BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

Why Do Cats Bring Home Dead Animals: Dealing With Your Pet’s Bounty

cat handling mouse
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

Cats do the most remarkable, and sometimes the most incomprehensible, things. Have you ever discovered a dead animal on your doorstep, thanks to your furry pet? If you have, then you may have asked the question most cat parents have had to deal with at some point in time: why do cats bring home dead animals?

For us humans, dealing with the carcass of a dead mouse or bird can be inconvenient, if not outrightly gross. And it can be quite frustrating, especially if your pet constantly brings them home. Understanding your pet’s behavior can help you handle the situation better.

In this article, we’ll tell you why cats love bringing dead animals home. We’ll also discuss what you can do if your pet does happen to bring home a dead trophy. We’ll then give you some tips on how to stop your cat from bringing their dead prey home.

Why Cats Bring Their Prey Home

Your pet isn’t leaving a dead mouse on your doorstep just for the fun of it. Cats actually have many reasons why they always bring home their hunting prize. Here are a few.

#1: Hunter’s Instinct

gray cat hunting

Cats are natural hunters. Even if your pet is technically considered a domestic and not a wildcat, your cat still carries the hunter’s instinct in her genes. It’s bred into them, and it will always show in their behaviors, no matter how tamed cats are.

You may notice this in the way your pet goes after even just a crumpled piece of paper. Cats never clumsily run toward their prey. They go through the whole stealthy hunting process. Your pet will eye her prey, stalk it, stealthily approach it, and finally pounce on it.

Once your cat has grabbed the prey, she will go for the kill. Well, sometimes she won’t. If your pet is full, she probably won’t kill her prey, although she may play with it while it is still alive. Your pet may also want to show you the struggling prey so you can deal with it.

It may be amusing to watch your cat do this to a mere toy. But just imagine what your cat will do when presented with an actual live prey, like a mouse or a bird, for example. Your pet will surely go after her prey with all the passion and hunting skills she can muster. And you can be sure that your pet will be successful in her hunt.

See Also: How Long Have Cats Been Domesticated

#2: Appreciation

appreciating a cat

Bringing home their prize is actually one way for your cat to show her appreciation for you. In your pet’s mind, when she gifts you with a dead mouse, she has done her job of contributing what she can to the household.

Just think of it as a housemate giving you money for her share in the household expenses. You can also think of it as your pet’s way of showing her affection for you. Cats don’t just give anyone gifts, you know—only to those they truly feel affection for.

That doesn’t mean that you should feel honored and grateful every time you see a dead mouse on your porch. But it does mean that you shouldn’t take the “gift” for granted and that you shouldn’t get rid of the dead prey while your cat is watching.

#3: Protection

security cat

Your pet may also bring home dead prey as a sign of her need to protect the home. This is because your cat sees your home as her territory, too. And cats do feel the need to protect what’s theirs.

So if they see intruders, whether they’re mice or birds, your pet will want to get rid of the threat. And, sometimes, your pet just wants you to see how well she protected your shared territory. Hence, the dead bird on your living room floor, with your cat proudly sitting beside it.

#4: Sustenance

hunting cat

Cats instinctively know if their body is getting the nourishment it needs. If you’re providing your pet with a diet that is complete with all the nutrients she needs, then that’s great. But your pet will still probably continue hunting, just for the fun of it.

See Also: How Many Calories Should a Cat Eat

However, if your pet feels that she lacks nourishment, she will try to supplement her diet by hunting. If you’re keeping your pet indoors all the time, then she’ll probably have to satisfy herself by hunting lizards or even roaches. But if your cat knows how to escape outdoors, then she’ll probably go for larger.

If your cat is hunting for sustenance, her bringing home the prey means she wants to share her “food” with you. She knows you don’t hunt, so she feels that she needs to make sure you get your share of the prize, too.

That’s a part of a cat’s maternal instinct. And if you’ve got a spayed female, you’ll probably go through many episodes of dead-animals-in-the-doorstep. That’s because your pet is acting out her maternal role of feeding the young, and teaching the young how to hunt.

For spayed female cats, they don’t have any kittens with whom they can share their hunting knowledge. But your pet has you. You are your cat’s surrogate family. And she wants to teach you how to hunt. Which is why your pet sometimes brings home a frazzled but still alive prey. She wants you to learn how to finish the hunt.

This simply shows that when your pet is bringing home the product of her hunt, there’s actually a lot of meaning behind her behavior. It’s not that your pet is just a trigger-happy hunter. Far from it.

How to Handle Your Pet’s Hunting Trophy

Here’s a guide for you, in case you find yourself staring at a dead rodent or a bird in your living room, courtesy of your cat.

#1: Don’t panic

cat with bird in mouth

Right now, your pet is feeling quite satisfied, either because she feels she’s such a great hunter, or she’s just happy that she’s brought home food for you. Don’t panic, scream, or shout at your cat. This will cause confusion and stress for your pet.

#2: Check the prey

Cats sometimes bring home prey that isn’t quite dead yet. That’s part of your cat’s instinct to teach you how to hunt and finish the kill. Check if the prey is really dead.

If it’s still alive, and depending on what kind of animal it is, see if you can let it go. If it’s a wild animal, try to contact the animal control agency.

