Get the mouse out of my house!
August 13, 2010 7:13 AM   Subscribe

Are there any ways to reliably pick a good mouser without knowing much about a cat's history?

I live in an old, old house with a cat and a dog. Occasionally, mice come into the house. Sometimes they get killed in mousetraps, but sometimes they evade the trap.

My cat is the worst mouser ever, due to having been found abandoned at 2 weeks old and therefore not having been taught to kill prey by Momma Cat. My dog is a big ol' Black Lab mix and mice are too little for him to even care about -- I once saw the cat ineffectually bite a mouse and drop it. The mouse ran OVER the (awake) dog's body and the dog did not even bat an eye. The mouse then disappeared under the refrigerator.

So, I'd like to get an additional cat that actually knows how to kill things. I posted an ad to the local Craigslist looking explicitly for a good mouser, but who knows whether that will result in anything except love letters from scammers. Our local kill shelter is having a $10 adoption special on all adult animals tomorrow, so I was thinking I might go there and save a kitty. However, their intake forms usually don't have a "good mouser" checkbox to tick. I would get a cat that had been found as a stray, on the theory that if the cat lived on the street without starving then it can probably kill things; however, since I have a cat and a dog, I would prefer to get a cat that had been socialized to live with other cats and dogs.

Does anyone know any way, short of smuggling feeder mice into the animal shelter, to determine whether a cat is likely to be good at killing mice? Barring that, is there any way that a human can train a cat to learn to kill mice without committing cruelty to animals? I've had well-adjusted, indoor-raised housecats who were good mousers in the past, and I'd like to have one again.
posted by kataclysm to Pets & Animals (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My parents got their excellent barn mousers by calling up a friend of a friend who had a barn full of cats. (Important: the farmer did not feed his cats. They fed themselves.) My brother went over and picked up two of the tamer kittens to bring home. They were maybe 10-12 weeks old? Old enough to have been taught to hunt. Those cats were too damn cute and eventually migrated into the house during the day, but they always preferred to spend their nights in the barn hunting. My parents are sane and do feed their pets, so the cats wouldn't eat the mice - but there was always another dead mouse in the middle of the floor in the morning.

Keep in mind that a "free" cat like that will cost you more in vet bills in the beginning - the shelters often subsidize shots and spay/neuter.
posted by WowLookStars at 7:37 AM on August 13, 2010

Oh, also - A year ago, my husband and I tried to train our clueless kittens to hunt mice by catching the mouse for them, then releasing it in an enclosed space (such as the bathroom once the gap under the door was taped off). It's possible that it could have worked eventually, but after they just played the first two to death :(, we couldn't do it again. I know that's how they would learn, but it's rough to watch. On the upside, we no longer have mice - maybe the captured ones sent out so many panicky pheromones that the rest decided it was a bad place to live? I have no clue.
posted by WowLookStars at 7:44 AM on August 13, 2010

You need to find a kitten whose mother is a good mouser, and yes, a barn is probably a good place to find them. If you live anywhere near a semi-rural area, you shouldn't have any problem finding someone who's giving away barn-cat kittens. Now is not exactly the peak of kitten season, though; you may have better luck in the spring, if you can wait that long.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:44 AM on August 13, 2010

Oops, hit "post" too soon.

You know what, though? Sometimes you just luck out. My kitten (previously named on AskMe, thanks, jerseygirl) was only 4 weeks old when he lost his mom, and he has turned out to be a scorpion- and wasp-killer extraordinaire, though at the expense of cuddliness. He's feisty. You just never know.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:47 AM on August 13, 2010

Best answer: I was in a Petsmart one day, and they have space for cat rescue groups to show their cats. I was visiting, as I usually do, and encountered three kittens in one of the spaces. (This was plexiglass rather than steel cages.) I ran my finger back-and=forth along the bottom where the kittens were able to just see the tip, and enjoyed the whole kittens-watching-Wimbledon thing that they do. While all three cats were at attention, the middle cat flattened the ears. That's the kitty I would have put money on to be a mouser.

Mice and squirrels usually make quick movements, and freeze to look around or assess their situation, so you'd want to move your finger or toy to mimic the movements of a mouse or squirrel. Look for a cat that's super-motivated to play and hunt.

