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Why Does My Cat Hunt? Understanding Their Behavior

Black Oriental Shorthair in the grass
Image Credit: jojosmb, Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Emma Stenhouse

If you make sure your cat is always well-fed and has plenty of toys, it can be frustrating to find that they still want to hunt. Whether that’s catching something in your backyard or stalking the dog, most cats can’t help themselves. If you want to understand more about this behavior, you’re in the right place.

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Why Do Cats Hunt?

savannah kitten on green grass
Image Credit: Lindasj22, Shutterstock

Put simply, hunting is an instinctive behavior for cats. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons that cats were domesticated in the first place. The best hunting cats were prized for their abilities to keep settlements free from vermin, and these cats form the basis of our domestic cat breeds.

Kittens are born already knowing how to hunt instinctively, and you’ll see them practicing their skills on each other! Their mother cats may also help kittens hone their skills. Cats tend to follow a predictable and repeatable cycle throughout the day, which looks like this:

  • Hunt
  • Catch
  • Kill
  • Eat
  • Groom
  • Sleep

These are all essential activities for a cat, even hunting! While you might want to minimize the real prey that your cat catches, as owners of tiny tigers, we need to be realistic about the fact that hunting-type behavior is an instinctive behavior for cats. It’s something that keeps them feeling content and satisfied, so we shouldn’t try to stop this behavior altogether, but rather find ways to manage it.

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Why Does my Cat Hunt Even When I Give Them Plenty of Food?

cat on the fence_katya-guseva0, Pixabay
Image Credit: katya-guseva0, Pixabay

It might seem odd that some cats still love to hunt even though there’s food available for them, but for cats, hunting isn’t just about finding something to eat.

Research has found that hunting behavior generally boils down to two main factors:

  • Instinct
  • Boredom

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Can I Stop my Cat Hunting?

cat hunting outdoor
Image Credit: Kapa65, Piqsels

The easiest way to stop your cat hunting is to keep them inside. Besides protecting the local wildlife, this can be safer for your cat too. Indoor cats have a much higher life expectancy than outdoor cats.

If your cat does spend time outdoors, consider keeping them indoors at dawn and dusk, when birds and small rodents are most active. You can also use a collar with a bell or a colorful collar designed to warn birds that your cat is approaching. These aren’t always 100% effective, but they’re worth a try.

Even if your cat does live indoors, you’ll still see them indulging in hunting behavior. Maybe they chase their toys down the hallway or pounce out at you from behind the door. Remember that hunting is an innate behavior for your cat, so rather than try to stop your cat from doing it at all, think about ways that you can allow them to pretend hunt within the safety of your home.

Consider investing in a hunting cat feeder kit, which allows your cat to indulge in their love of hunting by sniffing out food that you’ve hidden around the house. This is also a great way of making sure your cat has something to eat during the night, so they don’t wake you up to get them food!

Researchers have found that one of the most effective ways of reducing a cat’s hunting behavior is to play with them more. A bored cat may look for ways to entertain themselves, and if they don’t have much in the way of enrichment, hunting will often be the first activity that they indulge in. Toys on a fishing rod are often the most effective at encouraging your cat to hunt and play. These toys allow your cat to stalk, chase, and pounce, just like they would during a real hunt. Even 5-10 minutes per day is enough to help stave off boredom.

Feeding your cat a diet that’s high in protein can also help reduce the urge to hunt. Look for high-quality grain-free food with real meat as the first ingredient. Hunting can sometimes indicate a nutrient deficiency, so by providing your cat with the most species-appropriate food, you may reduce their urge to hunt.

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Environmental Enrichment

feeding cats_Dora Zett_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Dora Zett, Shutterstock

Besides playing with your cat, make sure they have plenty of environmental enrichment to stave off boredom. You can include things like:

Cats can’t help wanting to hunt, but by adjusting the way that we care for our furry friends, we can reduce the amount of actual prey that they bring home! Make sure you’re offering your cat plenty of opportunities to play and feeding them a diet high in protein. Encourage your cat to hunt their toys, and they may forget all about those small animals and birds outside!

Featured Image Credit: jojosmb, Shutterstock

About the Author

Emma Stenhouse
Emma Stenhouse
Emma is a freelance writer, specializing in writing about pets, outdoor pursuits, and the environment. Originally from the UK, she has lived in Costa Rica and New Zealand before moving to a smallholding in Spain with her husband, their 4-year-old daughter, and their dogs, cats, horses, and poultry. When she's not writing, Emma can be found taking her dogs for walks in the rolling fields around their home...and usually, at least some of the cats come along, too! Emma is passionate about rescuing animals and providing them with a new life after being abandoned or abused. As well as their own four rescue dogs, she also fosters dogs for re-homing, providing them with love and training while searching for their forever homes.

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