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How Do Cats Hunt? Vet-Approved Instincts & Methods Explanation

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on March 23, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cat hunting in grass

How Do Cats Hunt? Vet-Approved Instincts & Methods Explanation


Dr. Luqman Javed Photo


Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If you bring a cat into your home, you have to realize you’re bringing a predator right into your living room. While cats don’t go after big game like humans, that won’t stop them from stalking around your home looking for spiders, rodents, and other small animals to go after.

But how exactly do cats hunt? They have two primary methods they’ll use, and some of the finer details behind their actions might surprise you!

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How Do Cats Hunt?

Cats are natural-born hunters, and they go about capturing their prey in one or a combination of two ways. They use the stalking method and the waiting method (or both), and we’ll go over how they hunt using each method for you here.

black and white cat leaning on a tree hunting its prey
Image Credit: Kapa65, Pixabay


This is the most common way a cat hunts and it usually follows a pretty particular pattern. The cat starts by scanning the environment and finding their prey. From there, they “stalk” the prey and try to come up behind it.

Once they’re in position, they pounce and capture the prey. During this process, they might toy with the prey a bit to try and tire them out before they move in for the kill. After they complete the kill, they often “manipulate” the body before eating it.


While the stalking method is the most common hunting method a cat—especially a domestic cat—will use, it’s not the only method they have. Cats will also deploy a “waiting” method while they’re hunting, especially if they have an area where they know prey likes to go.

In this method, they get into a prime position and watch a specific area. When the prey passes through, they’ll pounce, jumping straight to the capture and kill portion of the stalking hunting method.

cat hunting outdoor
Image Credit: Kapa65, Piqsels

Why Do Cats Toy with Their Prey?

If you’ve ever watched a cat hunting, you’ve likely noticed it doesn’t go in for the kill right away. Instead, you’ll watch as the cat bats the animal they’re hunting around a little bit. While this might seem counterintuitive to hunting, it makes perfect sense.

Your cat is trying to tire out the prey before going in for the kill simply as a form of enrichment. In addition, a theory suggests that a tired animal is less likely to hurt your cat in the process. However, this theory isn’t without its flaws, as playing means a cat will waste both time and additional energy before they eat. Nonetheless, they’re not playing with the prey to be mean; they’re doing it as a natural hunting instinct.

Mother cats often bring half-live prey to their kittens to encourage them to practice their hunting skills. At times, you might notice a feral cat moving an injured prey for this reason.

Do Cats Hunt Because They’re Hungry?

In the wild, cats have a strong motivation to hunt. If they don’t capture prey, they don’t eat! But domestic cats don’t have this issue, and yet they’ll still hunt whenever they get the chance.

It doesn’t matter how much food you put out for them, your cat is still going to hunt if the opportunity comes up—it’s part of their natural instincts. Cats are opportunistic hunters and if they see an opportunity, they’re going to take it even if they’re not hungry at the moment.

grey cat hunting mouse
Image Credit: Stefan_Sutka, Shutterstock

Can You Stop Your Cats From Hunting?

While you can reduce the tendency for your cat to go looking for something to hunt, you’ll never eliminate that desire completely. The best thing you can do is to offer your cats plenty of opportunities to engage in play and exercise, as cats actually practice hunting when they engage in play.

From there, you need to keep prey away from them. This means keeping mice, spiders, and other small animals out of your home. If they’re well engaged with play and interactions with you and there’s nothing to hunt, there’s a good chance your cat won’t go around looking for prey as much. But if they spot something to hunt, they’re going to go after it!

If your cat is an outdoor cat, you can curb their hunting by offering them a safe catio to hang out in. Alternatively, cats can be leash trained to enjoy the outdoors safely. Cats should not be allowed to roam unsupervised. This is dangerous for the animals in their vicinity, as cats are very destructive towards local fauna. In addition, your cat may also experience injury, end up lost, be harmed, or contract a disease or illness if they roam unsupervised. Depending on where you stay, some animals in your location might view your cat as prey.

Finally, though most pet cats do not have a dietary deficiency and rarely hunt out of hunger, it might be worth investigating your cat’s diet with your veterinarian to ensure that your cat isn’t looking for opportunities to hunt out of hunger.

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Final Thoughts

Now that you know a little more about how a cat hunts you might be able to recognize the behavior the next time they’re on the prowl. They are magnificent hunters, so take a step back and watch them in action if you get the chance. Their speed and efficiency when they’re hunting might just surprise you!

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Featured Image Credit: SJ Duran, Shutterstock

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