One of my cats is a mouser. Is this a feature or a bug?
August 8, 2012 9:51 AM   Subscribe

One of my cats is a mouser. Is this a feature or a bug?

We have two cats and every once in a while we'll see a half-eaten mouse. Pretty sure it's this guy.

The problem is that mice carry germs/the plague. If Winnie (that's his name) eats a mouse is he in danger of getting sick? Also, will he be spreading mouse germs via his mouth and paws that could make us sick? Our daughter will probably be crawling in a short while and we want to keep the floors as clean as possible.

If we were somehow able to prevent our cat from catching mice wouldn't that just mean that the mice would be free to spread whatever mousey diseases they have anyway?

The mice are all pretty small and we don't leave out any poison for them. When we do notice mice we set out one of those "humane traps" and eventually it catches a mouse. We live in the suburbs of a big city (Toronto) so these are not field mice.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm to Pets & Animals (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Cats are born and bred to catch and eat vermin like mice. Unless the mouse is already seriously sick or poisoned, it's very very unlikely that Winnie will get sick from eating one. He's designed to cope with the germs mice carry.

I've lived in a house with a hunting cat for most of my life and nobody ever got sick from post-mouse paws, but it is pretty nasty to have to deal with blood on your floor, especially if you've got a little one about. As long as you're keeping the place clean you should be okay.

I think trying to stop a mouser from catching mice would be pretty difficult, unless you're willing to have him declawed or defanged, which presents a whole 'nother set of ethical issues. If he sees or scents mice, he will go for them. If you really don't want him hunting, your best bet would be to get rid of the mice completely.
posted by fight or flight at 10:01 AM on August 8, 2012 [14 favorites]

Cats are born and bred to chase mice, rats and all sorts of vermin. Unless one of the mice in your apartment has eaten poison, it's unlikely that mousing will get your cat sick. I don't think you can untrain mousing either, as it's just a genetic feature, and seems about as difficult as untraining a spaniel to swim.

If I were you, I'd be more worried that mice in general are in your house, bringing in some potentially gross things to get your baby sick (but unless it's a full-on infestation, even this seems fairly minimal). And be happy your cute orange tabby is working as a free exterminator.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:01 AM on August 8, 2012 [15 favorites]

Total feature.

I Am Not A Wildlife Biologist. However, at least down here in the south, the common wisdom that I was imbued with by my pest control guy said that the diseases that are capable of crossing the species barrier generally cross via the urine/feces of, or fleas that live on the mouse. There are very few true zoonotic diseases capable of crossing the species barrier through consumption (let alone multiple species barriers from mouse->feline->human), and most of them are well under control and unlikely to be present in your mice. And of those that exist, you're unlikely to eat your cat.

The less time the mouse lives in your house before it gets eaten by a humane trap or by an attentive feline, the less urine or feces or fleas will be around to transmit the zoonotic diseases that do use that path (which are not common in the north anyway) to you or your cats, and the fewer mice will be bred ('cuz those things breed like, well, rodents) to further Occupy and cause damage to your home.
posted by SpecialK at 10:04 AM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's a feature.
It has the side-benefit of convincing you to find where the damned mice are getting in.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:04 AM on August 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Wow, sorry to post a creepily similar answer within seconds of the first one. Jinx!
posted by zoomorphic at 10:04 AM on August 8, 2012 [13 favorites]

This is absolutely a feature of having a cat. I speak as someone who just this weekend had to dispose of eight large trash bags of clothes and christmas stuff that the mice had extensively nested into at my mother's house. Cats are made for this, and it is one of the main reasons we domesticated them, so many years ago.
posted by gauche at 10:05 AM on August 8, 2012

Main thing Winnie is likely to pick up from eating wild mice is intestinal parasites. Worm him every now and again and he'll be fine.

On balance, his mousing will indeed be lowering your house's random filth burden - which you might actually be well advised not to lower too far.
posted by flabdablet at 10:06 AM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Be grateful that its not bringing half eaten mouse back to leave on your lap as offering to the goddess that feeds. My mom would be woken up at night by our cat.

Cats catch mice. Its a feature.
posted by infini at 10:06 AM on August 8, 2012

It is possible to get diseases from mice, but I think you're overstating the danger. Cats catch mice, that's what they do. On average there are 7 cases of plague in the U.S. each year, a country with 85 million cats. You are at least 10x more likely to get hit by lightning than to get the plague.

I'm not really sure what you're question is, though. If you don't want him to catch mice, keep him indoors. If he does catch mice, it makes essentially zero difference in the chance of you or your family getting sick. I don't know what you mean by "field mice" because mice that live in backyards and under garages and things are the exact same mice that live in fields.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:07 AM on August 8, 2012

The question is not "How do I stop my cat from catching mice?" That's the wrong question. The right question is "Why are there mice in my house?"
posted by valkyryn at 10:07 AM on August 8, 2012 [16 favorites]

If we were somehow able to prevent our cat from catching mice wouldn't that just mean that the mice would be free to spread whatever mousey diseases they have anyway?