Somewhat off-topic, but I was watching a documentary on dogs a few years back, where authorities were looking in pounds for good search-sniffer dog candidates, and found them in the dogs who went apeshit over someone bouncing a tennis ball.
posted by SillyShepherd at 7:57 AM on August 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I really think it's impossible to know. We adopted a teeny, tiny rescue kitten who weighed less than 1 pound -- abandoned too early like your cat. There couldn't be a more cuddlier kitten. She is also a stone cold killer.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:59 AM on August 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

You could get a breed that's known for being a good hunter, like Maine Coons.
posted by cottonswab at 8:02 AM on August 13, 2010

Legend and lore has it that only female cats are good mousers. I had two semi feral brothers, though, who killed every small animal and a few larger ones within a half mile of my house. The thing with them was that although we got them from a friend who found a dumped litter on the parkway when they were quite tiny, about 10 weeks old at the most, they never became entirely tame. I think that feral quality combined with the way they hunted as a team was why they were so deadly. Even though they were pretty wild, though, they were not without gratitude for all the catfood and so on: they used to kindly import mice from outdoors when we ran out in the house. Keep this kind of thing in mind: sometimes being a great mouser does not always go along with being a great housepet. Also, I'm seconding everyone who is saying look for a rural cat if possible. Try calling some animal shelters way out in the country and ask if they have any really unsocialized kittens.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:04 AM on August 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Look for a polydactyl cat.
posted by Gortuk at 8:26 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have a Maine Coon I found on CL. He is fixed, declawed, and a boy, so he is an adequate but not optimum mouser. You want a stone cold killer, you need a female.

I have had many cats, and while barn cats are usually excellent mousers*, I would be very hesitant to get one unless you actually have a barn. They often come with a variety of exciting parasites which could infect your other pets. A vet can help with that, but a vet can't fix the fact that barn cats are feral as all hell, and about as cuddly as the average wild mama raccoon.

If you want to save a cat, and have it be a good mouser, I have an almost certain to work idea: adopt a female cat who has had babies recently, and adopt at least one of the babies with her. The baby should also be female. You can get them fixed, but the mama will still teach her daughter to hunt. I have watched this dynamic between several sets of mother-daughter cats, and they are murderous, I tell you what.

*My inlaws usually have barn cats. They feed them, but these are cats that just turn up on the farm and take up roost in the barn. One fourth of July, I watched Mama Barn Cat leap into a pine, and leap right back down with a still flapping mourning dove in her mouth. She was a killing machine.
posted by Leta at 8:38 AM on August 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

Legend and lore has it that only female cats are good mousers.

I've never heard that legend, but it's definitely been true in my experience. The two female cats I've lived with have both been great mousers. One was a tabby we got from the Humane Society as a kitten, and the other is a Siamese who was recovered from a trash can as a kitten. No idea if they ever had a mother who was able to teach them anything. The tabby had a purring malfunction and couldn't drink without splashing the liquid all over the place, but she hunted like a pro.

Our male cat doesn't care much about mice aside from their being a passing distraction. We got him from the Humane Society as a kitten. He's very playful too, always had a lot of energy, while our female tabby was fatter and lazier. But all he does with mice is watch them walk by, maybe occasionally paw them, but inevitably let them go. He's the same way with bugs.
posted by wondermouse at 8:43 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

You want a stone cold killer, you need a female.

Awesome. Both of our current animals being male, we were leaning that way anyway.

FWIW, we used to have a cat who was a Maine Coon mix. He was a mean, nasty son-of-a-bitch, but he wasn't any (or much) better at killing mice than the one we still have.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 8:52 AM on August 13, 2010

I wouldn't completely rely on gender as a predictor. I once had a female tabby (from a pet store) who was a dedicated mouser. She was very aware that we had mice under our fridge before we did, and after a couple of days of parking herself in the kitchen, she had caught several mice. Unfortunately, she just played with them and didn't seem to know how to kill them, so it was catch-release, catch-release until we took pity and sent the mice outside.

Meanwhile, our male Siamese couldn't figure out how to hunt mice, but he did kill one of the tabby's mice by sitting on it. Still, even if you put them together as a single mouser, their kill rate sucked.

(The tabby could also frequently catch flies on the wing by leaping up and crushing them between her front paws. This didn't work out so well when she tried the same move on a bee. She stopped catching flies after that happened.)

Look for a female cat, sure, as the odds are probably better than with a random male cat, but other indicators, like the mother-daughter Team of Death, sound like a better start.
posted by maudlin at 8:58 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ask the shelter folks to help you. They often know at least a little about the provenance of at least some of the cats. One that was feral, or came from a barn, is going to be a better bet than a lapcat that was surrendered when Granny had to go into a home.

