BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

What to Do When Your Cat Catches a Mouse: It’s Not Just Annoying, But Dangerous

orange cat holding mouse in his mouth
Steve Corelli
Written by Steve Corelli

It’s the time-honored rivalry that cats are involved in. No, we’re not talking about cats versus dogs; cats versus mice is as classic as any animal rivalry there is. But what to do when your cat catches a mouse? Will you clap your hands in amazement? Or will you shriek in disgust?

Many people think that it’s OK for cats to hunt, kill, and ingest a mouse. After all, they’re thought as predators with excellent hunting skills. But a closer look would reveal that it’s actually dangerous for your feline friend to ingest a mouse. This is a behavior that you should learn to discourage—not just for your peace of mind, but for your cat’s wellbeing as well.

The dangers of ingesting rodents and how to keep your pet from doing so are some of the things we’ll discuss in this article. By the time you are done reading this post, you should understand why it’s never a good idea to let your cat hunt down a mouse.

Cats vs. Rodents: A Short History

cat catching mouse

As we have mentioned, the cats vs. mice rivalry is one of the oldest in the animal kingdom. In fact, the ancestors of cats were well-regarded in Ancient Egypt for their ability to hunt rats which infested the grain bins of villagers. Cats back then were taken care of by the Egyptians because of that ability.

People took care of cats not really because they found them cute and adorable (although that could play a part in the decision too) but because they were very good at hunting and catching rodents.

See Also: How Long Have Cats Been Domesticated

One doesn’t really need to be surprised at how gifted cats are as hunters. You only have to observe the nature and behavior of the feline’s closest wild relatives—the African wildcats. Those animals are nocturnal and thus hunt more frequently at night. They hunt small reptiles, insects, birds, rats, and mice.

But since cats have been domesticated in the past centuries, many of them no longer need to hunt for prey like rodents.

The Maine Coon is a good example. It was originally bred for hunting mice in the farms. While a Maine Coon can stalk for prey outside the house from time to time, there’s really no need to do so because food is readily served by the human parents.

Do Cats Like to Ingest Mice?

cat ingesting mouse

There’s really no straight-forward answer to this question. It can depend on various factors like the environment the cat grew up in as well as the learned behavior of the cat.

Cats who grew up in a family of mice hunters, for example, are more likely to hunt and ingest their rodent foes. Those who were raised by humans or mother cats that don’t kill their prey would ignore a mouse even if the rodent is in front of them.

This was also the conclusion of Professor Kuo Zing Yang’s study published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology.

The environment, too, can play a role. Feral cats or those who have no human parents or owners are the ones most likely to hunt down rats. These cats would also scavenge through garbage bins, steal leftover food, or nab small creatures near them.

Because they don’t have any human caretakers to provide food for them, they have to rely on and rekindle their innate hunting skills.

On the other hand, indoor cats are unlikely to hunt down mice. Obviously, the fact that their food bowls are always replenished by their human parents is enough reason for them not to catch mice. House cats may run and try to catch mice, but their inclination to kill or ingest their prey is diminished.

As you would learn in the following section, the diminished inclination of felines to catch and kill mice is actually good for them and for parents like you.

Why It’s Dangerous for Cats to Eat a Mouse

sick cat lying

Many people, even cat parents, have this notion that it is perfectly okay for cats to ingest a mouse. After all, many of us grew up watching Tom trying his best to catch and ingest Jerry, right? But experts say that we should not let our felines get devour rodents.

There are a few reasons for this:

#1: Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis, a disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, is the main risk that our feline friends face when they ingest mouse. The said parasite is found in raw meat like in the muscles of rodents or rabbits.

The disease can cause mild diarrhea as well as a loss of appetite. Worse, it can affect the cat’s lungs and livers. The nervous system may also be impacted by the cat’s exposure to the said parasite.

It is also possible that you or someone in your household will get infected with the said parasite. This could happen after handling your cat’s litter which contains the parasite and not washing well enough to get rid of those microscopic cysts.

Toxoplasmosis symptoms in human include a headache, muscle pain, lethargy, and fever. It can also cause serious complications for people with poor immune systems as well as pregnant women.

#2: Intestinal Worms

There is also the risk of intestinal worms from rats and mice. When your cat eats a mouse or a rat which has been infected by roundworm, they would also be ingesting the parasites that would then feed upon the contents of their intestines.

Those parasitic intestinal worms will compete for the nutrients that your cat’s body would normally ingest.

See Also: How to Tell If Cat Has Worms

#3: Secondary Poisoning Caused by ACR

sick cat

While not as risky as the two other conditions mentioned above, secondary poisoning can also make your cat sick after eating a rodent. This may happen if the mouse ingested a poisoned bait and is then subsequently ingested by your pet.

Although the risk is lower than the cat contracting Toxoplasmosis, it may also depend on factors like the amount and kind of poison that the mouse consumed. Most vets, however, agree that cats need to eat a lot of poisoned rodents if they are to fall sick of secondary poisoning.

There are several commonly-used rodent poisons that your cat may be exposed to. One is anticoagulant rodenticides or ACRs which deter the production of blood clotting factors and lead to internal bleeding.

If left untreated, ACR poisoning can lead to death. Some of the signs to look for include difficulty breathing, bleeding from the gums, bloody nose, pale gums, lethargy, and swelling on the skin.