Yeah, this. Mice can get through really teeny tiny spaces so they pretty much go where they want. The hole only has to be the size of their small pointy skull and the rest of the mouse can squash through.

I had a mouser. Every time we moved house she caught them really regularly at first, then less often, then pretty much never. I assumed she just cleaned out everything she could find then stopped any new ones moving in. Better to have your cat clean them out than let the mice have the run of the place, so personally I always considered an active mouser cat to be a feature rather than a bug.

Also, she lived a happy healthy 16 years before dying of something unrelated, so I don't think you need to worry on that front. Cats are designed to eat small birds and animals, their digestive system in particular is made to handle this kind of thing so Winnie will be fine.
posted by shelleycat at 10:07 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

IME, mice seem to smell a cat and come in less frequently - we went from having a very mousey house and no cat to a couple of mice a year. Our cat is a very show-offy hunter who likes to bring me the mice to see before she kills them, so I'm pretty sure that she's not just eating the extras on the quiet. Actually, mice are a big, exciting event around here now because they are so rare - we had an unexpected one last week and our cat has just now gotten over the faint hope that there might be more.
posted by Frowner at 10:08 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Definitely a feature. I'm trying at the moment to catch a big fat field mouse that's got in (I live by a forest, so this isn't unusual) and my cat is useless. She's even brought mice in and let them go. I am no better. I saw one trot out one evening and pause on the rug in front of me and instead of grabbing it by the tail I took its picture and then it ran away. The current mouse is somehow managing to get the bait out of the humane traps without tripping them. But I am sick to death of having to clean out all my ground-level kitchen cupboards every week because of mouse poo.
posted by essexjan at 10:10 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I meant to add that the only time it's dangerous for cats to eat mice is if the mouse has eaten poison (that cruel Warfarin-based one that takes ages to kill the mouse). A mouse that just gets in and stays a while is likely to be healthy.

In the UK at least, cats are more at risk from eating birds, because birds eat slugs which many gardeners like to poison with slug pellets.
posted by essexjan at 10:13 AM on August 8, 2012

One of our two cats (not the car cat referenced in another thread) is a mouser. The other one, strangely, will chase the odd bug now and again but never seems to have caught anything larger than a moth (as far as we know).

Seconding the advice above about the occasional worming. They'll get them from ingesting fleas that ride on the vermin. Twice a year is a good schedule, or so I've read someplace. You can get the meds at the pet mega-stores and then, of course, you've got to get the pill down the gullet. If your cat is catching mice outside, be on guard that they're not brought in as an occasional gift offering.

I'm more worried the cat might catch a mouse that's ingested poison and somehow get it herself, so I've forsworn poisons of all types. When the mice do try to breach the house (which they do every fall), snap-traps baited with peanut butter have always done the trick.
posted by jquinby at 10:14 AM on August 8, 2012

The question is not "How do I stop my cat from catching mice?" That's the wrong question. The right question is "Why are there mice in my house?"

In my experience, a mouser is the solution to your second problem. I've lived in a couple of sketchy apartments and a few old houses over the years. Meg has been in charge of animal control for years now.

After I move in, we have a mouse problem. Three weeks later, we don't have a mouse problem, and the house remains vermin-free for years. As a bonus, we don't have house-fly or insect problems either.

Mice are a significant disease concern, as well as being generally unpleasant to live with. A good mouser is a real health benefit in my view. Meg has not had a mouse-traceable illness in her 18 years of catching mice, nor have I noticed any in other mousers in the family.
posted by bonehead at 10:19 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: He has caught mice in the backyard before but I'm almost certain that the one he caught today he found inside the house. I've already filled and sealed all the holes I've seen, but in the summer we leave the doors to the backyard open so it is quite easy for mice to come in.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:22 AM on August 8, 2012

It's a feature. It's only dangerous if you or a neighbour are putting out baits for cats and your cat catches and eats a poisoned mouse, as you use humane traps this is not really a problem. The mouse alive in your house is a much bigger problem as they pee and poop on everything and can spread diseases.

The only downside is the half mice, my cats always left them out for me too, I think they felt sorry for me as I couldn't catch food on my own and they were worried I'd starve or something.
posted by wwax at 10:22 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

BTW, they're almost certainly Peromyscus, that is Deer Mice, though I wouldn't be surprised if he catches voles in the garden.
posted by bonehead at 10:26 AM on August 8, 2012

If your cat is catching mice, that means that your cat is in fact a cat. Humanity domesticated cats specifically to catch mice. The fact that cats are also cuddly and adorable is a nice side benefit, but it's not really what we originally started keeping them around for.

