Posted by: secondchancehumanesociety | March 2, 2010

Gifts From Cats

Buttercup asks, "whassup??"

Dear Pet Column,

My cat is an indoor/outdoor cat who occasionally hunts mice and brings them in to my bedroom as a “gift”.  Although I am honored that she is thoughtful enough to give me her prizes – I would rather discourage her from doing so as I don’t care to have dead mice in the house.  Please help.

Signed, Ungrateful for Gifts

Dear Ungrateful, my name is Buttercup and I am a “cat-in-waiting” (for my new family to adopt me!) here at Second Chance Humane Society and the host of this week’s Pet Column.  I hate to break it to you but your cat is not bringing you a gift as much as she is trying to teach you to hunt mice yourself.  She likely feels as though you are a slacker regarding the all-important mice hunting pursuits and is trying to motivate you to learn from her. 

What leads me to pop your bubble of pride at having a cat which pays homage to you?  Well this is the same behavior that a mother cat displays for her kittens in mentoring their hunting skills to fulfill their born instincts as chasers and hunters.  And although these instincts are intact at birth – Mother cats must teach their kittens to kill and eat prey – as these are not natural born skills (typically indoor cats will not eat the mice they put out of commission in the household).

Through observing the nature of outdoor felines you will find that when kittens are about 4 weeks old mothers begin bringing dead mice or other prey home to eat in front of the litter.  The kittens soon catch on and join in and eventually do so without the mother cat needing to demonstrate how to eat the prey. 

The next stage of training is with a live rodent which momma cat retrieves for the kittens who then learn to kill and to eat it themselves with their developing coordination, tracking, and pouncing skills.  The last stage involves the kittens accompanying the mother cat on the actual hunt and learning to kill mice on their own – which typically occurs by 4-5 months of age.

According to Dr Katherine Houpt, VMD at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, “There are few instances in nature where animals bring gifts to each other.  Eating and survival are at the root of most behaviors that one animal exhibits toward another.  And your cat considers you a kindred cat of sorts.”

So now that you understand why your cat is bringing you rodents – how do you eliminate the behavior?  Praising your cat reinforces the behavior but scolding your cat for following its predatory and survival instincts is not an appropriate response either.  Thus, your best response is to remain neutral and quickly remove the mouse from the house (or doorstep, or chosen place of offering).  Do not make a big fuss over the mouse which your cat could interpret as excitement and reinforcement to keep catching and bringing you mice.

I hope I did not diminish the notion that your cat cherishes you and honors you with gifts – for we do cherish and honor our family members – but our gifts are more subtle such as the love and affection that we feel toward you as well as our companionship, our entertaining personalities, and our generous purring that makes you feel cozy and warm inside and out.

Now doesn’t that just make you want to come and take me home so I can share my gifts as well???

Call the Second Chance Helpline at 626-2273 to report a lost pet, learn about adopting a homeless pet, or about the SCHS Spay/Neuter Financial Assistance, Volunteer & Foster Care, or other Programs.  Visit our shelter pets online: www.secondchancehumanesociety.org.  Direct Pet Column questions to:  kelly@secondchancehumanesociety.orgPhoto by Real Life Photographs.

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