How Cats Hunt: Feline Hunting Behavior Explained
Is your kitty a “mighty hunter?” How does your cat hunt and what kind of big game does s/he capture? I’ve written about gift-bearing cats before to explain the whole idea behind why Sheba leaves mousy offerings just for you, URK! And I’ve written about hunting behavior of dogs, so it’s time to learn how cats hunt, below.
I’m sharing this information from my HUNTING entry from Cat Facts: The Pet Parent’s A-to-Z Home Care Encyclopedia.
DO ALL CATS HUNT?
Seren may have the equipment and heritage to hunt, but her finely honed hunting expertise begins with the bowl and ends with (at a stretch) crickets. Oh, but she leaves the buggy drumsticks behind (must not have enough meat on ’em).
Karma-Kat prefers wasps. Ouch! And I have a friend with a cat and Shadow hunts and stalks…(wait for it…) DUST RAGS. Nom-nom-nommy-good. Oh, and he also hunts and chases my feet, ouch!
The ability to hunt requires skill and technique that can only be learned and earned through practice. Kittens hone technical skills through play with their litter mates, and by their mother’s example. If they’re indoor only cats, they may never get the chance to face off against a ferocious sparrow.
The outdoor kitties that do have to feed themselves generally have a low success rate due to poor nutrition or just because the odds are against them. They have much great success with ground-dwelling critters like mice, voles, and lizards since healthy adult birds can stay out of reach.
HOW CATS HUNT
Cats don’t need to be hungry to hunt. It’s the sound and sight of moving prey that provides the stimulus to chase and capture, a hardwired behavior as natural to the cat as purring. That’s one reason kitten play aggression that grapples your moving ankles can prove so energetic and intense.
Feline hunting behavior relies heavily on sight and hearing to locate prey. Cats use a couple of hunting strategies, depending on the prey they seek. Sometimes Kitty prefers ambush, and will crouch in a likely spot — perhaps with eyes glued to the mouse hole — and wait with infinite patience for prey to appear. Cats may return time after time to areas where their hunts have been successful.
HOW CATS HUNT WITH FISHING TECHNIQUE
Fishing requires patience, too. Typically the cat waits in a likely spot on the bank for a suitable candidate to appear, then uses a paw to scoop and flip the fish from the water. In shallow water, Kitty may wade in and use both paws by pouncing and grasping the fish.
Not all cats are able to perfect fishing technique, probably because of the visual perception difficulty regarding the water. But even dry-land-dwelling kitties use the fish-scoop technique down a likely hole that may yield something yummy.
HOW CATS HUNT WITH STALK AND POUNCE
The stalk-and-pounce method has many components. Once the prey is located, the cat quickly moves closer in a low to the ground pose, and then stops and freezes sometimes for endless moments while watching the prey. If the target moves farther away, the cat adjusts by ever-so-slowly creeping forward one paw-step at a time, even freezing with a foot in mid-air to avoid revealing herself. For the final rush, she gathers rear legs beneath her and treads in preparation for for a forward thrusting take-off. It may require several darting leaps before she’s near enough for the final pounce.
HOW CATS HUNT & PLAY WITH PREY
Rarely is the quarry dispatched right away. Often, it escapes and Kitty must attempt to chase it down for recapture. Cats often indulge in a great deal of pouncing and tossing of prey into the air, allowing escape only to recapture small game. This isn’t inherent cruelty and serves a couple of purposes. “Playing” with the prey is a way for the cat to practice her skills, and also tests just how dangerous that rat or snake might be. Properly socialized felines have learned to inhibit their bite through play with owners and other cats, and toying with the quarry helps them build up the necessary excitement for the coup-de-grace.
HOW CATS HUNT & KILL
Cats kill by biting the neck where the skull joins the spine, severing the vertebrae with the dagger-like canine teeth. They grasp the neck and use a “chattering” movement to position their bite accurately. In fact, cats frustrated in the hunt (i.e., watching from a window as squirrels play outside) often exhibit this chattering behavior which is actually the killing bite, in reaction to seeing out-of-reach prey.
Once the prize is dead and stops moving, the cat typically seems to lose interest for a short time. After the thrill of the hunt, the chase, and the kill, the cat needs time to return to an emotional equilibrium, and she may groom herself before claiming the prize. Then, she’ll carry the prey to a well-sheltered area to eat. Like your pillow.
Learn where to find professional pet behavior help in this post.
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!