Guide to cats – Hunting
10th July 2017
Cats are true carnivores, live on a diet consisting mainly of protein and are perfectly designed for hunting, for example they have:
- Wide peripheral vision
- Excellent night vision – at the expense of their ability to see colours well
- Acute hearing and ears that can be moved independently
- Keen sense of smell and touch
- Skeleton designed for speed and stealth
Time to hunt
The instinct to hunt and capture prey is strong even in the most pampered of lap cats. Rural feral cats can spend half their day hunting, even some house cats spend up to 25% of their day doing so (the day being a full 24 hour period). They are more active in summer than winter and contrary to popular belief, many will prefer to hunt on a wet night because they know that the sound of the rain will mask their footsteps and the success rate will be higher. If your cat is damp in the morning you know what they have been up to overnight.
A cat’s prey
Cats are most successful at catching small mammals such as mice, shrews, moles and voles. Some will attempt larger prey such as rats or rabbits and some will successfully catch a bird on the ground, but birds are adept at ‘playing dead’ resulting in the cat pausing to observe it just long enough for the bird to fly away. They will use subtly different techniques depending on which prey they are stalking.Most cat owners will have seen their cats hunt; first they stalk then capture followed by the kill – usually by a bite to the nape of the neck after the prey has been dazed for safety, because the cat does not want to be bitten. Prey animals are very capable of self-defence and small rodents will readily bite so the cat is rightly cautious and can sometimes be seen ‘playing’ with their prey to tire it, making it more vulnerable to the final bite. When you play with your cat using a toy or feather attached to a string, you will observe the same behaviour as for real prey.
A gift of love? Maybe not…
Why do cats bring their prey home? Some say it’s bringing food for other cats in the group that are not such good hunters, namely us. Others that they are merely demonstrating that it is a good place to hunt and thereby encouraging other members of their group to do so too.
The real reason is likely to be more practical. Being a solitary hunter, there is no help available once the initial grip is released in preparation for the nape bite, during which the prey could escape. So the cat does not release the prey immediately but returns to the familiarity of the core area (home) where if the prey does escape it will, in theory at least, be easier to recapture.
This was witnessed first-hand recently when a cat appeared in its garden (core area) with a rabbit in its mouth which had presumably been caught in a nearby field.
Some think this behaviour is barbaric and upsetting, but we must remember that the ability to hunt was one of the main reasons cats were originally kept by man, not as a pet, but for pest control.
Next time: The Inquisitive Cat…..
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