Throughout the ages, cats have been taken into homes (and barns and factories) for their hunting prowess, and specifically for their mousing skills. Even Marie Antoinette’s cats — those fabled to have been the antecedents of all Maine Coons in some folk tales — were originally kept as mousers. If those cats could do it, why not yours?
Well, mousing cats of yore often had short, difficult lives, and unpleasant deaths. So, let’s get to the bottom of whether you should allow your modern-day house cat to channel their ancestral hunter.
POSSIBLE DANGERS OF ALLOWING YOUR CAT TO HUNT RODENTS
In cities and suburbs, rodents aren’t cute little cartoon-like creatures with big eyes and pink ears. Some go by another name: rats. And what did rats once spread? The plague! Rats and mice have many differences, but share one key characteristic — they tend to carry pests and disease.
There’s a long list of unpleasant diseases humans and cats can get from rat infestations, including hantavirus, leptospirosis, and a condition called rat-bite fever. Your house cat is especially susceptible to these diseases if they’re eating the hosts.
Your cat could also be exposed to toxoplasmosis (the reason why pregnant women are instructed to avoid litter boxes).
Mice are classic hosts for ticks. Unlike fleas who go from birth to blood meal to death, ticks require a dual-host scenario. They are born, find an intermediary host, drop to the ground, then find their final host. The final hosts are typically deer, humans, or house pets. Their first host is often a mouse. If your cat fraternizes with the host of your local tick population, they could bring those pests straight into your home. Your cat may contract Lyme disease themselves, or they could bring the disease to their people.
Mouse and rat poison do not work immediately. The poisons are often ingested a few days before the rodent finally perishes. If your cat finds a mouse during this period, they could be eating the poison along with the animal. This could mean their end as well.
WHEN IS IT OKAY TO ALLOW A CAT TO CATCH MICE?
“Allow” is a funny term when applied to cat behavior. Cats are somewhat trainable, but for the most part they are their own people, and they make their own decisions. We can make sure certain behaviors elicit a negative association. But in the case of hunting, our response is not likely to be immediate enough to do anything other than make them frightened of us. So the question of whether or not to allow hunting could be moot.
Mental Well Being: Nature vs. Nurture
Many cat people struggle with the conflict of whether to confine their cats to the indoors. Indoor cats live undeniably longer lives. But what sort of life is a life lived inside, passing each day by the window to gaze longingly at the outside world? Everyone has their own response to this question, and each family makes their own decision accordingly.
The same question can be posed about whether to allow your cat to hunt. Hunting mice and other creatures can indeed harm your cat, in the ways mentioned above. Here’s the hard question: Is the risk, perhaps, worth it?
BENEFITS OF ALLOWING YOUR CAT TO CATCH MICE
Allowing a cat to be a cat, to keep their deepest instincts alive, in almost all cases, will equate to a happier cat. Cats who are content, and who have an appropriate outlet for their pent up energy, will often abstain from engaging in some of the naughty household behaviors we scorn, like inappropriate toileting or the destruction of furniture.
Better Than an Exterminator
Using your cat to catch some unwanted household visitors is fairly common. It’s rodent control without poison, and more humane to the pest than a sticky trap or a snap trap. Sometimes the cat won’t even need to catch the mouse to have the desired effect of driving the pest away. A cat’s lurking presence is often enough to evict squatting rodents.
TIPS FOR HUNTING CATS
- Put a bell on your cat’s collar. They’ll get to tap into the hunting instinct, but the sound of the bell may scare away all but the slowest prey from capture.
- If possible, lock your cat door at night. Cats are nocturnal, and prefer to hunt at night. Keeping them indoors during these hours could reduce their success rate.
- If you decide to let your cat hunt, or suspect they may be hunting despite your efforts, be sure to look out for these warning signs of a sick cat.
More on Cat Behaviors
5 Tips to Calm an Aggressive Cat
The Benefits of a Playful Cat
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.