#3: Praise your pet

praising orange cat

This may sound weird, but your pet most probably had the best intentions in mind when she brought home that dead bird for you. Praise your pet for her intentions and her hunting skills. Try not to scold your pet, no matter how irritated you are for having to deal with such a problem.

Scolding your pet will only confuse her. To your pet’s mind, hunting and bringing home the trophy is a natural thing. She wouldn’t understand why you’re mad at seeing a dead rodent on your doorstep.

Your pet may actually think that you’re berating her for bringing such a puny prey and this may prompt her to hunt for bigger prey. That has happened to many cat parents.

#4: Divert your pet’s attention

If your cat isn’t done playing with the prey yet, try to distract your cat. Give her a treat or catnip. Or have your pet chase after a toy. The idea is to get her to drop the dead animal so that you can dispose of it.

See Also: How to Play with Your Cat

#5: Move your pet to another room before handling the prey

cat sitting alone

Before you get rid of the dead animal, make sure that your pet doesn’t see you doing it. Move your pet somewhere where she can’t observe what you’re doing.

If your pet sees you putting the prey in the trash bin, she may just think of digging the prey out of there. Also, you need to make sure that you wrap the dead animal and dispose of it such that your pet won’t be able to unwrap it or retrieve it. The key is to get rid of it discreetly.

#6: Wear rubber gloves

Make sure you don’t touch the dead animal with your bare hands. Wear plastic or rubber gloves instead. When you pick up the dead animal, place it in a plastic trash bag and tie it securely. Make sure you place it in a trash can outside the house where your cat won’t be able to smell it.

#7: Disinfect the spot where your cat placed the dead animal

If your pet placed the dead animal on a non-carpeted surface, you can use a disinfectant or bleach to clean the area.

But if your pet placed the dead animal on the carpet or your upholstered sofa, you’ll need to shampoo or steam clean it to make sure that you get rid of the blood, fluids, dirt, and bacteria.

If your pet placed the trophy on her bedding or on a piece of clothing, make sure you wash it with hot water and detergent.

How to Stop Your Pet from Bringing Home Their Prey

Unfortunately, the hunting instinct is too deep-rooted in your cat’s genes. So you will not be able to stop your pet from hunting completely. However, you can train your cat so that you won’t have to wake up to a dead mouse lying on your doormat anymore.

Here are some tips for you.

#1: Bell collar

cat wearing bell collar

If you put a small bell on your pet’s collar, it will make some noise every time your cat moves. The noise might be a bit inconvenient for you, but it will serve a good purpose.

The sound of the bell will alert whatever prey your cat is going after. Since you can’t stop your pet from hunting, you can at least help her prey escape so that you won’t have to deal with a bloody animal carcass on your doorstep again.

Cats take pride in how stealthily they can stalk their prey. And that’s one of the reasons why cats are such good hunters. By attaching a bell collar on your pet, you can minimize your pet’s chances of successfully catching her prey.

#2: Keep your pet indoors

orange cat kept indoors

This might be a bit more difficult to do. Considering how smart cats are, they always find a way to escape outdoors. At least try to keep your pet inside when birds and other small prey are most vulnerable, which is right after sunrise and just before sunset.

See Also: Indoor Cat Lifespan

#3: Birdfeeders

cat on bird feeder

If you do have a bird feeder in your garden, try to place it somewhere really high. And make sure the bird feeder is far from your cat’s jumping reach. Although it’s nice to watch birds gathering on your bird feeder, it wouldn’t be so nice if one of those birds somehow falls prey to your cat.

#4: Toys as replacement preys

cat with toy duck

Your cat will always act out her hunting instincts, and you can redirect her urge to hunt using toys. If you can give your cat a toy that she can chase and catch, it will not only mentally stimulate her hunting instincts but will also satisfy her need to hunt.

You can use various toys like laser pointers or feather wands. In fact, any moving toy will do the trick, as long as it gives your pet the opportunity to chase and hunt. These toys are also great for entertaining your cat and making your pet exercise and move about, so they serve multiple purposes.

#5: Invest in playtime

boy playing with cat

When you play with your cat, it’s a way of helping your cat get rid of excess energy which your pet will otherwise expend on hunting. Moreover, a tired cat will rather spend her time snoozing rather than chasing after pesky insects and rodents.

While playing with your cat, try to let your pet show off her hunting prowess. Let her catch the ball or whatever toy you’re using to play with her. This will help relieve her stress of not being able to hunt and catch live prey.

Wrap Up

kitten hunting

Even if your cat’s behavior is quite perplexing, try to understand that it’s natural for cats to hunt and bring home their trophy. You may not like the gifts that your pet leaves on your doorstep, but to your pet, it’s a sign of her affection for you.

If, on the other hand, you’ve already put a stop to your pet’s eccentric gift-giving behavior, would you like to share how you did it? Please feel free to leave your comments and suggestions. If you suspect that your pet has ingested the prey, which can be unhygienic and dangerous, check out our article on how to induce vomiting in cats.

About the author
Stella Noble
Stella Noble

Stella Noble lives in Warren, Michigan with her family and three cats. She is a Certified Cat Trainer and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

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