Thank you, I'd love a dead mouse!
February 8, 2009 12:08 PM   Subscribe

How should I respond to my cat's offerings of mice?

They're not real mice. Bergamot is an indoor cat, and my girlfriend knits little mice for him to play with (stuffed with wool and catnip). He loves them, and takes his time over several weeks disemboweling them, savaging them, worrying them to little bits that we find strewn everywhere. So far, so good.

I work from home, and when I'm sitting at my desk, I'll hear him chirping at me. I'll look over to see him sitting in the door of my office, singing to me and holding one of these mice in his mouth. He'll drop it and back off. This is identical, I think, to the way that outdoor cats kill things and leave them at your back door.

Assuming I'm right, how should I respond to him? Ignore him? Pick up the mouse and throw it down the hall (sometimes he'll chase it and bring it back, making it a game of fetch, but not anymore)? I've tried getting down on all fours and sniffing it, then picking it up in my mouth and meowing back at him like I'm a happy cat for having received a gift of food (shut up, I'm trying to relate to my cat). Nothing seems to spark a particular reaction from him, and I'm left with the nagging feeling that I'm a moron for not understanding a fairly obvious bit of cat etiquette.

His young companion, Maggie, has starting doing this a bit too, so I feel tremendous pressure to figure this out. Berg's a year old, Maggie is eight months, and they're both fixed. They get along famously, grooming each other in a way that's both obscene and thorough, so I don't think Berg's behaviour is competitive in any sense. Other than mice, he's the more standoffish of the two.
posted by fatbird to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Cat treats or Fresh tuna!
posted by icarus at 12:11 PM on February 8, 2009

Pet him.
posted by stavrogin at 12:12 PM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

When our cat brought mice or birds to the back door, we'd pet her and say in an annoyingly cute voice, "Good kitty! Your are such a good kitty! I will eat this later in private!" Basically giving her love and praise for fulfilling her pack duties.

Then dispose of it at will.
posted by muddgirl at 12:17 PM on February 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

Praise him and pet him, and then he'll be happy.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:17 PM on February 8, 2009

Reward him. Say, "Good kitty, nice kill!" Or whatever silly thing will make him purr.

You're lucky, my cat just brings me twigs.
posted by routergirl at 12:18 PM on February 8, 2009

Response by poster: He doesn't like to be petted or cuddled most of the time (when he wants affection, my girlfriend or I will suddenly find 13 lbs of hunter in our lap) and attempts to pet him after dropping a mouse usually send him squirming away. But the treats idea sounds good.
posted by fatbird at 12:20 PM on February 8, 2009

Treat the cat as you would a toddler who has just made you a mud cookie.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 12:21 PM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: His little cat brain is expecting you to eat some of it, and share the rest with him, because that's what big, wild cats expect when they present a dead animal to their alpha. Of course, a part of his little cat brain understands that it isn't food, so I would imagine he's as confused as you are in his own way.

I would take the toy away until you to can toss it back on the floor somewhere without him noticing, give him some scratches and a small treat. Then maybe his little cat brain will think you ate it and shared with him.
posted by chudmonkey at 12:22 PM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

You seem to have boocoo expertise in this area, so I'm shy about making a suggestion, but here goes.

My understanding is that domesticated physically mature cats look on their people as Big Mama Cat. They're permanent emotional kittens, basically. Think about it: You provide food, security and comfort, and whatever grooming isn't being done by the other cat. Sounds like Mama Cat to me. Based on this premise I think that Berg is maybe looking for a little approval and encouragement for a job well done. He's practicing his hunting skills and saying "Look Mom, I got one!" So maybe you're on the right track with the picking up and meowing, but maybe you need to do more kvelling over him. (Yiddish for "bursting with pride, glowing, bragging on the kids.") Your little Bergamot is a mighty hunter! Praise him!
posted by scratch at 12:27 PM on February 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is strictly anecdotal, but I've yet to find a cat who doesn't respond to a person cooing "pretty kitty" over and over to it....they seem to enjoy the percussive "t" sounds or something. But I agree, do praise Kitty for bringing you the gift of kill - murmuring "good kitty, pretty kitty, good kitty" and then perhaps giving a treat. Most cat owners know which tone of voice the cat recognizes as the one being directed at him/her.

Pardon me for temporarily hijacking a thread, but this reminds me of Squeaky, a big fluffly stray cat that started hanging around our house many years ago. We vaguely recognized him as the cat that used to live down the street at a house that had recently been sold, and we presumed he'd been left behind. Anyway, we fed him and named him (because he didn't 'meow,' he only made a strangled squeak sound). One day we heard a steady "boom, boom" on the back screen door, and when Dad went to look he found Squeaky standing on his hind legs, rhythmically pushing on the door with his massive front paws while holding what turned out to be a tiny baby rabbit in his mouth. Mind you, Dad is a total softie when it comes to any type of animal - he hates to even kill ants or spiders - and so it was a bit amusing to watch him work through these various emotions compounded by his vague knowledge of animal psychology. That is to say, he was completely saddened and disgusted to see a dead baby bunny, but he simultaneously kept praising Squeaky for bringing him such a nice "present." (We eventually officially adopted Squeaky, had him bathed and neutered and found out at the vet's office that he was a Maine coon cat. And it turned out that he had a respiratory infection, which is why he "squeaked." A course of anitbiotics brought out his true "meow.")
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:59 PM on February 8, 2009 [4 favorites]

Don't forget the squinty look as you get down to investigate the gift.. lets him know you are happy with his gift and acknowledges him as part of the 'pride'. I think it's lovely that your reserved Bergamot has chosen to express his attachment to you..

oh..and if he comes to his name then use it..he'll know it's him you are approving of! If he's not the cuddly type of cat the vocal communication is probably what he's looking for..

