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Why Cats Leave “Gifts”

Why Cats Leave “Gifts”

I’ll never forget the day when my old cat Iggy popped in through the open window right on to my desk and dropped the neatly decapitated head of a sparrow on my keyboard. I’m sure my startled scream was heard across New York City. It was sad. It was gory. I was horrified. But Iggy seemed to practically quiver with pride, and all I could do was squeamishly remove the “trophy” and work on the task of forgiving her for her generosity.

According to Arden Moore in The Cat Behavior Answer Book (Storey, 2007), cats have novel ways of showing that they love us; and that they are worthy hunters. Whether these “gifts” are dead birds, rats, or crickets, our cats are displaying their hunting instincts. We may keep their food bowls full, but that won’t stop them–our domesticated cats are not hunting out of hunger.

Some cats do bring their prey back home with plans to snack later, but most just leave the carcass lying around. Experts in feline behavior speculate that cats brings us these “gifts” in an effort to train us. Perhaps they have realized what lousy hunters we are. Or maybe they do it because they want our approval. They can’t go out and buy expensive gifts or knit a scarf for us, so they hunt and offer us what they value as presents.

In any case, you can’t snuff out a cat’s need to hunt. It’s hardwired in their brains. Instead, give those prey critters more of a fighting chance by putting a bell on your cat’s collar. If your cat goes outdoors, you probably shouldn’t put up bird feeders–keep those for indoor cats to enjoy watching form the window. As an alternative, offer your cat some fake prey to stalk and chase in your home, such as battery-operated toy mice that move erratically.

Does you cat bring you gifts from the hunt? Have you found a way to discourage it? Tell us your stories in the comment section below.

Read more: Behavior & Communication, Cats, Pets, , ,

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

351 comments

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2:17PM PST on Mar 2, 2013

I have been taught cats bring home their catch because that is the "safest" spot for them. That territory they know better than the prey. The cat may forget to eat the prey but the instinct supervises them to bring the prey to the "kitchen" if possible. It of course might be they are sometimes trying to teach us to hunt, too, as that is how mother cats teach the kitten, they first bring dead prey, then almost dead and little by little more and more live prey to the little ones.. Who can tell for sure? I don't think one can school the cats out of doing that... But sure we can stop them hunting by not letting them go out side. If we do that - often that is very wise a thing - then me sure need to activate them properly at home, let them play hunting regularly and all kinds of things. :-) Cats need to be let to live a catlike life!

3:17AM PST on Mar 2, 2013

Thank you

12:04PM PDT on May 13, 2012

My 3 cats are outdoor cats because I live in the woods in a very rural area. One is a particularly good hunter and has brought us everything from mice to snakes to bats and flying squirrels. They are almost "always" alive when she brings them home, with a very unique "meow" emerging from behind her full mouth. I'm positive this is an instinctual reflection of a member of the pride bringing home the bacon, as it were. I always "catch and release" no matter what the creature, even the mice. I know this is a big dilemma in the pros and cons of letting cats outdoors. I've moved feeders away to stop the flying squirrel (and bird, squirrel, raccoon, possum and bear) problem. But I do wish I'd had a video cam when my husband and I cornered a flying squirrel in a bathroom, and the acrobatics we went through to catch and release it. (They're not in decline here folks but I'd rather "not" see them than have my cat catch one.)

10:50AM PDT on May 5, 2012

ty

10:49AM PDT on May 5, 2012

ty

8:11AM PDT on May 5, 2012

Growing up we had a cat, Buckwheat, who would bring my mother "gifts". Once he learned to leave his offerings on the back porch, my mother would praise him and tell him what a brave and awesome hunter he was. He brought birds, mice, rabbits and snakes. I think domestic cats have learned to hunt in order to please humans. We want them to kill the rats before they get to the grain, or in the barns and especially in the house since rats and mice carry disease. While we cry over the lose of the beautiful songbirds, I think everyone applauds the lack of rats in our homes. Now my kitties are all fixed and live indoors. They bring me toys after they "kill" them, and rid our home of flys and other bugs, unless I can release them (the bugs) to the outdoors. My kitties watch the world through the windows and I stamp down the guilt of keeping them caged by reminding myself how I feel after seeing the loser of a encounter with a car on the side of the road. Someday, maybe I'll have enough land to let my feline companions out to be cats of the world. Until then, they stay snug in the house.

4:09PM PDT on May 3, 2012

Some people are plain daft. I knew a person who bought a house with practically no plants and converted it into a garden of eden. Problem is, she had a crocodile in her garden! A crocodile in the shape of a CAT! In spite of the outside cat run and shelter she built for the cat, she regularly let it out and it regularly ate our precious Australian birdlife and lizards. It was the major source of agitation between us, I could never understand how a (supposedly) intelligent person could be so bloody stupid!

4:09PM PDT on May 3, 2012

Some people are plain daft. I knew a person who bought a house with practically no plants and converted it into a garden of eden. Problem is, she had a crocodile in her garden! A crocodile in the shape of a CAT! In spite of the outside cat run and shelter she built for the cat, she regularly let it out and it regularly ate our precious Australian birdlife and lizards. It was the major source of agitation between us, I could never understand how a (supposedly) intelligent person could be so bloody stupid!

2:31PM PDT on May 3, 2012

Like Charles, I was feeding the feral cats in my neighborhood and one black cat started following me : eventually, when it started getting cold he kept trying to get into my house and I kept putting him back ouside. Finally, I let him come in, neutered him, and slowly we became close!! He's afraid of everybody else.

2:31PM PDT on May 3, 2012

Like Charles, I was feeding the feral cats in my neighborhood and one black cat started following me : eventually, when it started getting cold he kept trying to get into my house and I kept putting him back ouside. Finally, I let him come in, neutered him, and slowly we became close!! He's afraid of everybody else.

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