Squirrels are crunchy
April 18, 2008 4:03 PM   Subscribe

If I feed my cat more often will he stop bringing home his own snacks from the wild?

So I’m sitting at my computer reading email, watching junk on youtube, whatever. I hear my cat jump into the cardboard box we have set up for him. I hear him scratching around, I think he’s playing with one of his toys, then I hear CRUNCH! I turn to look and my cat, no, my 10 year old, 15lb neutered and declawed cat, is crunching into the skull of an adult gray squirrel. Nature is disgusting. But my question is, my cat is big, he’s fat even. I know he gets enough to eat. We feed him a can of wet food a day plus we make sure his other bowl always has some kibble in it. He’s not hunting because he needs food, but he begs from us whenever we have food, and he seems like he always wants something more to eat besides his kibble. If I were to feed him as often as he wanted would he stop stalking the local fauna?

I’m sure the real answer is to just not let him go outside, but that’s impossible. If my cat wants to go outside he’s been known to break through window screens and jump. Right now we have it set up so he can get in and out through the back door. That’s how he got his snack inside in the first place. This set up works well for us because the cat can come and go as he pleases and we’re not worried about him being locked out of the house if we’re upstairs or not home. So is there something I can do to curb his behavior or is this just natural hunting instinct?
posted by Kioki-Silver to Pets & Animals (31 answers total)
He's got plenty of food, as you already know. He's just being a cat.

This set up works well for us because the cat can come and go as he pleases.

Your only real solution, if keeping him indoors is not an option, is to curb the come-and-go. You'll have to check at the backdoor to make sure he doesn't have any snacks with him when he's ready to come inside.

You could also put a bell on his collar, or get one of those weird cat bibs. (But good luck getting him to wear it. Plus, all the neighborhood cats are gonna laugh at him.)
posted by mudpuppie at 4:06 PM on April 18, 2008

It's natural hunting instinct.

Probably not useful as it's not commercially available (yet?) but if you have the time, money, and know-how, it looks like someone is having some success in converting a consumer electrically-latching catflap to lock closed when the cat has something in its mouth.

As for me, I do my "I'm very displeased with you about this!" routine, and lock the catflap for about a week. Cat has to get used to a life of waiting for someone to let it in/out (which happens at my convenience, not his), and obviously it can't bring stuff in because of the supervision. After a while, catflap privileges are restored. Eventually it will happen again, and I repeat the consequences. Eventually the cat seemed to learn (or at least it's been a long time).
Though it feels like kind of a shitty response, since sometimes the animals are gifts for you - and it's not like he could have chosen to get me an a ipod instead :-/
Is there a better way?
posted by -harlequin- at 4:31 PM on April 18, 2008

He's bringing you presents! Tasty, still-twitching presents! You should praise him!
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:43 PM on April 18, 2008 [5 favorites]

You only have to undo 60 million years of evolution.
Consider it a challenge.

Seriously--cats hunt because they love to hunt. They are kind of conformist that way--you would think that somewhere there would be a cat loves golf, or collecting Hummel figurines. But there isn't. It's all hunt, hunt, hunt.

The food obtained from hunting is just a side-benefit of the hunt. If they don't need the food, they give it away (as you have observed).
posted by hexatron at 5:00 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

No, he won't stop bringing them. He's contributing to the family. You want to take that satisfaction away from him?

I've had good success giving ours plenty of elaborate praise when he brings presents home - after he gives them to me. Now instead of sneaking off to another room with them to play, he runs right to me with it. At least that way I don't find feathers all over the house, or a cat waiting patiently in front of the couch for the live snake to come back out and play.
posted by ctmf at 5:22 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

The only way to stop this is to keep him inside, and at this point in his life that would be cruel. Don't put a bell on him. It won't work and he could get tangled. He's pretty bold taking on the squirrels. They can be fierce.
posted by caddis at 5:38 PM on April 18, 2008

I agree with bitteroldpunk. You are being an ungrateful human. Your cat is just doing his part to keep the house well-stocked with food. You are supposed to eat the stuff he brings home. SHEESH.
posted by thomas144 at 5:41 PM on April 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

we have an old set of bbq tongs. we call 'em the varmint pliers. we used to fling 'em into the neighbors' neighbors' yard, but they got wise. now we plunk 'em in the garbage. no more disgusting than a rock cornish game hen, really. you know, garbage-wise...
posted by stubby phillips at 5:44 PM on April 18, 2008

No. Cats will continue to hunt no matter how well-fed they are. If you're really lucky, they'll leave the dead thing as a present for you somewhere conspicuous.

It's unusual for cats to be able to catch anything as big as an adult squirrel, so you probably won't see many more of those.

If you make it more difficult for the cat to get into the house, it will have trouble bringing still-living victims inside, and this will spare you the fun of chasing a mortally injured norwegian rat around in your underwear at 3:00am.