Usually, cats which have been exposed to ACRs after ingesting poisoned rodents would not show any signs of poisoning for a few days. But the poison would eventually affect their systems.

They’d get weak and pale mainly because of blood loss. While nosebleeding is common, it is also possible for the feline to lose blood through his vomit or by bleeding from his rectum. There is also the likelihood of internal bleeding, which can be very fatal.

The good news is that there’s an antidote for this kind of mouse and rat poison: a prescription medication called Vitamin K1.

#4: Secondary Poisoning Caused by Cholecalciferol

Then there’s cholecalciferol—a type of vitamin D that can cause kidney failure. This rodent poison is very dangerous because even a small amount can lead to severe poisoning in cats.

When a cat ingests a mouse poisoned with cholecalciferol, calcium levels in the feline’s body increases, which leads to kidney failure. Worse, there’s no antidote to this poison. Treatment can also be costly as the feline may have to be hospitalized for at least three days.

Some of the signs of cholecalciferol poisoning in cats are lethargy, lack of appetite, decreased or increased urination, weight loss, and kidney failure. The cat may also experience tremors. It’s also possible that he would die due to the poison damaging vital organs in his body.

See Also: How Long Can Cat Live with Kidney Failure

#5: Secondary Poisoning Caused by Bromethalin

The third most common form of rodent poison that your cat may be exposed to if he ingests a poisoned mouse is bromethalin. Cat exposure to this rodenticide can result in weakness in the limbs, seizures, tremors, and even death. There is, however, limited data on the incidence of feline secondary poisoning due to exposure to cholecalciferol.

See Also: How to Treat a Poisoned Cat

The bottom line is that it is quite dangerous for cats to ingest a rodent. Your whiskered pal could get sick with Toxoplasmosis. He may also suffer from intestinal worms, affecting his health in the process. And there’s the likelihood, albeit slightly lower, that your cat may go down with secondary poisoning.

There are just too many health risks that cats face when they hunt and ingest mice.

What to Do When Your Cat Catches a Mouse

gray cat with a mouse

Now let’s say that you catch your cat with a mouse in his mouth. What should you do? Should you force him to drop his poor prey? Or should you just let him ingest the poor rodent and pray and hope that it would not cause him to get sick later on?

The first thing you should do is to portray calm in front of your pet. While the sight of a mouse or rat being killed by a cat can be creepy and disgusting, to say the least, you don’t want to show your cat that you are horrified. Remember that our whiskered pals are excellent at reading body language.

Try to stay cool and relaxed no matter how frightened you are. You can even appreciate his ‘gesture’ by thanking him. Ask him to put down the rodent. If he frees his prey, get a broom or dustpan and immediately sweep it. If your cat won’t let go of his prey, encourage him to go outside.

Offer something to your cat if he won’t drop his prey. Maybe a special toy or catnip would do the trick. A delicious canned food can also encourage him to forget about the rodent.

You can even ask a friend or someone from your family to help you get rid of the rodent. Distract your pet with an alternative gift while the other person attempts to remove the prey.

Upon successful retrieval of your cat’s hunting prize, make sure that you dispose of it in the trash can with a tight lid. Don’t make the mistake of burying it because there’s a good chance that your cat will look for it and dig it up.

But what if, before you can do anything, your cat ingests mouse that had been poisoned? As mentioned earlier, secondary poisoning in cats can be very dangerous despite it having a lower incident rate.

It’s recommended that you bring your cat to a veterinarian once you observe symptoms of secondary poisoning like nose bleeding. Additional tests may be undertaken to determine the appropriate treatment for your pet.

See Also: How to Induce Vomiting in Cats

How to Keep Your Cat from Hunting Rodents

cat wearing bell collar

As they say, prevention is better than cure. There are several ways for you to deter your cat from hunting down rodents in your home or even outside the house. Here are some pointers to keep in mind:

  • Keep your cat inside all the time. This is perhaps the best way to keep him from bringing prizes home. Lock your doors especially at night, when cats tend to hunt for prey.

  • Place a bell on his collar. He may try to hunt for mouse around the house, but the sound of the bell should scare away potential prey, preventing him from catching one.

  • Simulate the hunt and satisfy his desire for a good old cat-and-mouse chase. Buy him an interactive pet toy like a ball on a string or a streamer. Your cat will surely love playing with these toys. This is also a great way to bond with your pet and get him some exercise.

Wrap Up

cat hunting

Cats chasing and catching mice and rats may appear normal, but the reality is that indoor cats should not be allowed to hunt or, worse, ingest their rodent foes because of various health risks.

In case you find your cat about to swallow a rodent, stay calm. Try to distract him by giving him a treat. If he drops his prey, get the rodent right away and throw it in the garbage can. Don’t bury the mouse because your cat may dig it up later on.

Prevent your cat from hunting mice by keeping him indoors especially at night. You can also put a bell on his collar or simulate his hunting instincts by giving him an interactive pet toy.

Does your cat hunt down mice often? What do you usually do to get him to drop the mouse or deter him from bringing home these hunting trophies? Let us know of any opinions or suggestions in the section below. Next, check out our article on how much garlic is toxic to cats.

About the author
Steve Corelli
Steve Corelli

Steve Corelli is a Pet Nutrition Expert from Allentown, Pennsylvania. He is the author of many nutritional strategies for different breeds and a member of some Pet Food development teams. His Maine Coon Stephan, as you might guess, is always well-fed.

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