Cats are well-known for their hunting prowess, but some cats are more talented at this skill than others. When humans began farming several thousand years ago, they depended on cats to protect their harvest from rodents. This relationship eventually led to cats being bred for specific characteristics. If you’re wondering if cats are good at catching and killing rats, it’s a lot more complicated than a simple yes or no as we’ll discover.
Cats as predators
Cats have been prized for their ability to kill vermin for thousands of years, and it’s thought that it is one of the main reasons that they became domesticated in the first place. African Wildcats were first found near human settlements due to the presence of mice, and the cats were gradually tamed by farmers who saw the benefits of having a cat around to help control vermin.
While the ability to catch mice was a useful skill back then, modern-day cats, both feral and housecats allowed to roam outside, are now responsible for killing multiple types of wildlife. But does that include rats?
A study completed in 2013 estimated that domestic cats kill between 1.3 and 4.0 billion birds each year across the lower 48 states of the U.S.A. Cats also killed anywhere from 6.9 billion to 22.3 billion mammals in the same area of the U.S.A. These were mainly mice, voles, shrews, and rabbits.
It’s important to note that feral, unowned cats contribute to most of these numbers, with an estimate of around 69% of the mortalities being due to feral cats. So, we know that cats are efficient predators. But if you’re thinking about taking in a feral cat to help control rats on your farm, will it be an effective strategy?
The signs point to no.
Cats are used for rat control
In Washington, D.C., Blue Collar Cats, part of the Humane Rescue Alliance, releases feral cats to help control rodent populations. These cats aren’t used to human interaction, so once they’ve been trapped and given the veterinary care they need, including neutering or spaying, they’re not suited to be adopted as domestic cats.
Instead, the feral cats are put to work to control the rodent population for local businesses. Cats are provided with shelter, food, water, and basic care. Plenty of businesses are thrilled with how having a Blue Collar Cat has helped reduce the rodent population, including rats, around their properties.
Blue Collar Cats doesn’t advocate withholding food to encourage cats to hunt rodents; it has been shown to be an ineffective method and cruel to the cats too. Most cats will hunt whether they’re hungry or not, it’s an innate instinct. So, while certain areas use cats to control rat populations, how effective are cats at killing rats?
Are cats effective at killing rats?
There’s only one scientific study that we can find that looks at the effectiveness of cats in killing and controlling rat populations. The results show that cats aren’t all that great at killing rats. The study, titled “Temporal and Space-Use Changes by Rats in Response to Predation by Feral Cats in an Urban Ecosystem,” examined the relationship between a colony of around 100 rats and a group of feral cats.
Over 79 days, they found that while the cats spent a great deal of time around the rat colony, they didn’t often interact with them. There were only 20 incidents of the cats stalking rats, three attempted kills, and only two actual kills. Both kills resulted from a cat finding where a rat was hiding rather than actively stalking them out in the open.
The lead researcher, Michael H. Parsons, said that as the rats adjusted to the presence of the cats, they adapted their behavior by spending more time hiding in their burrows than roaming outside. He suggests that when this happens, observers assume they see fewer rats because the cats killed several of them. However, the rats have changed their behavior and are less visible because they hide more.
Cats versus Rats
Rats are large prey for any cat; even an experienced feral cat may think twice before hunting a rat. Rats are also good at defending themselves and can turn on a cat as they attempt to hunt them. Brown rats weigh up to 330 grams (compared to a mouse, which weighs 30 grams). Often, it will only be a cat that has been taught by their mother to effectively hunt and kill rats that will attempt this formidable task.
Many cats will ignore rats and find a way to live alongside them rather than hunt them. Researchers have even seen urban rats and feral cats eating from the same trash bag.
Cats versus Mice
So, cats are not all that great at killing rats, but they’re better at killing mice. Another study, titled “Domestic cats as predators and factors in winter shortages of raptor prey,” found that over an area of 35 acres, six cats killed more than 4,200 mice over a period of 8 months.
Wrapping it up
Cats can kill rats, but most cats prefer to avoid them. As a solution for controlling rat populations, it doesn’t look like cats are the answer. That’s not to say that initiatives like Blue Collar Cats aren’t a great idea. Research has shown that the presence of cats reduces the number of rat sightings. So, whether the rats have moved onto a different area or are spending more time in burrows, the location still benefits from decreased rat sightings. It also gives a needy cat a new home, and what’s not to love about that?
You might be interested in:
- How to Tame a Feral Cat: 5 Simple Steps
- Do Cats Eat Rats or Just Kill Them? Biological Reasons & Risks
Featured Image Credit: rihaij, Pixabay