Cats still have strong instincts to hunt for food and provide for their family or social group. When they bring you prey, they may be trying to contribute resources to the household.
  • They want praise. Some experts think cats know that humans typically react strongly when they bring home prey. They may have learned to associate this behavior with getting attention from their owner.

Why Do Cats Bring Live Prey?

It’s common for cats to bring home prey that is still alive. There are a few reasons why cats might do this:

  • They are still learning or practicing their hunting skills. Young cats that are still honing their predatory abilities may fail to make clean kills and bring home prey that is injured but not dead.
  • They want the prey to act as a toy. Sometimes cats seem to enjoy “playing” with their prey by letting it go and recapturing it multiple times. This allows them to simulate hunting.
  • They expect you to finish the kill. Your cat may see you as part of its social hunting group and bring live prey for you to kill and eat.

Are Cats Trying to “Feed” You?

It’s debatable whether cats bring home prey because they are actively trying to feed their human families. Some experts think cats are not truly that altruistic. More likely, the root of this behavior is still rooted in feline instincts and not a conscious desire to provide food. However, it’s possible some cats make this association through positive reinforcement from their owners.

How to Respond When Your Cat Brings You Prey

When your cat proudly brings home a prize catch, how should you react? Here are some tips:

  • Don’t punish or scold your cat. While unpleasant, this is completely natural cat behavior. Punishing them will not teach them to stop.
  • Make sure to praise the effort, not the action. Say things like “good kitty” in a gentle voice while they are presenting the prey to you. This rewards them for the social interaction without encouraging hunting.
  • Immediately remove the prey. Try not to react too strongly. Pick up the dead or injured prey with a towel and dispose of it where your cat cannot access it. Clean up any mess left behind.
  • Distract with another activity. After quietly disposing of the prey, engage your cat in play or mealtime to redirect their focus.
  • Consider deterrents. Use bells, pheromone diffusers, or other deterrents to help curb your cat’s hunting instincts.

What Prey Do Cats Bring Home Most Often?

Cats are natural hunters and will go after any small animals they can capture. Some of the most common types of prey cats bring home include:

Prey Description
Rodents Including mice, rats, voles, squirrels, chipmunks, gophers
Birds Especially small birds like sparrows, wrens, chickadees
Insects Crickets, grasshoppers, cicadas, beetles
Lizards/Amphibians Small lizards like anoles or frogs and toads
Rabbits Cottontails and young bunnies

The most common prey varies by habitat. Indoor cats may prey more on insects or house mice, while outdoor cats have access to a wider variety of small animals and birds.

Ways to Stop Cats From Bringing Home Prey

If your cat’s hunting habit is bothersome, there are some tactics you can try to discourage the behavior:

  • Keep your cat indoors. This removes their access to outdoor prey.
  • Make sure they are spayed/neutered. Intact cats tend to hunt more.
  • Provide adequate mental stimulation with toys and playtime.
  • Try deterrents like bells, ultrasonic devices, or pheromone sprays.
  • Trim your landscaping to remove potential hiding spots for prey.
  • Use treats or clicker training to positively reinforce less predatory behaviors.

However, it’s important to remember that hunting prey is a natural instinct for cats that cannot always be prevented. The most effective approach is usually to focus on safely managing the behavior when it occurs.

When to Worry About Prey Gifts

In most cases, an occasional dead mouse on your doorstep doesn’t require major concern. However, you may want to speak to your vet if:

  • Your cat brings home prey very frequently, like multiple times a week.
  • The prey they capture are disease risks, like rats or bats.
  • They eat or try to eat the prey they capture.
  • Their hunting seems excessive or obsessive.

Frequent hunting or eating prey can potentially lead to parasites, illnesses, or nutritional issues for your cat. It can also be a sign of underlying stress, anxiety, or needs not being met at home.

The Bottom Line

Your cat bringing home gory presents may be unpleasant, but it comes from completely natural hunting behaviors and instincts. Although you can try to curb the behavior, it often persists to some degree in even the most pampered house cat. The best approach is to use humane deterrents, provide adequate stimulation for your cat at home, and simply accept their “gifts” as part of owning a feline predator. With proper precautions for both you and your cat’s health, this common cat behavior doesn’t need to be a huge cause for concern.

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