How Did This Cat Die?
August 18, 2007 6:40 AM   Subscribe

Yesterday afternoon one of the neighbours knocked on the door to tell me there was a dead cat in our driveway. I went out to look and it was, distressingly, one of the feral kittens that lives in our neighborhood. However, the cause of death wasn't immediately apparent and the more I thought about it, the more the circumstances seemed kind of odd.

To wit:

- As I mentioned, the cat was obviously a kitten, probably a few months old (maybe 4-6?).

- It was laying on its side with no obvious signs of trauma. It was far enough into our driveway where the only car that could feasibly have hit it would have been my husband's on his way to work, but it was laying in a wheel rut and would have been driven over (sorry for the gruesome imagery) and as I mentioned, there wasn't any blood or obviously broken bones. He said he didn't feel any odd bumps when he backed out yesterday; also, he didn't see anything in the driveway after he backed out.

- There was a dead mouse about a foot and a half to two feet directly behind the cat, laying the same way (on its side, no obvious gore). I don't think mice are common here - we've never had one in our house and before this, I've never seen any around our neighbourhood.

- The kitten was lean, but not starving. People around here leave out food and water for the cats.

- I didn't get too good of a look at either body because I'm a little squeamish about these things. The closest I got was about three feet away. (The humane society has since picked them up.)

- The way it looked, which I'm pretty sure cannot be the way it actually happened, is that the mouse was chasing the cat Tom and Jerry-style and then they both suddenly keeled over.

- The only other thing I could think of is that they both ate some antifreeze in our driveway, but I just checked and neither of our cars is leaking anything. Also, from the placement of the bodies it looks like they would have died immediately after drinking - I don't think antifreeze works that quickly (does it?)

I am mostly concerned that some someone killed the cat (and mouse) either in our driveway, or put them in our driveway; or that there is some disease circulating among the cats. I also want to do what I can, if anything, to stop more cats from meeting their untimely deaths. Any ideas?
posted by AV to Pets & Animals (22 answers total)
My first thought - which is probably wrong - might be that someone else put out poison for mice and both the mouse and the kitten found it and managed to wander off before they died. (Usually if you poison mice they die in your walls, which is why it's not generally recommended.)
posted by cobaltnine at 6:50 AM on August 18, 2007

Antifreeze isn't an instant death poison. From here: "Antifreeze is extremely toxic causing kidney failure that is often fatal in just a few days."

But that just means it's not your antifreeze. It could have been anywhere in the neighborhood, and maybe your driveway was just a convenient and warm place to lay down.
posted by smackfu at 6:51 AM on August 18, 2007

Animals can be hit by a car and suffer no or very little external injuries, but can be pretty badly hurt internally, which can cause death (internal bleeding, collapsed lungs). Less likely with a kitten, but still possible. The proximity of the mouse does suggest poison though -- cats can ingest fatal doses of poison by eating poisoned mice, or can eat the poison themselves, depending on what form it is in.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:10 AM on August 18, 2007

Best answer: not a direct answer, but finding something like this - something dead, in a suburban setting - can be unsettling.

i get the impression that you're asking what has happened because you feel uneasy. and while a "believable scenario" might put you at ease, it might also help to recognise that your preoccupation is a normal reaction to an unpleasant experience. a heightened sense of "something is odd" probably helped our ancestors in caves, but you live in safe suburbia, and things are probably simpler than they seem.

i hope this doesn't sound condescending - i just know i have been in similar situations and a strange paranoia comes on, which can be dispersed by someone pointing out that i just need to relax.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:43 AM on August 18, 2007

it may have been poisoned, but probably only incidentally. i would reserve suspicion until and only if you see other dead cats or hear of neighbors' animals dying or getting sick.

outdoor animals do die naturally, as well. we had an outdoor kitten who died from no apparent cause. it's sad, but it happens.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:48 AM on August 18, 2007

Sounds like an accidental poisoning to me. I understand how disturbing this looks, but I really doubt there's anything unusual going on.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:01 AM on August 18, 2007

It may have had health problems from birth.

There were three kittens hanging around our area (with their mother) and one day we found one of them dead on our drive too. Same as yours, no sign of any trauma. Just dropped where it was and that was it. (We gave it a decent burial)

The days before it and all the other were all looking fit and healthy and then. One less.

These things seem to happen and unless you take the body to a vet's there is no real way of finding out what really happened.
posted by Webbster at 8:16 AM on August 18, 2007

Reading your description of the position of the mouse & the kitten, I was reminded of the way my cat used to "present" her kills by my front door for inspection and praise. I have no idea if another feral cat would kill a feral kitten, or if it would then lay out the body, but they will definitely do that with mice.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 8:17 AM on August 18, 2007

(Banky_Edwards: Almost no cat will kill a kitten.)