Your cat probably feels proud about having a job to do, and probably would be sad if you took that job away (which I am not even sure you could succeed at doing anyway if you tried, since you can't exactly poison the mice when your cat is eating them, and mice are hard to catch unless you happen to be a mouse-catching cat).

Any health risks to the cat are hopefully outweighed by the joy the cat takes in doing what cats are built for. And any health risks to you are probably much, much less than the health risks posed by an unchecked mouse problem.

With a baby in the house you should be getting both your cats regularly checked out at the vet for various parasites anyway, regardless of their mousing activity.
posted by BlueJae at 10:28 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've already filled and sealed all the holes I've seen

Do you have a crawlspace, by chance? I discovered that one ingress point for the little buggers was via the holes cut in various places to let the plumbing into the house. An hour or so with a can of foam insulation and some steel wool put an end to that.
posted by jquinby at 10:34 AM on August 8, 2012

Just adding my voice to the Feature faction. I live above a grocery store in Toronto, and if that's not an invite to rodents, I don't know what is. My lady brings me bits of mice about 4x a year (caught indoors), and she's not been sick once. I did check with management regarding type of traps they had, and we all agreed that snap was the way to go.

As an aside, I'd also be aware that house centipedes are ...happy...this year, and I've never been so glad to have a hunter in my life. flinch
posted by whowearsthepants at 10:44 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

My guess is also that it's just a matter of time until you have two mousers.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:54 AM on August 8, 2012

Cats share excess kill.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 12:16 PM on August 8, 2012

It's not so much the indoor mice that get caught that are a concern. It's the outdoor wildlife- domestic cats kill birds and small reptiles too, and create a serious impact on ecosystems. It probably won't hurt your cat but it's not ideal for the environment. Would your cat tolerate a bell collar?
posted by slow graffiti at 12:35 PM on August 8, 2012

Just make sure your cats are on a good parasite prevention program, since mice carry fleas and intestinal parasites.
posted by biscotti at 2:07 PM on August 8, 2012

Besides, late-breaking science says that pets improve your child's immunity by exposing her to a wider array of bacteria than she might otherwise encounter. The occasional mouse encounter can't but help.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:33 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's a lovely, lovely feature that will rid your premises of vermin. Mousers are wonderful. Vermin not so much. If you still don't like it, feel free to stick a couple stamps on the bootiful yellow puddy tat and ship him my way!
posted by BlueHorse at 5:04 PM on August 8, 2012

Not much to add except that she loves to hunt mice though they are very rare in the house now. Apparently rather than biting them, she likes to scare them to death; they turn up with no marks on them and no apparent damage, simply non-functional. I guess looking encountering something like this as tall as a four storey building would be all for me, too.

She also likes to point flies that have come in the house and will jump and snap at them. And she's smart enough to leave spiders alone.

So, yeah, total feature, keeps the vermin under control. Also loves to keep my lap warm when we're watching movies.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:06 PM on August 8, 2012

Response by poster: Alright, so the mousing is definitely a feature then. That being said, after we're presented with a half a mouse what would best practices be for clean-up?

Currently we dispose of the body and wipe/spray the area with disinfectant. Would it be a good idea to wash Winnie's paws/bathe him and anything he was touching (such as a rug he was lying on)? How long after he's done with his mouse can I play with him and not have to worry about mouse germs?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:42 PM on August 8, 2012

Currently we dispose of the body and wipe/spray the area with disinfectant.

Just use vinegar.

Would it be a good idea to wash Winnie's paws/bathe him and anything he was touching (such as a rug he was lying on)?


How long after he's done with his mouse can I play with him and not have to worry about mouse germs?

About five seconds should do it.
posted by flabdablet at 8:28 PM on August 8, 2012

Seriously, there is nothing on a healthy cat that's going to cause you any harm at all unless (a) you're seriously allergic or immunocompromised (b) you fail to wash the wound after getting bitten or scratched (c) you fail to wash your hands after handling the litter tray.

The best evidence available really does suggest that attempting to go scorched-earth on your home's microbial population is bad for you. The idea that All Germs Are Unacceptable is no more than a lie told by disinfectant manufacturers to boost sales of toxic chemicals.

Get yourself and your kids vaccinated against any potentially serious diseases prevalent in your area, turf all your surface disinfectants and replace them with plain white vinegar, and relax.
posted by flabdablet at 9:24 PM on August 8, 2012

Dude, Winnie cleans his arse with his tongue. Having a mouse in his mouth isn't going to be any worse. Wash your hands between playing with the cats and eating or preparing food (something all pet owners should be doing anyway) and you'll be good.
posted by shelleycat at 12:18 AM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

You know what's worse than a cat proudly waking you up with a fresh-killed mouse?

The cat waking you up with half of a fresh-killed mouse (which half doesn't matter much, I discovered).
posted by bonehead at 10:47 AM on August 9, 2012

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