At least...that's how it works with my big male house lion.
posted by Weaslegirl at 2:14 PM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

...I've yet to find a cat who doesn't respond to a person cooing "pretty kitty" over and over to it....they seem to enjoy the percussive "t" sounds or something.
Oriole Adams, you told a charming story after this, but... correlation & causation, the "t" sounds don't occur in most other languages' words for "cat", any reasonably-intelligent domesticated animal will learn to associate certain vocal tones a/o their name (every cat in an English-speaking country is named "kitty") with pleasant feedback... Etc.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:45 PM on February 8, 2009

I'm afraid I am terrible at this. Whenever I hear one of my girls making that very peculiar "Come and see this thing I got, this is fucking awesome!" noise at four in the morning - generally, notification that they have caught a critter of some description and now want me to eat it with them - I immediately go and grab the critter, place it back in the garden, then usher the cat inside in my arms, giving her scratches and muttering sweet nothings into her neck, and give her some Greenies. I know she probably doesn't understand, but I'm trying to make the point that while I appreciate her efforts and appreciate her instincts, I don't really want the poor twitching thing.

(Happily, both my girls are in the habit of catching big lizards, mainly, which they keep alive, and I can generally get to them in time and set them free with a few scratches on them, of course, but breathing and able to scurry away.)
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:25 PM on February 8, 2009

Suggestion: When Bergamot brings you a prize, praise him by name with your good kitty voice. Scratch his head if he will let you and take your gift back to your nest/desk.
Then if you throw a toy down the hallway, use a different/new one so you don't "reject" today's gift.
Hang on to today's prize and tomorrow hide it behind a table leg, under the sofa or in a tube\nook.
Toy rotation with hide and seek.
posted by blink_left at 3:28 PM on February 8, 2009

Praising the cat and secreting the toy somewhere for a few hours should work. Of course, you might also post a video of yourself on all fours, picking up the knitted mouse in your mouth and meowing so we can, um, make sure you're doing so as convincingly as possible.
posted by orange swan at 5:21 PM on February 8, 2009 [16 favorites]

Diminishing rewards should put an end to that pretty soon, and won't make her hate you.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:25 PM on February 8, 2009

Praise him with your "good kitty" voice, tell him what a wonderful cat he is, hide the toy, and give him a treat. My mom and I used to have a cat that was indoor/outdoor and he would delight in killing lizards and small birds and bringing them to the doorstep. He'd wait till my mom came to the door, then present the gift to her. My mom is VERY easily grossed out, but she swallowed back her disgust and praised him. He was very happy.
posted by bedhead at 9:31 PM on February 8, 2009

The reaction you're getting sounds exactly like Toots' way of saying "play with me, NOW!". She didn't want affection, she wanted action. (She was affectionate, at times she deemed appropriate). The fact Bergamont chases the toy when you toss it suggests this, strongly.

Working from home, with cats around, can get difficult. But Begamont, I think, would like nothing better than a nice string (venetian blind cord is the perfect weight) on a stick (so you can whip it around), maybe with something tied to the end, but that's optional (feathers work great). It is the best way to exercise a cat, in doors, I've ever found. Kept my Toots a slim, trim, feline beauty! But then, you have to deal with cat begging (well, DEMANDING, really) that you swing the string around.
posted by Goofyy at 6:21 AM on February 9, 2009

Your cat is either A) Giving you a gift* or B) trying to show you how to hunt. It's a good sign, actually, when they start bringing home things. Kitty street cred, or something.

Oriole Adams, my Maine Coon once brought home a live juvenile rabbit. That was hard to react to. We praised the hell out of her but she quickly took it and did all these odd Mother-cat lickings to the little bunny. The rabbit was sort of stunned in terror and just submitted to it. As soon as she stopped purring over it, the bunny darted around the house until it found an open door.

Granted, this is the same cat that brought me a cigarette so YMMV.

*Prey animals are like crackjack boxes in reverse. First it's food, then it's a toy!
posted by The Whelk at 7:36 AM on February 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I play fetch with my cat, and he displays the behavior you're describing when he wants to play. After he's brought the toy to me, I usually tease him with it, getting him to chase the mouse around the floor (as you would with a piece of string), and then throwing it down the hall. He will sprint after it, maul it a bit, and then drop it at my feet for another chase and attack. Making the toy seem alive can increase his interest in playing fetch. Acting oblivious when he returns it can make him drop it closer to me so I can be lazier.
posted by MS_gal at 9:03 AM on February 10, 2009

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