If you give a cat a mouse ...
April 5, 2010 11:43 AM   Subscribe

My cats, I think to thank me for giving them extra-special stinky cat food for Easter, brought me a present. It's a (live, but obviously wounded) mouse--maybe even a small rat. Now what do I do with it?

I heard squeaking (Ugh) and thought my three cats were playing with a toy. I bent down and almost picked it up when it wriggled, and I realized it was a traumatized, wounded mouse or even a small rat.

I have no idea what injuries it has suffered other than shock. It seems to be able to move all of its legs. I scooped it up (without touching it) with a lid and a plastic container and then poked airholes in the container with a screwdriver.

When it tries to get up and run away, it rolls in complete circles--it's a cylindrical container, and I don't know if it is just that the big mouse/small rat creature can't get purchase, or if one or more of its legs has been injured by the cats. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the latter were the case.

So now, what do I do? It might have rabies, for all I know. The cats have all had their shots, but the kids and I haven't.

If I take it to the vet, will they euthanize the poor thing? Try to help it? Charge me lots of money to basically kill it humanely?

If I let it go, hawks or the cats will surely catch it again, since it's wounded. Should I drive somewhere and do that, anyway?

Added complication: before we had the cats, we had a pet mouse who escaped. Obviously not this one as that was over five years ago and mice only usually live 2-4 years. But my youngest might have trouble accepting that this (large) mouse is not that little mouse all grown up.

Thoughts, hive mind?
posted by misha to Grab Bag (25 answers total)
My cats do this more frequently than I would like them to. I generally just kill it myself, by picking it up (wearing gardening gloves so it can't bite me) and either decapitating it with a pair of gardening shears or breaking its neck on the railing of our porch.

If it's rolling in circles, that suggests to me a brain or spinal cord injury rather than a leg injury.

You could try bringing it to a wildlife rehabilitator (many vets don't treat wild animals), but I don't know if they rehabilitate mice and rats.

Personally, I would kill the rodent as quickly and humanely as possible. But I realize that I'm a little more OK with personally killing things than many people are -- if you can't bring yourself to do it, I would release it far from the house and let nature take its course. As for the kids, this could be a good, albeit kind of sad, lesson of the "nature, red in tooth and claw" variety -- they can learn from this incident that predators (cats) aren't mean or bad for acting in accordance with their instincts, and everything has to die someday.
posted by kataclysm at 11:51 AM on April 5, 2010

Best answer: Most vets won't charge for euthanasias of wild animals. Call your local day practice and make sure though. Either that or drive down the road and drop it off in the woods somewhere. It will either recover or get eaten, win win situation if you ask me.
posted by TheBones at 11:51 AM on April 5, 2010

Well, this is gonna make me sound like a horrible person: honestly, when our dogs catch rats, we let them finish the job but not eat the rat. That doesn't sound like your bag.

Just let it go in the woods, and nature will take its course.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 11:54 AM on April 5, 2010

Suffocate it: heavy plastic bag, scoop up the mouse, press the air out and seal it. Or, bash its head in with a brick or heavy object. Humanely killing injured animals is all about setting aside our own squeamishness for the creature's good. I usually end up in tears when this happens, but the animal suffers less if you end its life quickly than if you leave it to die slowly.
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:54 AM on April 5, 2010

Freeze it, boil it, stomp on it. Then put it outside and let nature eat it.
posted by TomMelee at 11:58 AM on April 5, 2010

Bloody hell. It's a mouse. Surely whacking it on the head with an old glass bottle to put it out of its misery is more humane than letting it writhe around the floor in pain?
posted by jpcooper at 12:03 PM on April 5, 2010

Jesus, the mouse is in pain. You need to kill it to end its suffering.
posted by Justinian at 12:06 PM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd let it go in the woods somewhere. Then you can think that maybe it got all better on its own and is now living a lovely life somewhere.
posted by Sassyfras at 12:07 PM on April 5, 2010

Violent, painful death is the most common fate for rodents.

And a good thing for us, too. If most rodents lived long, full, fruitful lives we'd be knee-deep in them.

Your cats started the job. Let them finish it. Praise them (they expect it) but otherwise leave the situation alone. It's nature's way.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:12 PM on April 5, 2010

Best answer: 2nding wildlife rehab facility. They will euthanize it for you quickly and painlessly.
posted by choochoo at 12:18 PM on April 5, 2010

This same scenario happened to me when I was 17 and all alone in the house with a squeaking, severely injured mouse-gift. I tried to get my cat to finish the job but she just continued to taunt it and nudge me to go get the garlic salt or something, so I panicedly called my boyfriend who instructed me to break it's neck. I did it with my bare hands and yes, reader, that is the day I officially became a woman. But if you're too squeamish for that, a hammer might be the way to go. Just don't do anything agonizing like suffocate or boil it, jesus christ, that's more like a science project than an one-animal-to-another mercy-kill.
posted by Juicy Avenger at 12:19 PM on April 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

This sounds horrible too, but if it were me I'd want to end the poor animal's life as quickly as possible. If it is small enough just step on it; maybe put it between sheets of plastic or cardboard first. If it is larger, use a ruler or broom stick and push down on its neck. I've done all these, and they're not fun, but it does the job quickly.

I wouldn't really have the heart to return prey to a pet that seems to have lost interest, they would drag it out to long. Yes, life in the wild is harsh and slow death common, but my cats aren't really wild, they are just civilized enough to be cruel
posted by Some1 at 12:24 PM on April 5, 2010

Take it in the woods. If you feel the need -- drop a rock on it. It won't live and to let it continue to suffer while you attempt to humanely end it's life is inhumane.

