What to Do When Your Cat Brings You a ‘Gift’

What to Do When Your Cat Brings You a ‘Gift’

Elephants and peanuts. Chimpanzees and bananas. Cats and mice.

Are these stereotypes? Maybe — but some things in the animal kingdom just seem to go together. Still, even though cats have a time-honored rivalry with their rodent friends, many cat owners are still left wondering: Do cats eat mice?

The answer might surprise you! While you’re puzzling over that question, we’ll also share some advice for the next time your cat decides to honor you with a well-placed “gift” on your front porch.

Get Inside Your Cat’s Mind

Our feline friends are often given credit for complex human emotions, such as mirth, wrath and laziness. We’re complicated and emotional beings ourselves, and that’s part of what seems to draw us to creatures of the feline persuasion: They often give the appearance of mirroring our own feelings.

For better and worse, however, we can’t attribute cats’ hunting instincts to feelings of wrath. It’s an instinct — and one that’s difficult to overcome.

According to Dr. John Bradshaw, of the University of Bristol in England, roughly 85 percent of all cat matings happen with feral cats. Since humankind has made an art of neutering our domesticated male cats, the only males left for the females to breed with are the wildest and unruliest of wild cats. Although we like to think of ourselves as professional domesticators, the truth is that cats’ wild streaks and hunting instincts are as alive and well today as they’ve always been. In the words of Ian Malcolm, “Life, uh … finds a way.”

Black kitten lying with mouse on yellow background

Chasing vs. Killing

On to the questions at hand. Do cats eat birds and mice? The answer is no. Cats are definitely talented hunters and, yes, killers of small rodents, but don’t usually eat what they kill?

As it turns out, the chances of your cat catching a mouse are much higher than the chances of your cat eating its kill. Feral cats sometimes do eat mice and even some small birds and frogs, but it’s not that common.

Cats kill mice due to a variety of possible reasons. Here are a few of them:

  1. Your cat might be bringing you these tributes because it wants to teach you how to hunt. That’s one theory, anyway. Because they’re social creatures, cats might worry about human beings’ rather underdeveloped hunting instincts, and by bringing dead animals, they may be trying to show us how it’s done.
  2. Cats sometimes kill mice because they’re feeling charitable and want to present their owner with a thoughtful gift. For this reason, you shouldn’t scold your cat when it does this — after all, would you want to get yelled at for giving a gift?
  3. Finally, your cat catching a mouse might be nothing more than instinct kicking in — without any premeditation or particular motives involved. This is probably the most common reason cats engage in this behavior. As we’ve learned, cats’ formidable hunting instincts have been preserved over the last several hundred years, and these are tough habits to break.

This can be difficult behavior to deal with if you’re squeamish. The small amount of good news is that your cat is almost certainly going to be more interested in giving chase to mice than they are in actually eating them. Given that, you don’t have to worry too much about them losing their taste for their customary kibbles and bits.

What to Do if Your Cat Brings Dead Animals into the House

Knowing that your cat is on the lookout for rodents and snakes loose in your home or lawn is comforting. But here’s what you should do if they decide to bring it in and bury the dead rodent in your bed as a special gift to you.

  1. Keep the cat out of the room when you clean. You don’t want the cat picking up the mice to play a game of hide-and-go-seek as you grab your bleach and gloves to clean up.
  2. Wear rubber or plastic gloves before picking up the dead mouse and putting in a plastic bag. Tie the bag so no air can get out and place in a trash can in garage or outside for trash day.
  3. If the mouse was placed on hardwood, countertop or non-carpeted surface, use a disinfectant (make sure it’s safer for wood if you plan on cleaning wood flooring) or a mixture of bleach (1 part bleach to 10 parts water).
  4. If the mouse was on fabric, steam clean or shampoo upholstered furniture and carpets. Wash any bedding or clothing with laundry detergent and hot water (check clothing tags to make sure they can be in hot water).

Cats Will Be Cats!

Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this brief glimpse into the minds and motivations of our four-legged friends. Learn more about your cat in our Get EduCATed section.