From Tom and Jerry to Itchy and Scratchy to a host of other feline-rodent partnerships in cartoons, popular culture has depicted cats and mice as mortal enemies. Is there a semblance of truth to this trope?
Do cats keep mice away?
Yes, cats keep mice away, at least to a degree. Although your pet cat may seem like an unlikely predator, he is more than capable of keeping away or even killing mice. In fact, one of the foundations of the human-cat partnership is the latter’s ability to exterminate rodents.
If you look back at the history of the domestic cat’s history, you will see that the relationship between people and felines started when humans began farming. With a steady supply of food came different animals that took advantage. When people learned how to farm grains and other crops, mice and rats began following humans that now lived in larger communities.
It did not take long before cats followed suit. Unlike other domesticated animals, cats went to communities and interacted with people voluntarily as they pursued their primary prey – rodents.
You can say that in essence, wild cats domesticated themselves. Additionally, when comparing the DNA of domestic cats and their ancestors, you can hardly see any difference.
That means that all the necessary skills and instincts needed by wild cats to be successful have been handed down to Fluffy, although sometimes it may not be apparent when you look at him being his usual oddball self.
How cats hunt
Your cat is more than equipped to hunt mice, rats, birds, and even other small mammals like rabbits. From his sharp teeth and claws to his keen senses of sight and smell, your furry little pal can be an effective pest exterminator.
So successful are domestic cats in hunting that in some countries, the population of wildlife has dwindled at an alarming rate.
But how exactly do cats hunt? Generally, cats use three strategies when hunting: ambushing, stalking and pouncing, and fishing.
In an ambush, a cat keeps his body close to the ground by crouching. He may also quietly lurk, camouflaged by his surroundings. He will bide his time, waiting for the perfect moment to attack. And when the right opportunity arises, he will swoop in on his prey quickly.
The stalk and pounce is similar to the ambush where a cat crouches low. The difference is that he may start and stop multiple times to avoid being detected. He continues drawing close to his prey until he is within close distance. When he is close enough to make a successful attack, he will pounce on his prey.
Although many cats do not like the water, there are some breeds like the Maine Coon that have a natural affinity to it. As such, it should not come as a surprise that these cats are capable of fishing. These felines will wade into the water to hunt for prey.
Take note that not all cats eat their quarry. Feral cats and pets that spend part of their day outdoors may feed on mice and rats if there are no other types of food available.
Indoor cats, on the other hand, may simply catch mice and play and kill them just for the thrill of it. Because food is readily available, your pet does not need to eat the small animals that he has managed to capture. It just means that his instinct to hunt is still intact even if you see him as a lovable and cute pet.
Your cat may also bring to you his recent kills as a gift. Although feline behaviorists are still unsure about why cats do this, they have a few theories.
One of the most popular of these theories is that cats gift their owners their prey because their ancestors used to do this with their offspring. Your cat brings you gifts because he is trying to teach you to hunt and at the same time, tries to provide you with food.
Another theory suggests that the dead and half-dead animals that your cat brings you are not exactly gifts. He is just trying to ask you to keep these so that he can feast on them later on.
Your cat’s scent can ward off rodents
Apart from your cat’s imposing presence, he has another tool up his sleeve that he uses to ward off rodents from your home: his scent.
Homes with cats are less likely to have a rodent infestation because these small animals are afraid of the scent of felines.
However, cats do not completely deter mice and rats from coming into your home. It is still possible that your home will get the occasional visit from a rodent.
Compared to the outside world, your home offers numerous advantages for mice and rats. For one, there is a steady supply of food available for them to feast on. Second, your home can protect them from the elements as well as other predators like snakes and owls. Although your cat is capable of hunting them, it is easier to hide from him indoors compared to taking a risk in the wild.
Pros and cons of letting your cat hunt mice
Should you let your cat hunt mice or are there a few risks associated with this? To help you make an informed decision, here are a few pros and cons that you should know.
Pros of letting your cat catch mice
Perhaps one of the most convincing reasons to allow your cat to hunt mice and other small animals is that you are helping him become attuned to his natural self.
When you provide your pet with an outlet for his instincts, he can release all the pent-up energies that he has. Providing him a release from these can help minimize bad and destructive behaviors like scratching and aggression against your other pets.
Furthermore, allowing your cat to hunt mice is an effective and free way to protect your home from rodents from the destruction these pests bring. Compared to some traps, death at the paws of Fluffy is more humane.
Cons of allowing your cat to hunt for mice
Although hunting comes naturally for your cat, there are also compelling reasons to prevent him from doing that.
For one, mice and rats are known vectors of diseases, some of which can be passed on to your pet and your family. Aside from carrying diseases, mice and rats are known to host a wide variety of pests, including ticks.
You should also be aware that there is a risk that your cat might eat or come into contact with a rat or mouse that has recently ingested poison. Unfortunately, some types of poisons do not kill their targets immediately. In short, your pet might inadvertently poison himself by eating or biting a poisoned rodent.
How to unleash your cat’s inner hunter
If you have been dealing with a mice infestation in your home and you think that your cat can offer some help, there are a few ways to help him unleash his hunting instincts.
1. Make sure that your cat is adequately fed.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, feeding your cat will make him a better hunter. In fact, even feral cats benefit from regular feedings to help their hunting success rates go up. Feeding your cat will eliminate his desire to hunt to feed himself. However, he will still attempt to catch rodent interlopers for his entertainment.
2. Enlist the help of another cat.
In the wild, the task of teaching young cats how to hunt falls squarely on the shoulders of the mother. You can replicate this to some extent by getting an experienced mouser to teach your pet the ropes of hunting a mouse.
3. Use playtime for hunting training.
If your cat has zero hunting experience, you can help him develop his skills through playtime. Start with something easy like chasing a string. From there, you can move into something more challenging like a mouse toy.
4. Use food to coax your cat to search for mice.
Many cats are food-driven. You can use that to your advantage by placing your cat’s favorite treats in areas that you suspect mice are hiding.
5. Encourage and reward your cat.
When your cat begins to show some measure of success and brings you dead mice as gifts, encourage and reward him with his favorite treats.
How to prevent your cat from hunting mice
On the other hand, if you want to discourage your pet from catching mice because of the risks involved, here are a few tips that will help you accomplish your goals.
1. Play with your cat.
Cats need to play, not only to entertain themselves. More importantly, playtime is an opportunity for your cat to satisfy his need to hunt. This is particularly important if you keep your cat indoors exclusively.
2. Make your cat wear a collar with a bell.
Another great way to prevent your cat from catching mice is to make your cat wear a collar with a bell. With the sound that the bell makes, small animals can be alerted with his presence, decreasing his success rate substantially.
3. Feed your cat adequately
If your cat’s hunting instincts are driven by hunger, you can counter those by making sure that your pet is fed adequately.
4. Do not let your cat go out.
One of the easiest ways to prevent your cat from hunting small animals is to keep him indoors. If you still want to allow him to go out, do it during the daytime when he is least likely to encounter potential prey instead of letting him go out after dark.
Your cat is a formidable mouse hunter
In recent years, the Internet has adored the cat as a cute and charming creature. But that does not eliminate the fact that felines are more than capable of hunting mice and other small animals.
However, allowing your cat to catch mice is not the most effective solution for dealing with a rodent infestation. Alone, your cat can make a massive dent in a mouse population. But you may still need to employ other tactics, depending on the severity of your mouse problem.