Predatory Instincts

Author: Emily Burt, Nursing Team

January 7, 2013

A gazelle walks calmly through the tall grass on its way to the water’s edge for a drink. Suddenly, the wind shifts and the gazelle snaps to attention, frozen but for its ears which are seeking some sound too quiet for you or me to hear. In an instant, the gazelle is off and we can see why. A cheetah follows close behind and, after a brief chase, takes down its prey. This scene plays out daily on Animal Planet and we don’t give it a second thought.

What does this have to do with your house cat that gets regular, well-balanced meals? Why do they still cry for food or go out hunting and bring home “presents” for you? If they aren’t going to eat their prey, why do they kill it? Are cats just cruel? No, they aren’t. Cats are obligate carnivores with a predatory instinct. There are two primary reasons why cats will continue to hunt or seek food even when they are not hungry.

First, it is instinct. Cats in the wild are rarely in a position to hunt more than they are able to eat. When a cat sees prey, therefore, it will hunt and kill when possible in order to ensure its next meal. This instinct is extremely strong and without it, cats would not survive. As a result, this instinct survives even in our feline companions. Cats in comfortable homes will extend this food-seeking instinct to their owners. Just as they know a mouse is the source of food in the wild, they know that you are the source of food in the home. They will “hunt” you by following you around, batting at your ankles, and vocalizing.

Second, hunting is a skill that requires much practice to perfect. Much of the play that we engage in with cats essentially hone their hunting ability. Stalking, chasing, and pouncing are all skills that are essential to the hunt. So, whether it is Da Bird Toy, a peacock feather, a mouse, or a bird, their need to practice hunting will drive them to pursue prey.

Whether they are big or small, wild or companion animals, cats will maintain the drive to hunt.