Last Updated on February 19, 2021 by Julia Wilson
At a glance
One of the few unpleasant aspects of sharing our home with a cat is their penchant for bringing their human family dead or dying animals. Cats have been semi-domesticated for 10,000 years, but most of them have retained their hunting skills. It is these skills which created the symbiotic human-cat relationship as cats protected grain stores by keeping the rodent population in check and humans protected cats from larger predators.
Why do cats bring home gifts?
A well-fed cat does not need to hunt for food, but their innate instinct to hunt remains intact. There are several possibilities as to why cats bring a dead or dying animal home.
Teaching us how to hunt
Mother cats teach their kittens to hunt; initially, they will bring a dead animal for her kittens to consume. When they are a little older, she will bring home a partly stunned animal. This provides the opportunity for her kittens to learn the skill of hunting without the relative danger of the prey defending itself. Finally, she will take her kittens out and show them how to hunt for themselves.
By bringing home a half-dead animal, the cat is attempting to teach us how to kill our prey.
Saving it for later
Cats in the wild hunt out of necessity, they are hungry and need to eat. Our pampered felines are much luckier and their food is provided to them. But, as they urge to hunt is still there even in the most domestic of felines, they will hunt, kill and bring back their prey to eat when they are hungry. By which time, we have disposed of their trophy in the garbage.
Cats exhibit great patience during the hunt; they use their sense of smell, sight and hearing and wait for the right moment to strike. In the wild, a cat would retreat to a safe place to consume his or her prey. For domestic cats, that is the home or doorstep.
My cats are indoors with access to a cat enclosure, so they pretty much never have the opportunity to kill birds or rodents, but they will hunt and catch tiny lizards and bring them into the house. They also chase cockroaches and leave the corpse on the floor for us to stand on. The cats seemingly enjoy the opportunity to stalk and catch something.
Wanting us to play
Some cats love to play fetch with their human owners and will bring a toy mouse back to their favourite human and drop it on at their feet wanting another chance to chase and catch the toy. When a cat brings a real mouse and drops it at our feet, it may want us to play with them, and can’t comprehend that we are less enthusiastic about playing fetch with the real deal.
The last of the popular theories is that our cats are providing for the household by bringing us a gift, especially if the cat is female and is bringing home the prey to share with her humans.
What to do if a cat brings back a dead or dying animal?
If the animal is alive, and it is safe to do so (ie; not a venomous snake), secure the animal in a carrier and contact your nearest veterinarian or wildlife support.
If the animal has been killed, pick it up with rubber gloves, place it in a plastic bag and dispose of in the garbage. Avoid making a scene which may reinforce to the cat that bringing home animals elicits a response.
How do I stop my cat from bringing home dead animals?
The only foolproof way to stop hunting in cats is to keep them inside. There are reports of success with hunting collars such as birdsbesafe and catbib. Bells on collars may reduce the number of animals a cat kills, but they are not overly effective. Some cats can learn to walk without the bell, making a sound.
Keep cats inside at dusk and dawn.
Our reaction to dead or dying animals on the doorstep or at our feet is one of fear and disgust. But remember the cat is doing this because it is instinct, and they are showing you they love you.