(This answer assumes you live somewhere at least vaguely rural, where some of the shelter cats might have come from barns. But given your old old house, that's probably an OK assumption.)
posted by kestrel251 at 9:02 AM on August 13, 2010

Response by poster: We live in the middle of a decently large city, actually (the housing stock is crap here, hence our old house with the mouse-sized holes in it). There are actual farms and stuff about a half-hour out of town, but most of the strays at the local shelter are picked up by Animal Control or concerned citizens. The only worry about taking in a stray is having it be terrified at sharing quarters with a 80-pound dog. (The last stray that I took into a dog-owning house escaped from its safe room, clawed its way out of the house through the screen door, and was last seen living in the feral cat colony behind a small-town Chinese restaurant. Oh well, at least it got rabies vaccinated and neutered before going back on the lam.)
posted by kataclysm at 9:21 AM on August 13, 2010

I have a male cat who loves to kill mice. He is awesome. He is orange, and rules my old house. I got him from a woman who loved cats, she had advertised in the paper (back in the day) that she had kittens. Her house was a shrine to cats: cat statues, cat bookends, little cat hammocks in the windows. She had a field in the back of her house where the mom and the kittens would go. She wasn't a hoarder though, she only had one cat and there were two kittens left by the time we got there.

I have heard that a good mouser has to have been raised both outside and inside. The kittens need to go outside with their mother. Barn cats, like others have commented, can often, not always though, be really feral and have lots of parasites. I have had cats too that were only raised indoors who never even recognized a mouse.
posted by chocolatetiara at 9:26 AM on August 13, 2010

A friend gave me a kitten, half Siamese, real pretty, cute as a bugs ear in fact. But she (yeah, a female; I'd never heard this whole "Females are better mousers" thing but whatev-uh) had about the biggest mouth on the planet, and woke me up whenever she wanted, so, before long, it was time to take a trip to my brothers farm!

That cat was the best mouser on the place. Years later you can still see her line, faintly now (it's been thirty years plus) you can still see her line in some of the cats there. And no, the cats on his farm (nor any farm I know about) don't get cat food -- they get mice, or whatever they catch; it's like the savannah, out there in his farmyard, we think of cats as pets but to rodents they're lions and tigers, ocelots, etc.

So if you were to ask me, I'd tell you get a cat with some Siamese in it -- she was fast as lightning and deadly, and her line has carried well, which tells us they know how to catch mice, right?
posted by dancestoblue at 9:40 AM on August 13, 2010

Best answer: Barring that, is there any way that a human can train a cat to learn to kill mice without committing cruelty to animals?

This buddy of mine was at his grandfather's house, they've got a door open, and a bat flies in. Then the bat goes kind of crazy and can't get out, and the people can't catch the bat, and their attempts to shoo it out aren't working and they've got no idea what to do. Then the cat comes in, sees the bat, catches it, and puts the dead bat at grandfather's feet. He's pretty pleased about that, so he gives the cat half a can of tuna.

The next evening they had the door open again. The cat walks in with the biggest dead bat you've ever seen, walks straight over to grandfather, puts it down at his feet and looks at him expectantly.
posted by Mike1024 at 10:01 AM on August 13, 2010 [20 favorites]

Could you foster a cat? That's a good way to see if it's a mouser, and how it does around dogs.

I've had two boy kittens separated from their mamas way too early that both turned out to be fully capable of decimating a mouse population within a couple of weeks. They were both black, not that it makes a difference, but all the black cats I've ever known have similar personality traits. Of course, that's probably just me.

We also had a Siamese who let a mouse run across his paw, and didn't move.

Then there's the blind calico, who not only gets around just fine, but has caught at least a dozen mice, and a gazillion flies.

You just never know, really - that's why fostering is so great. Usually you end up falling in love with the cat anyway, but that's part of the fun.
posted by HopperFan at 10:14 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have an orange tabby male cat and he is a brutal killer. He brings home mice, birds, bats (!), snakes, chipmunks - name it.

I found him in a shelter. He was very feisty and still is - try playing with the cats at the shelter and see who is the most motivated and aggressive in hunting and "killing" some toys. You can use your hand for this, too. One that will actually bite your hand is a winner (but this needs to occur not from fear but from playful aggression). My cat sometimes violently bites my hands. It hurts, but he's great at murdering things. :c)
posted by sickinthehead at 10:31 AM on August 13, 2010

The two most rapacious hunters I've ever had were male.

I'd also suggest looking for cats who love to play as that seems to strongly correlate with hunting ability. I dunno about trying to wrestle them – the cat would have to be somewhat comfortable with you, wrestling is more a cat vs. cat thing than cat vs. mouse, and I've had wrestler cats who weren't much for hunting or even locomotion – but, going after a string, that's hunter behavior.
posted by furiousthought at 10:43 AM on August 13, 2010

Best answer: "CATS WHO LOVE TO PLAY"

Yes. Athletic build is a must. Also, look for a female that seems very alert or "switched on." It's in the eyes, my friend. Check the eyes.

I've had decent luck with grey tabbies.

I am 100% convinced the "good mouser" characteristic is nature not nurture.

Good luck.