(My cats caught a garter snake this morning, the 6th in two weeks. Must be snake season)
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:49 PM on April 18, 2008

Best answer: There's been actual scientific studies to show that the hunting instinct and the killing instinct and the eating instinct are separate, and that overfeeding your cat won't make much of a difference to how many other critters they kill. So yeah, you're stuck with it.

Apparently two bells on the collar can work quite well whereas one doesn't (they learn how to move so it doesn't tinkle), but I've never bothered. Tinkling cats annoys me way more then the odd dead bird or mouse. YMMV.

A squirrel is pretty impressive though, sounds like your boy has some skillz.
posted by shelleycat at 6:03 PM on April 18, 2008

Best answer: nope, he's hunting because it's in his nature. i hear that putting food in different places in the house is helpful--that way he "hunts" at home. but he'll still want to wrestle with critters. maybe playing with him more?
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:34 PM on April 18, 2008

A squirrel is no match for a cat, if the cat can touch the squirrel.
This youtube quickie shows it (amid a sea of cute misses videos, cats with squirrel friends, etc). Cats all know about the killing bite (on the back of the neck). And they carry sixteen sharp switchblades. And are soft and fluffy and sleep alot.

Squirrels are fast and nervy, but they make mistakes.
posted by hexatron at 6:40 PM on April 18, 2008

Cat killed a squirrel? He deserves a medal and a certificate to hang on the wall.
posted by gimonca at 7:03 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nthing the "you can't do anything about it, it's in their nature." And it's a big deal that your cat caught a squirrel. One time, a half-grown kitten I had caught a baby rabbit. The rabbit was bigger than she was. As my housemates stared in horror at her feasting on the bunny guts, one of them asked me what I was going to do about it. I replied "I'm going to let her eat the whole thing."
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:12 PM on April 18, 2008

How coincidental...

As suggested above, playing with him more might help tucker him out, which might slow down his hunting activities. But he's definitely not hunting out of hunger. You might be sure you have rubber gloves and spare plastic bags handy to easily dispose of the spoils of cat/squirrel war.
posted by korres at 7:17 PM on April 18, 2008

btw, cats arent bringing you the critters to eat, they're bringing you the critters to prove that they're doing the job they're born and bred to do: killing the animals that eat your stored grain, so you don't starve to death during the winter.

humans are so ungrateful sometimes, sheesh!
posted by messiahwannabe at 8:14 PM on April 18, 2008

Not to add to the icky factor, but you might want to consider that your cat didn't kill the squirrel but found it dead along the road. I've seen cats playing with roadkill before. Yuck.
posted by fiercekitten at 9:40 PM on April 18, 2008

Best answer: From what I understand and have observed from our variety of cats, he may not even know that prey is for eating.

We have had only one cat that ate his prey, and that was our "barn cat" (Sparky), raised by his semi-feral mother to actually eat what he killed. According to his previous owner, when his litter was only a few weeks old, his mother took them to the river, and taught them to eat what they could catch.

As our pet he caught and ate mice and birds. The only thing left on our doorstep of the mice would be feet, and the only thing left of the birds would be feathers. Occasionally, a few of the "tasty" internal organs of the mice would be left at our door, and we considered that Sparky was feeling particularly affectionate toward us.

Every other cat we have had was more city-bred, and only seemed to kill because they could. Our trophies appeared on the doorstep intact, no eating involved, so I really don't think that hunger is the issue.
posted by rintj at 10:01 PM on April 18, 2008

talk to him. i had a cat that would do what i told it, which side of the bed to stay on, not to bring birds inside, etc. talk to your cat and let him know what is ok!
posted by edtut at 10:52 PM on April 18, 2008

You should be glad you don't have two cats - ours used to work together in a two-man hunting team; between them they would bring in massive birds and animals - seriously, one time I caught them half-way through the cat-flap with a still alive seagull!!
posted by schmoo at 1:06 AM on April 19, 2008

My cat caught a bunny and ate it. She's generally not fast enough to get birds (except the occasional injured bird or baby), but will eat them if she catches them. She'll catch voles but won't eat them - they're for tossing around on the porch. And Miss Cleo is extremely well-fed, as you can see from the picture. I just keep telling myself that it's the circle of life.
posted by candyland at 4:28 AM on April 19, 2008

once they've got the taste for blood, it's kind of there.
I'm more than a little impressed with a fat, declawed cat catching a squirrel. if you never saw it alive, I agree it may have been found outside. Blech. My cat was nice enough to leave them on the porch. it is an offering. you're staring a gift squirrel in the mouth.
posted by Busithoth at 6:49 AM on April 19, 2008

Best answer: I don't understand the human requirement to make an animal stop doing what it natural does.

Let the thing hunt and enjoy life.
posted by evilelvis at 8:13 AM on April 19, 2008

It's because cats are a non-native species and some people in your neighborhood probably like their song birds and squirrels more than they like your cat killing those native species then and pooping in their yards.

