Do Cats Like to Hunt? (The Detailed Answer)


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I have read articles and research to determine my best answer to the question “do cats like to hunt?” It turns out there is a considerable amount written about why cats hunt, and how this need to hunt affects both indoor and outdoor cats.

It is inconclusive if cats like to hunt. However, domestic cats have evolutionary traits that drive them to hunt. Research shows that domestic cats are excellent hunters and they will hunt even if they have already fed. 

Were you hoping for a more definitive answer on the question “do cats like to hunt?” From what I have read, the research is not in a position yet to make that determination, but there are many interesting related conclusions and my own observations with my cat, Charlotte. Keep reading below to learn more!

The Truth About Cats Enjoying Hunting

I found a load of information describing how and why domestic cats like to hunt. This information clarifies more about domestic cats and hunting. This topic on cats is fascinating and closely related to the topic of this post, but it was challenging finding more information on if cats like to hunt.

I was able to find some information to help us start forming a decision on if cats like to hunt. Cats International wrote that “after a successful hunt for mice or a toy, many cats engage in a tension releasing dance.” This is interesting because humans usually associate dancing with enjoyment. When it comes to cats though, we should not humanize their actions and instead need to use real data.

In addition to this, Purina states that “cat hunting is more about fun and entertainment.” But the evidence Purina cites to support this is just evidence that a cat is powerless against its evolutionary code that is “hardwired into their brains.”

There is also much observation of cats hunting and then playing with their prey. International Cat Care says that studies have shown that this is due to the level of fear a cat has of injury, and that when a cat fears injury more it will play with the prey more.

So, based on all this information, we must say that it is inconclusive if cats actually enjoy hunting.

Evolutionary Traits That Make Cats Excellent Hunters

My research has told me that domestic cats hunt because they have evolutionary traits that give them an innate drive to hunt prey. Cats International says that “the hunting instinct is buried deeply in the mind of even the youngest kittens.”

If you own a cat, this will not surprise you since you have likely seen a cat stalk or pounce on a toy or maybe your foot.

Cats International goes on to say that “cats are most active in the morning and evening (dawn and twilight) – the prime hunting hours.” The reason for this is evolutionary traits that have been passed down over the years.

National Geographic reinforces the evolutionary point by stating that cats “are particularly effective at night” with their “light-reflecting eyes” and “acute hearing.”

The hunting ability of domestic cats also makes them remarkably like wild animals. National Geographic goes on to say that “like their wild relatives, domestic cats are natural hunters able to stalk prey and pounce with sharp claws and teeth.” It is amazing that our furry friends are built with the ability to hunt like this.

Charlotte After Hunting Toy Balls

Do Indoor Cats Like to Hunt?

Indoor domestic cats are quite playful, and I have witnessed them exhibit hunting skills inside a house. My own cat, Charlotte, loves to hide and jump out at me. She also likes to chase after my ankles and gently pat them from behind to let me know she got me.

I know that Charlotte’s indoor hunting behavior is likely filling the need of hers to use these skills and not necessarily enjoyment like a human might have doing something fun. It is still fun for me to watch though. I get a kick out of it.

There are things that indoor domestic cat owners like me can do to help nurture the innate hunting needs of a cat. International Cat Care says that cats are “inherently neophilic which means they like to try new and different foods and enjoy variety.” This means as cat owners we should try and mix up our cat’s foods every once and a while.

Obviously, it goes without saying (although I’m saying it!) that if you are thinking of mixing up your cat’s foods you should consult your veterinarian since this could have health or nutrition implications for your cat.

We can also play with our cats to nurture their need to be hunters. Catster does a great job breaking down ways that cat owners can do this:

  •   Set up a nice spot so your cat can watch birds or squirrels outside
  •   Motorized toys that move
  •   Toys that release food when a cat plays with them
  •   Feather wands
  •   Laser pointers, ending the session pointed on a toy the cat can grab

Do Outdoor Cats Like to Hunt?

The evidence is also inconclusive on whether outdoor domestic cats like to hunt. One thing is for sure though – outdoor domestic cats are good at hunting. The New York Times states that the domestic cat is positioned “as one of the single greatest human-linked threats to wildlife in the nation.”  This is because cats can be very effective hunters in just a small area of land.

The New York Times also said that “even fed cats are profoundly tuned to the hunt, and when they see something flutter, they can’t help but move in for the kill.” This speaks back to the evolutionary needs a cat has while also speaking to the effectiveness of cat hunting.

I witnessed a neighbor’s domestic cat hunting outside. Some birds had gathered in between our townhouses and I had no idea the cat was even in the area. I did not see him at all. He was there in the bushes though. I heard a huge fluttering from the birds and looked back and saw this cat leap in the air with his paws stretched out and he successfully caught this bird and ran off.

I think with all this information that I dug up we have been able to determine that it’s possible cats like to hunt, but we need more information on what is going on in their heads.

The plethora of evidence out there points towards it being more of an evolutionary need to hunt and it’s just not possible to definitively say that cats enjoy hunting.

It will be interesting to see if there are any future scientific studies that will ethically examine exactly what goes on inside a cat’s brain when they are conducting hunting activities and capturing prey.

Please check out the references as they were critical to this article and they were a blast to read.

References:

  1. Cats International.  “Amazing Cat Facts.”
  2. Paws.org.  “Keeping your cat happy indoors”
  3. National Geographic.  “Animals.  Reference.  Domestic Cat.”
  4. Purina.  “Cat Hunting Behaviors”
  5. International Cat Care.  “Understanding the Hunting Behavior of Cats:  An Introduction.”
  6. New York Times.  “That Cuddly Kitty is Deadlier Than You Think”
  7. Catster.  “How to Satisfy Cat Hunting Instincts Appropriately”

Christopher Carlson

I have an Domestic Shorthair Tabby named Charlotte. She is full of energy when she isn't sleeping most of the day. I share what I learn about cats on this site.

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