Why Do Cats Bring Their Owners Dead Animals?

cats and dead animals
@kimstapf / Twenty20

Most cats are quite adept to catching small prey. For people who have cats as a form of pest control, or dislike the idea of rodents and other small critters entering their homes, this prey catching talent is usually applauded. But when a cat brings its owners the dead animal that it just caught, owners often wonder why their cat feels the need to do so. It's important to understand that this behavior is very natural.

Cats Are Prey Driven

Wild or domesticated, cats are prey driven. This means that they have an instinctual drive to hunt and catch things, even if they have only ever eaten cat food bought from the pet store.

Cats are born to hunt and even though domesticated cats may know they don’t need to catch their own food to survive, they cannot resist the urge and often enjoy the hunt and chase. The natural prey drive in a cat cannot be suppressed but it can be encouraged or redirected to be more of a play behavior than a hunting behavior.

Prey as Trophies, Training, and Food

Some cats that catch prey will bring their owners the dead–or sometimes still alive–animals in order to show off their prized catch for later consumption, as a teaching aid, or as a gift. Cats are pack animals and they often want to share their bounty with their family or are, in their own way, naturally passing on their hunting and eating knowledge to you. This is especially true of female cats who would normally teach their young how to hunt and eat.

This means when a cat brings you an animal they caught, be it alive or dead, they consider you a part of their family. Their instincts are telling them this is what they need to do to survive and that they need to pass these important, life-saving skills onto their family.

This prey catching behavior has nothing to do with being hungry; it’s just what their mind is telling them to do. Often times the “prey” being caught by indoor cats isn’t edible at all, but rather toy mice, balls, and garbage they felt that they “hunted.” These items may also be presented to you as gifts even though they are inedible.

Prey driven behavior is not something that should be scolded but rather redirected towards toys if you have an indoor cat. If you have a cat that goes outside and you want to prevent it from bringing you animals, put bells on its collar so it is harder for them to sneak up on living prey. But if your cat does bring you a dead animal, dispose of it when they aren’t looking and replace it with a cat treat for them to eat.

Toys for Redirecting Prey Drive

Any toy that requires your cat to chase and catch an object is mentally stimulating its natural prey drive. Feather wands, laser pointers, moving toys, and other items that your cat simply cannot resist trying to catch, are great for redirecting prey drive.

A cat needs mental stimulation, especially if it is a cat that seems to have a strong prey drive. If it doesn’t have anything to hunt, chase, and catch, then it will find something to fulfill its prey drive, even if it’s another one of your pets, children, or the fuzzy slippers you walk around the house in.

Cats that have opportunities to hunt, chase, and catch things are less likely to attack other pets and people in the household. There are even toys that don’t require a human to hold a feather wand or other toy but still allow your cat to be entertained while redirecting their prey drive.

If you have an especially lazy cat, it may be because they do not have a very strong prey drive.

Indoor Cats Catching Prey

Cats that never go outside have to depend on something coming inside their homes in order to catch prey. Some cats will find insects, lizards, mice, rats, and other things that somehow make their way into our homes and do a great job at catching them. Other indoor cats will simply watch the small critter and make no attempt to catch it.

Outdoor Cats Catching Prey

Many outdoor or indoor/outdoor cats have a stronger prey drive than their house cat counterparts because they get to exercise this natural ability more often. Field mice, lizards, and other critters cats find outside are fun to catch, even if they don’t need them as food.

Outdoor cats that hunt and kill native wildlife are so good at it, that they are considered invasive species and detrimental to native populations of birds. Attaching bells on the break-away collars of outdoor cats is a good way to alert the wildlife that a cat is approaching and therefore give them time to get away before a cat pounces.