My cats bring me a present or two every year.
posted by countrymod at 12:25 PM on April 5, 2010

Best answer: If you would feel better about it, most vets will do the job for free (in my experience). But I definitely would not let your cats "finish the job". It could be sick or it may have eaten rat poison (which can kill your cats).
posted by bolognius maximus at 12:39 PM on April 5, 2010

Our cat brings in mice & rats on a pretty regular basis.. the ones that he leaves still alive we put on work gloves and snap the neck. The alternative is far worse for them.
posted by devilsbrigade at 12:42 PM on April 5, 2010

Best answer: I had a friend who would put the mouse in a paper or opaque plastic bag, take it outside, and whack it with her heaviest frying pan. Putting it in a bag first would help with the squeamishness. It's scary to do this yourself, but it's merciful.

Don't touch it if at all possible - I had another friend who, as a kid, tried to save a mouse from my cat, and the mouse chomped down on her finger and held on for dear life.

It is very rare for mice or rats to have rabies, and rarer still for them to transmit it to humans. If it bites you, go to the doctor and take it (or its corpse) with you, but they will probably not recommend a rabies shot.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:49 PM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: i would bring the container outside, as far away from your living area as is comfortable, take the cover off, then walk away.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 1:09 PM on April 5, 2010

Nthing the chorus of "just kill it already," but I'd point out that depending on your thoughts on the subject, this could be better or worse than just getting a nice pile of mouse parts.

A cat I knew had a tendency to leave mole heads on the back porch. Mom hated this, because it was gross. Dad couldn't have been happer, because 1) it meant there were fewer moles in the yard, and 2) I was the one who wound up disposing of the heads.
posted by valkyryn at 1:24 PM on April 5, 2010

Kill it.
My cat once caught a frog. You think a mouse squeaking in pain is bad? Frogs scream! It was horrifying. I took it outside and smashed it while bawling my eyes out.

Do that, or toss it in a trash bag and then do that.

I know you feel bad for the poor fuzzy, but the most humane thing to do - as others have mentioned and so I am therefore just reiterating - is to put it out of its misery as quickly and humanely as possible.
posted by caveat at 1:34 PM on April 5, 2010

Response by poster: I called the vet, and they have a "wildlife rehabilitator" who was off-duty and gave me her number. So I called her, and we had a long talk. Assured her that I realized that the cats were just doing what cats do.

About the creature being 'in pain': No way to tell. It was only squeaking when the cats had it. It did scramble and try to right itself with difficulty in the container, but as I said I didn't know if it had trouble because of the slippery plastic and the circular walls, or if it had a broken leg. No obvious bites or bleeding.

So, the "in pain" part was not something I could discern. I was not squeamish about the possibility of euthanasia.

Killing it myself? Definitely squeamish about that. Yes, I am a coward. I can make the leap logically that sometimes it is a mercy to kill an animal, but I've never had to do it myself. And I also, again, didn't know if it was seriously injured or would be okay when left to its own devices.

So, after talking to Jackie (the wr), we elected to let it go somewhere woodsy and watch it. Which I did. There's a woodsy area near spouse's workplace.

After being unceremoniously tilted out of container, it managed to get on its feet. Whiskers twitched, it looked around, but it elected to stand still. I don't know if that means it was hurt, it was playing dead, or it just didn't want to move while I was there.

I let it go and walked away. I now think it might have been a roof rat after researching and looking at images online. I know rats are smart, but that they also can transmit diseases, and maybe it would have been better all around if the rat had died.

Still not sure I did the absolute right thing, but I feel okay with it.

Thanks for the help, everyone.
posted by misha at 2:00 PM on April 5, 2010

posted by hortense at 2:28 PM on April 5, 2010

You did good. At least, you did exactly what I would have done.
posted by TooFewShoes at 5:13 PM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I once saved a baby bunny from my dog's jaws. It laid limp with eyes closed in my hand. I figured it was a goner, and took it over to the other side of the yard to give it a proper burial in the compost pile. But once I put it down, it righted itself, stood there for a minute all woozy-like, and then ran off. It had just been stunned by its near-death experience, and was happily not dead at all.

So maybe the rat was just stunned. And you saved its life.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:34 PM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was always told that a painless way to kill an animal the cats mauled was to put it in a plastic bag, have someone start the car, and put the bag over the exhaust so the exhaust would painlessly kill the animal. Can anyone vouch for/discredit this method?
posted by twiggy32 at 9:45 PM on April 5, 2010

@ twiggy32: I don't think that's a very humane way to kill an animal, especially with modern cars. Older cars contained a lot of carbon monoxide in their exhaust (CO poisoning involves headache/nausea followed by sleepiness followed by a coma), which I suppose could be thought of as reasonably humane except for the whole headache and stomachache thing. But post-1975 cars have a catalytic converter installed to remove most of the carbon monoxide -- what is left is primarily carbon dioxide. So the animal will slowly suffocate by breathing in a lot of really hot gas -- I don't know if you've ever touched a hot muffler by accident, but car exhaust is quite hot after the engine warms up.

Smashing an animal's head in seems really brutal, cruel, and barbaric, but it's probably much more humane than suffocation-type methods: the only advantages to suffocating a wounded animal are that it leaves a pretty corpse and preserves our own sensibilities.
posted by kataclysm at 6:32 AM on April 6, 2010

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