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Why do Cats Bring Their Owners “Gifts” of Dead Animals?

Picture of a grey cat hunting outside

If you have a cat that spends any time outside, you might have been the recipient of a “gift” of a dead animal from her at one time or another. Even indoor cats have been known to leave “gifts” that they have found in the house for their owners. Why do cats bring their owners “gifts” of dead animals? Cats possess a strong hunting instinct and are still quite proud of their ability to feed loved ones (namely, you, their owner). Here we will discuss some of the reasons why cats leave such gifts for their owners.

The Hunting Instinct is Strong

Even though cats were domesticated over 10,000 years ago, they still possess a strong innate hunting instinct. This is evident if you have ever seen your indoor cat “stalk” a bird that’s just outside the window. Cats have that strong urge to hunt and chase prey. If your cat actually catches something that it sees as “prey,” she might “show off” her catch to you, her owner, by bringing it to you as a gift.

Cats were also used to feeding their loved ones when they lived in the wild, and that instinct remains alive and well in today’s domesticated cats. If a cat brings its owner a gift of a dead (or sometimes still alive) animal, the cat is showing that she considers you to be part of her circle of loved ones, her family. She is making sure that you have enough to eat and survive, just as she would do with her family in the wild. Your cat is also trying to make sure that you learn from her how to hunt and kill prey, just as she would teach you if you were her kitten.

Some cats will bring gifts of inedible items to their owners, also because of this innate hunting instinct. It doesn’t matter if the gift was ever living or if it’s simply a toy or a ball, the meaning is the same – your cat is showing her love for you, her owner, by giving you this gift.

How Can I Keep My Indoor Cat from Killing Other Living Things?

Picture of a cat looking at a mouse

If you want to prevent this type of behavior in an indoor cat, the best thing to do is to provide her with plenty of toys. Her prey drive will then be redirected into a play drive, which will satisfy her hunting instinct. Toys that a cat must chase work best in this endeavor – anything that your cat will want to try to catch, such as a feather wand, ball, or moving toy, is good to redirect her energy and instinctual drive.

Spend a certain amount of each day playing with your indoor kitty to satisfy her prey drive and turn it into a play drive. This will provide much-needed exercise for your indoor cat as well as redirect her urge to hunt (and it can also curb other unwanted behaviors your cat might engage in, such as climbing curtains or attacking your empty shoes or bare feet). Doing this will also spare anything that might be living inside your home from becoming kitty’s prey.

How Can I Keep My Outdoor Cat from Killing Other Living Things?

Outdoor cats can be a bigger problem when it comes to killing living things and bringing them to you, the owner, as gifts. The prey drive is stronger in an outdoor cat as they are exposed to other living things all the time. Many cat owners complain that their outdoor (or part-time outdoor) cats kill birds, small rodents and other wildlife in the area. Peter Marra, director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, says that cats kill from one to four billion birds each year in the United States, and are responsible for the extinctions of 33 species of birds. One-third of the 800 native bird species in the United States are currently endangered or threatened. So this is a serious problem.

Of course, the best way to keep your outdoor cat from killing other living things is to make him a full-time indoor cat. In this way, your feline cannot endanger any wildlife.

If this is not an option for you, however, there are other things that you can do to prevent outdoor cats from killing birds and wildlife. One way to keep your outdoor cat from killing other living things and bringing them to you as gifts is to put a bell on her collar (make sure it’s a breakaway collar, of course, so that your cat can’t get hung up on a branch or something and inadvertently kill itself).  There are also special collar covers, called Birdsbesafe, that are designed so that birds can see cats from far enough away that they can escape from them before they become prey.

Another thing that cat owners can do is to install an in-ground electric fence. This is paired with a collar that your cat wears, and can help to keep your kitty safely in your yard and away from wildlife outside of the fence’s borders. Pet Safe makes a good in-ground fence package. Remember, some disgruntled neighbors have been known to shoot other people’s cats, even with BB guns, injuring or even killing them. Keeping your cat on your property is always a good idea.

A final reminder and way to keep your cat from creating more kitties that will become hunters is to have your cats spayed or neutered. In this way, your feline hunter won’t be propagating its species and making more feline hunters to endanger more wildlife. A bonus to you, the cat owner: neutered male cats tend to stay closer to home, be less aggressive, and spray urine less often. He will also be less likely to bring you dead animals as gifts!

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