A cat is a natural hunter and they are often described as the perfect carnivore. The feline body is built to stalk, chase and capture small prey with ease and their digestive system is designed to process meat. House cats may not understand what they catch is food, but they are nevertheless hunters and instinctively know how to hunt. Cat owners can see the strategy of how cats attack their prey by watching them play. It’s how they perfect and hone their skills as hunters.
Cats have three basic attack strategies they use when attacking prey, depending on if it’s a mouse (or other small animal), bird or fish. One thing a cat has plenty of is patience. When she detects movement that grabs her interest, she hugs the ground, constantly calculating distance as she patiently waits for the right time to pounce. Intense eyes stare as she silently stalks her prey. Timing is everything and just before she attacks, a quick shake of her head helps her judge distance and a wiggle of her behind helps her prepare for a leap that’s usually spot on.
The mouse strategy. When a cat attacks a mouse, chipmunk, or any small animal, she leaps and grabs with her front legs. The successful hunter knows she needs to bite the back of the neck at the same time to sever the spinal cord, but the motivation to hunt isn’t always to kill prey outright. A mother cat will maim a mouse just enough to slow it down and then take it home so her kittens can learn how to stalk, pounce and kill. It’s through the process of playing with prey where they learn how to be successful hunters. House cats know how to hunt, but if they never learned the art of killing from their mother, a mouse is more likely to be tortured with a slow death by being tossed around. The mouse that uses his wits can escape the novice hunter, if he’s fast enough.
Feral cats are successful hunters, but feral colonies still need help from humans with additional food because they simply can’t find enough prey to sustain them day end and day out. Stray cats that don’t find their way to a feral colony and don’t learn through necessity how to make a kill have a small chance of surviving on their own. It’s a myth for people to assume all cats know how to hunt for food and therefore can survive on her own if she’s lost or abandoned. If most people were forced to use their limited knowledge of survival, they would also have a difficult time trying to survive on their own.
The bird strategy. No matter how many bells a cat has attached to her collar, she will adapt and learn how to stalk a bird in spite of the friendly warning provided by her owner. In fact, bells teach her to be a better hunter. She adjusts and moves with more stealth and discipline to keep the bells from alerting the bird. When she’s ready to attack, she leaps up and grabs the bird with her front paws as it takes off, knocks it to the ground and pounces on it. The well fed novice hunter may lose interest at this point if the bird plays dead, which is meant to confuse the cat. An outside cat that knows how to kill won’t be fooled as easily by this tactic. Tens of millions of song birds are killed or injured every year by cats hunting them.
The fish strategy. Yes, cats are able fishermen. Their claws are perfect for snagging a fish that swims too close to a waiting cat. Feral and outside cats that live around water will sit for hours waiting for just the right moment to hook a fish swimming by. They get their paw underneath the fish, hook it with their claws, flip it out behind them and then turn and pounce on their catch. Tuna is a favorite for most cats, however, too much can be deadly for them. Yellow fat disease (Steatitis) is an inflammatory disease caused by a Vitamin E deficiency. Because there’s so much unsaturated fat in tuna (or any oily fish), it oxidizes and destroys Vitamin E, damaging the body fat. Cats can also become addicted to tuna and become tuna junkies. An occasional tuna treat is fine, but you run the risk of your cat refusing to eat anything else if she does become addicted it.
Cats have the wit, cunning, speed and skill to stalk and capture small prey. Humans learned the value of cats centuries ago to help control rodents around food supplies. Watching a cat at play helps you understand and appreciate the strategies they use when hunting.
Cats and Tuna-Yellow Fat Disease
Play Aggression in Kittens-How They Learn to Hunt Through Play
The Incredible Nose of a Cat