I don't understand cat owners who want to let their cats roam and kill things, who then get up in arms when a person or dog kills their cat.
Just don't understand.
It's all part of nature, right?
posted by Seamus at 9:40 AM on April 19, 2008

"and then pooping" makes a little more sense, yet sounds equally juvenile
posted by Seamus at 9:41 AM on April 19, 2008

One time, a half-grown kitten I had caught a baby rabbit. The rabbit was bigger than she was.
Squeaky, a stray that we'd adopted (and who, when taken to the vet to be cleaned up and innoculated, was determined to be a purebred Maine Coon cat) was FIV positive and was suffering from arthritic hips. He was mostly an indoor cat when we first adopted him, but he still liked to go outside in the heat of the afternoon and lay on the porch (I presume the heat/sunshine made his arthritis feel better.) Anyway, one day he ventured off the porch, and when he returned, this lumbering furball who had trouble jumping up onto the sofa was carrying a small rabbit in his mouth. He didn't even try to eat it or anything, he just walked up to my dad and lay the bunny at his feet. I was very upset, but dad (who has a soft spot for all animals, and certainly felt as bad about the rabbit as I) immediately started praising Squeaky and saying "thank you" (swear to God, he actually thanked him). He then told me sotto voce that Squeaky was bringing us a gift to show his appreciation for us adopting him.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:04 AM on April 19, 2008

It's because cats are a non-native species and some people in your neighborhood probably like their song birds and squirrels more than they like your cat killing those native species then and pooping in their yards.

Seamus, not all squirrels are native- here on the West Coast, our native squirrel population has been overtaken by non-native Eastern Gray Squirrels and Fox Squirrels. Squirrels are considered pests in many places because they are destructive to food crops and can carry bubonic plague and west nile virus. They also eat the eggs of nesting birds, and in some cases, the birds as well. Squirrel populations in general thrive around humans, in spite of the associated dogs and cats. The cat eating bird issue is more problematic, however plenty of formerly native predators that caught birds have been displaced by the same humans that now own cats. Coyotes now thrive in urban areas partly because there are plenty of cats for them to eat.

I love all animals, and used to take the wild mice my cats had caught away from them and let them go. I just happen to think it's simplistic to phrase arguments in cat vs. "native" wildlife terms when the situation is more complex than that.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:59 AM on April 19, 2008

My cats prefer to hunt on a full stomach. I have insisted in the past that they eat what they kill and they are ok with that. i don't hink feeding him more will affect the outcome at all.
Seamus- One morning as I was getting ready for work. A tremendous racket outside informed me that the neighbor dog was in the process of killing my cat. He had her by the scruff of the neck and was shaking her like crazy. I had this idea that you could pry a dog's jaws open with your thumbs if you had to. When faced with the prospect, I simply grabbed the dog by the throat and chocked him till he let go. The neighbor was, "I am sooo sorry my dog tried to kill your cat" and I was, "He is a dog."
posted by pointilist at 9:49 PM on April 20, 2008

I don't think
posted by pointilist at 9:50 PM on April 20, 2008

Your cat is just holding up his end of the ancient bargain struck up between his ancestors and yours. We've reached a kind of compromise with our cat; when she brings in a mouse to give us, we dutifully look at it and express our thanks - "good cat! now, take it outside" - and she does.
posted by primer_dimer at 6:55 AM on April 21, 2008

Response by poster: I sent an email to the cat bib people asking if it would be useful to prevent him from catching ground prey they pretty much said maybe, but not always. So there's that. I haven't put a bell or bells on him so far because the jingling would drive me insane but it's a possibility.

I'm pretty sure the squirrel he brought was still mostly alive so if he did find it injured it at least wasn't already dead. He does eat his catches when we let him. I've never chased a rodent around at 3am but I did have my boyfriend capture a live chipmunk gift in a coffee can once. I do think he has preyed on sick animals in the past because a few times he's had to be treated for tapeworms.

I got the cat when I was still in college and working part time at a grocery store. A lady I worked with ended up with a surprise litter of kittens from a feral cat living near her home. My cat was one of those kittens. We assume that since he was a bit older than a kitten his mother had taught him to hunt for food. My father stipulated he be declawed in the front paws and neutered before I could keep him. So I did, with a promise to the vet that since he was declawed he would be kept indoors. Keeping him indoors proved impossible. In fact a few weeks after his trip to the vet he escaped and pillaged a nest of baby bunnies.. it was a blood bath. His usual out door activities only net him one kill a year, that I know of. I've never seen him with a bird, only mice, moles, chipmunks, those bunnies, and now this squirrel.

Anyway, this follow up is getting a bit long winded. If he catches anything else this season I'll get a bell or two for his collar. I'm not up to the challenge of battling cat nature. Luckily all the neighbors seem to be cat lovers. We did have one neighbor who moved away that wasn't a fan of cats and tried to convince me that the chipmunks in our trees were an endangered species and I shouldn't let my cat out in the back yard, but that's another story/question for another time.
posted by Kioki-Silver at 8:48 PM on April 21, 2008

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