Update and pics, please!
posted by jbenben at 11:53 AM on August 13, 2010

If you are looking for visual characteristics, I suggest cats with long, pointy faces. Just seems to be a loose correlation there that the cats I have noticed with high prey drives have had less of the round, kittenish neoteny we've bred into cats and have, well, skulls associated with predatory features.
posted by adipocere at 12:13 PM on August 13, 2010

we had a cat that was from a stray mother and our male cat. our cat ran away and mom and kittens became our new cats. we gave away most of them, but kept one. he was the worst mouser i have ever seen. we tried the "train him to mouse" thing (even though his mother was a wonderful mouser and she tried to show him how and failed). we locked the mouse and cat in the bathroom together, sure that nature would take care of it. we woke up up the next morning and cat and mouse were sleeping in the tub.

this cat was athletic, smart, playful. he'd catch leaves and bugs and such - but no mice.
posted by nadawi at 12:17 PM on August 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

the best bird catcher i ever had was a tiny, runt, round faced black cat who was missing its fangs. we had 3 cats - one of them was a huge, strong, jungle cat. he kept bringing in the birds so we thought he was catching them. come to find out - the runt was catching them and then the big cat would steal them and show them off.
posted by nadawi at 12:19 PM on August 13, 2010

I've heard that you want to look for big ears and a long tail -- but that might have been in one of the Little House on the Prairie books.
posted by amtho at 1:16 PM on August 13, 2010

Also, though I am sure you were not going to do this, feed your cat properly even though you expect it to get mice. Desperate, starving cats do not good mousers make.

I vote also for cats who seem playful. FWIW, my polydactyl cat is excellent, as is the semi-stray who comes by occasionally: both are male. You don't so much need a cat who can successfully kill mice as one who can successfully scare them -- a chaser.
posted by jeather at 1:31 PM on August 13, 2010

Our old inside cats (male & female littermates, mainly shorthair tabby with a little snarly siamese) came from a stable, where their mother was gainfully employed. They killed everything in the house with legs, apart from us. He's always been a teddy bear; she's always been a bit aloof, and affectionate on her own terms.

Our outside cats (cousins several years/generations apart, one coal black, one tuxedo, both shorthair) showed up one at a time, the obvious descendants of the female yard cat (awesome hunter) we inherited with our house. The baby was a precocious killer, but couldn't figure out the carving, while the old gentleman was too slow to catch anybody, but boy, could he butcher. The baby loves to be carried up and down the street cradled in your arms; the old man moans and ducks if you try to pet him.

The new baby (born in the sticks, abandoned too young, brindle shorthair) can't even catch her breath, and thinks palmetto bugs are like funny cartoons on tv. She is also our bitiest cat, by a factor of 11. OTOH, she does run up your chest and gently headbutt you in the upper lip while trilling "Brrrrrrt?"

so go figure.

Seconding jeather that you've gotta feed your killer cats. eating the prey is beside the point for most cats; it's really all about the kill.
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:47 PM on August 13, 2010

I have no input on how to pick a mouser, but I second the recommendation to foster cats until you find one who works for your needs. Treat the experience like a mouser audition. Tell the shelter your specific interests so they can narrow down the list to potential mousers (previously feral cats, barn cats, wiley cats, whatever) and if the cat fits into your household and starts killing mice? You can keep her! If she doesn't, then you did a good deed for a couple week and then you can start over again with the next competitor. That way you can find your ideal cat rather than commit the next 18 years to a potentially fat, lazy fur blob who'd no sooner slaughter a mouse with his teeth than you would.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:35 PM on August 13, 2010

YMMV, but if you want a cat that can catch mice, I say first look for one that can sing and play guitar
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:50 PM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: We decided to just bite the bullet and adopt a likely-looking kitten from the humane society (I know myself too well, and I know that if I "foster" any animal, I will fall in love with it within five minutes and be totally unable to give it back). We got a really slim, predatory-looking six-month-old female with huge ears that swivel towards sounds like they were satellite dishes, and giant golden eyes. She has already killed several good-sized bugs that wandered into her room, and she's obsessed with the starlings on the roof next door, so we'll see if she can apply her interests towards the dispatch of vermin. (If not, well, she's a really cute kitty.)

Pictures will be forthcoming when Flying Monkey uploads them.
posted by kataclysm at 8:22 AM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Meet Frida Kahtlo.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 7:23 AM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

oh for cute! She looks like a killer ;-)
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:46 PM on August 17, 2010

Response by poster: Final update: Not only is the little cat a fierce predator, she appears to have awakened the killer instinct in the other cat. Last night, they spent a good chunk of the evening rampaging around the house hunting together. The big cat brought us a dead, un-mutilated field mouse around midnight, and the little cat was batting a dead house mouse around the living room in the morning.
posted by kataclysm at 7:05 AM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

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