I imagine that it was a poisoned mouse. Like, maybe the cat even found the mouse dead of poisoning, picked it up, and was sucking the tainted blood for a while before succumbing himself. I'm sorry that it happened in your neighborhood.
posted by Netzapper at 8:26 AM on August 18, 2007

Just because the cat was near the mouse doesn't mean they died from the same thing. Have you ever seen a cat play with a mouse? While they usually lose interest once it dies, they can bat at it, throw it in the air, and carry it around for hours without drawing blood. I would bet that the kitten was sick in some way (there are many things that could happen to an outdoor cat) and that the exertion of playing with the mouse killed it. Congenital heart defect? Who knows.
posted by mikeh at 8:43 AM on August 18, 2007

Best answer: I'm going to second mikeh: we've all seen cats playing with their dead mice, sometimes for days. This kitten happened to have a mouse when it died of any number of things that can kill a feral cat: antifreeze from someone else's driveway, heart defect, internal damage from a car, etc...
posted by coolhappysteve at 8:53 AM on August 18, 2007

Best answer: There's really no way to know. There are plenty of possible scenarios. One is that there is no connection between the cat and the mouse, it's just an odd coincidence. Mice are common everywhere, your house is just not prone to them. My garage is full of mice, I never see them, but I left a bag of grass seed in there one winter and the next summer it was a bag of half grass seed, half mouse poop. The kitten and mouse could have died from any variety of related or unrelated natural causes.

If you can't buy that, the cat is carrying it's mouse and it gets a glancing blow from a car that does it a grievous internal injury. It gets halfway across your driveway, drops the mouse, makes it another couple feet, and dies. Or, the cat catches a mouse and crawls up into your car's wheel well to eat it, but just then your husband drives off. The cat and mouse are hurled violently against the wheel well and the cat dies. One of my childhood cats was killed in exactly this manner and there was no visible injury. My mom drove off, there was a dead kitten sitting in the driveway, looking uninjured but dead. The cat comes upon a nest of mice dead from poison. It eats one, grabs another, etc.

Netzapper, you are not correct. Feral cats kill kittens for a variety of reasons; particularly tomcats routinely kill male kittens to eliminate sexual competition. I grew up in the country with a lot of feral cats and saw this happen many times. It could also have been another animal.

If it happened again I'd be worried about someone putting dead animals on your property for who knows what reason, but as an isolated event it's really not unusual enough to worry about.
posted by nanojath at 8:53 AM on August 18, 2007

We're just kind of throwing around the word "feral" here. Feeding feral cats will, pretty much definitely, lead to disease and dead feral cats in a neighborhood as they breed and fight and get hit by cars. I would take this as your queue to stop feeding feral cats at your house, and to encourage your neighbors to do the same.

In many localities, it's actually illegal.
posted by TomMelee at 9:00 AM on August 18, 2007

Best answer: As disturbing as it may be, things like this are just part of having feral cats around. If you really want to make a difference I suggest starting a drive to neuter/spay them all. Feral cats kill wildlife, are vectors for disease, and there is the animal welfare issue.
posted by melissam at 9:22 AM on August 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the input, folks. I was admittedly a little distressed at the dead kitten, but just because I'm kind of an animal person, not because of icky dead things in pristine suburbia. I think, given your responses, that poisoned dead mouse or pre-existing internal injuries are probably the likeliest suspects. Sigh.

TomMelee, we actually don't feed the cats for the reasons you mentioned - some of our neighbours do, which attracts them nonetheless.

The cats are definitely feral; it's been a couple of generations now. I call the humane society every spring to trap the new kittens while they can still be socialized, but they're overworked and underfunded and haven't managed it yet. (It took two calls just to get them to come pick up the dead cat, after my husband made it clear that it was in plain view and freaking out passing children.) I'm looking into possibly getting a trap-neuter-vaccinate-release thing going, but I don't have a lot of time or money to devote to it -- next week's AskMe, maybe.

Thanks again.
posted by AV at 9:32 AM on August 18, 2007

melissam has a good point. I love cats, but feral cats kill many kinds of birds (some of which have already low populations) and eat prey that would otherwise go to feed less abundant wild animals. So, as part of taking care of them, you could also help keep their population under control? Sorry about the poor kitten.
posted by salvia at 9:35 AM on August 18, 2007

(oops, no preview. sounds like you have a good plan.)
posted by salvia at 9:41 AM on August 18, 2007

Yeah, I bet the cat was playing with a dead mouse and a raccoon got it the previous night.
posted by craniac at 10:49 AM on August 18, 2007

My aunt's cat died from a snakebite, which wasn't immediately obvious, when it was out stalking (and playing with) some lizard prey. It seems likely that the kitten killed the mouse or was playing with a dead mouse, and something else entirely killed the kitten.

If you live in an area where they might be snakes, it wouldn't surprise me to find out that's how the kitten died.
posted by misha at 12:18 PM on August 18, 2007

I've found dead animals (squirrels) laying in the sidewalk with no obvious external injuries, and come to the conclusion that they fell when leaping between especially high tree branches. You've got plenty of other plausible answers here, but I thought I'd throw this one out - maybe kitty was carrying his dead-mouse-plaything on a branch over your driveway and lost his balance. The resulting internal injuries could certainly be fatal.
posted by vytae at 12:24 PM on August 18, 2007

My experience with cats is that they tend to find a place to hide if they feel sick enough to die. Cats don't ever just wander around hurt and keel over.

Cats do though have squishy parts that can bleed internally. (Sorry.) And if a car came by too quickly and this one.. sporting his new catch.. were to find himself pummeled around underneath it, he might make it a few feet before he breathed his last..
posted by onanon at 3:29 PM on August 18, 2007

I had a kitty boy that was fatally injured. Had I not witnessed his last moments I would've always wondered what had caused his death. As the only phyical evidence was a small scratch on his head.

Ahh Kitty.. you pays your nickle and you takes your chances
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 12:36 PM on September 7, 2007

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