Why Do Cats Torture Their Prey?

Our fluffy felines have some ferocious tendencies that sometimes make us wonder if they are sweethearts or sadists! We have anthropomorphic tendencies – meaning we like to place human characteristics or attributes on animals among other things. One of the more unsavory behavioral adaptations we see in our cute kittens is their need to play around with the little critters they find around or in our homes. It’s not all “Tom and Jerry” when you find a poor, dead mouse or frog on your doorstep!

The Mechanism Behind this Behavior

House cats love their kibble but they haven’t lost their instinct to hunt. True – they aren’t the most skilled hunters but they still have that innate primal desire. Wild cats have been observed to do the same – stalk their prey and play with them until they are dead. 

The time frame to the actual “kill” is related to how hungry the cat is. A hungrier cat will kill its prey faster than a satiated cat. Why would a satiated cat even feel the need to hunt or stalk prey? Is it due to their love of instilling fear? Well – not quite. While they may get some sort of pleasure from scaring their prey stiff their need to stalk and hunt is more about keeping their skills sharp. Even if a cat is not hungry, it needs to be alert and vigilant for any opportunity to obtain food. Consequently, because the cat isn’t hungry enough to eat it will instead “play with their catch.

Is My Cat Evil?

Your cat really loves small, wiggly things. Naturally, he likes small, wiggly things with a heartbeat the best. It’s not certain that your cat means to kill his prey – the killing is more a result of your cat landing his paws a bit too roughly on a small creature. If the creature had perpetual life, your cat would remain perpetually entranced by it. Surely, you’ve noticed how a cat behaves when he sees that little lizard or bug. You know that he seems more entertained than determined to kill. 

Eeek! Do Cats Eat Their Prey?

House cats don’t often eat their prey, at least not on purpose. At heart, your cat loves his kibble and would gladly choose commercial cat food over a dead mouse. Yet, if you see any evidence of your cat eating his prey, a visit to the vet is in order. Remember that wild animals often live with some sort of parasite. If an animal is eaten by another animal, these parasites are easily transmitted.

Although your kitty isn’t feasting on fresh kills, the hunter aspect is one you’re probably not all too comfortable with. Try some diversion tactics. Toys that move, roll, light up, or hang are highly interesting to cats. Make sure automated toys aren’t too loud or too big – your cat will only be scared. Provide plenty of scratching posts and boards for them. Cat condos with plenty of nooks and crannies will keep them busy – plus they love sleeping in small, high places. Ridding house cats of their stalker instinct may not be possible, but with the variety of cat accoutrements available, you can help focus their attention elsewhere.

By Gabrielle Allemeier


DW.com: Cats Are Neither Mean Nor Cruel
Scientific American: The Inner Life of Cats

About the Author
Gabrielle Allemeier volunteers her free time as an animal rescuer and foster pet parent. As an animal lover, she enjoys sharing the knowledge she has gained from her experience with a variety of animals. Along with being an animal lover, Gabrielle is a globetrotter. She lives in Los Angeles, California with her terrier, Thisbe.