And, occasionally, they will also haul home a dead animal.
One of our cats, Felix, once tried to drag what I assumed at the time to be a very large pigeon, but which could also easily have been a small albatross, through the cat flap. It got stuck, there were feathers flying everywhere, and he simply could not fathom why we didn’t want to allow the dead bird inside.
Why do cats bring dead prey home? Don’t they understand we find it alarming?
Why Do Cats Bring You Dead Animals?
Cats will bring you dead (or perhaps semi-alive) animals to show off their hunting skills, to teach you how to hunt, or as a gift. They are not hungry: they are hunters by nature and this behavior is instinctive to them.
Don’t worry, the fact your beloved feline showed up with a semi-conscious mouse last night does not mean you are not giving them enough food. Cats who live with humans rarely hunt to eat. They hunt for sport.
They will bring their prey home to show you how clever they are, and as a sign of appreciation for all that you do for them. They may also want to spark in you that same hunting instinct they were blessed with, and are hoping the sight of a dead animal will kickstart it.
Here’s why cats bring you dead animals:
They Are Born Hunters
Don’t let the cuteness fool you. Your cuddly, snuggly, purring feline is one of the most accomplished hunters on earth. Their DNA has not changed all that much over the centuries they’ve spent in our company. They still know how to kill.
Hunting is deeply embedded in a cat’s genetic makeup. Even though they no longer need to hunt to eat, the instinct is still very strong in them.
In order to keep their skills sharp, domestic cats will hunt toys, socks, your feet, hands and slippers. Outdoors, they will hunt birds and rodents and will never for a second wonder whether or not this is okay.
They Are Storing Food For Later
Once their prey has been bagged, cats will often bring it home for later consumption. Think of it as cat takeout. They are just bringing home what they didn’t eat at the restaurant.
You will know this is the reason your cat is dragging a dead mouse in her mouth if she doesn’t walk right up to you with it. Cats don’t send mixed messages. If they have brought the dead animal home for you, they will give it to you. If they have brought it for themselves, they will go to their storage area straight away.
They Want To Feed You
Your cat may also bring a dead animal home as a way of contributing to the household. Since they can’t go out and earn money (and since they obviously don’t even know of or understand the concept), they will do what they can to chip in.
Incidentally, their way of providing centers around hunting and delivering a fresh catch straight to your doorstep.
They Think You Are a Bad Hunter
While they love you dearly, your cat also happens to think you are a horrible hunter. They have seen you pass by countless birds without so much as a twitch. And while they appreciate the pre-packaged goods, they know they can’t rely on you to score food in case the canned goods run out.
But They Are Trying to Teach You
Cats believe in paws-on education. They teach their kittens to hunt by bringing them dead or captured prey.
I once watched one of the cutest and most cuddly cats I have ever met catch a pigeon on her first jump, kill it with one effective swipe, and then bring it to her three kittens who were sitting lined up in a neat row, poised for attention, taking in every step. Then she put the bird in front of them and started having a conversation with them.
One of those kittens would later distinguish himself by becoming the best mouser our neighborhood has ever seen. In one night, he brought dead mice to 7 different houses, thoroughly terrifying some of our elderly neighbors. Without him, we would never have known there was an infestation nearby. That hunting lesson from his mother was clearly incredibly useful.
When your cat brings you a dead animal, they are doing what their mother once did. They want to show you how to catch prey, should you need to use the skill in the future.
They Are Showing Off
Cats have quite big egos too, so they will want to be praised for their catch. They may choose to bring a dead animal home just so they can show you how good they are.
You may notice they are prancing and walking with a bounce in their step. They may hold their noses high and look particularly delighted with themselves. They’ll have that smug look on their face that says “I truly am king of the world”. You know the one I mean.
They Want To Play
Domestic cats have learned to substitute toys for prey. They will bring you a toy mouse to play with when they need someone to animate their catch.
If they have killed their animal prey but are still in a playful mood, they may bring it to you for the same reason, to breathe a bit of action into it and make the game more challenging.
They Love You
The ultimate reason your cat brings you anything, dead mice and birds included, is because they care for you.
They won’t do it for a stranger. They will only share the fruits of their labor with members of their family and tribe, which includes you.
What To Do When Your Cat Brings You Dead Animals?
If your cat has brought home a dead animal, dispose of it carefully. Wear disposable, thick gloves to pick it up and place it in a plastic bag. Tie it firmly before throwing it in the garbage bin. Don’t put it in an indoor bin.
Clean any blood or other mess up with soap and warm water, still wearing gloves. Make sure to get to every spot the dead animal has touched. Use a disinfectant afterwards to get rid of any residual bacteria.
If the animal your cat has brought home is still alive but is injured, take it to your local vet, preferably one who treats wildlife. Note that the animal may also be mostly uninjured, especially if it’s a mouse, so you may be able to just free it outside.
Wear thick gloves when handling the animal. Place it in a box with holes for ventilation before you release it or take it to get treated.
If you see your cat eating a dead animal, take them to the vet’s for a preventative checkup. Wildlife can carry all kinds of parasites and infections, so you want to make sure your cat has not caught anything. Chances are they will be perfectly fine, but make sure to check.
Don’t punish your cat for doing something they find completely natural. You certainly won’t enjoy the gift, but they didn’t mean it to be offensive or stressful. Don’t reward their behavior, but don’t scold or yell at them either.
How To Stop Your Cat From Bringing You Dead Animals
If you want to prevent your cat from bringing dead animals home, you can try a couple of different tactics:
Put a Bell On Them
If other animals can hear your cat coming, it will never be able to catch anything. By placing a bell on them, you can effectively render all of their hunting trips ineffective.
Make sure their collar has a breakaway clip, so that they don’t injure themselves if the collar gets caught on something.
Don’t Let Them Out at Dawn or Dusk
The animals cats typically hunt, rodents and birds, tend to be at their most active at dusk and dawn. If you keep your cat indoors at these times, they will have fewer opportunities to hunt.
Note that this will also be the times when your cat insists on going outside, so there will be lots of initial meowing and cat flap scratching.
Play Hunting Often
To satisfy your cat’s hunting instincts, simulate catching and killing prey with them a couple of times a day. If they release a lot of their energy on a toy, they will be less likely to hunt outside.
This tactic won’t always work though, as your cat may still prefer to test out its improved skills on live prey.
Ultimately, the best way to stop your cat from bringing anything home is to keep them indoors, or to walk them on a lead and supervise their outdoor activities.
Cats bring you dead animals as a token of appreciation and as their way of saying thank you for providing food and shelter. It’s also their way of showing you how skilled they are, and trying to pass some of their talent onto you.
While it can be quite disgusting to be presented with a disemboweled or beheaded animal, don’t punish your cat for being a good hunter. It’s in their nature as much as purring, cuddling and loafing.