Even domesticated cats still have their hunting instinct.

Understanding Hunting in Cats

Cat owners know that it’s wonderful to buy gifts for their beloved felines. It’s decidedly less pleasant, however, when outdoor cats return the favor by offering gruesome “gifts” of their own. Countless cat owners have stepped out for the morning paper only to find dead (or worse, still-living) prey strewn across their doorsteps. This behavior (while grim) is in keeping with a cat’s natural predatory instincts, and studies suggest committed cat owners may be able to discourage it.

Why Do Cats Hunt?

Cats weren’t always doted on by loving owners. Even the most pampered domestic cat is a member of a predatory, carnivorous species and a descendant of wild animals. Out in the wild, only the most adept hunters survive, so today’s cats have a long history of successfully capturing their prey.

Compared to dogs, cats have experienced little selective breeding throughout the years. This helps explain why the generations have only dampened the domestic feline’s hunting instincts rather than snuffing them out all together. For many outdoor cats, the mere sight or scent of potential prey is enough to trigger a shift from housecat to hunter.

Hunting doesn’t necessarily mean your cat is hungry. The feline-focused non-profit International Cat Care notes that, on average, hunting attempts are successful less than 50% of the time and that cats would need to catch between 10 to 20 birds or small mammals every day to survive on their own. As such, cats have evolved to at least try and stalk prey whenever they get the chance.

Are My Cats Giving Me Gifts?

Yes. It’s possible that your pet has noble intentions when they drop an animal’s half-eaten corpse on the porch. In the wild, mother cats hunt on behalf of their young, returning with food to share. A domesticated female cat who’s been spayed may redirect these nurturing instincts to their owner. Your cat may also simply be saving some of its meal for later.

Feline Hunting Techniques

Cats typically employ three different techniques for hunting and capturing unsuspecting prey:

Reducing Hunting Behavior in Cats

If you’d rather not be surprised by slain critters, there are several steps you can take in hopes of reducing your cat’s hunting behavior.

Never attempt to discourage hunting by punishing your cat or seriously limiting their outdoor access. Strict negative reinforcement may have the unintended effect of encouraging destructive behaviors, and keeping an outdoor cat cooped up can dramatically reduce their standard of living.