Why Do Cats Bring You Dead Animals? | Catzio

Why Do Cats Bring You Dead Animals?

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  1. Why Does My Cat Bring Me Dead Animals?
  2. What to Do When Your Cat Brings You a Dead Animal
  3. How Do I Stop My Cat from Bringing Home Dead Animals?
  4. Keep Your Home Free of Dead Animals with Exercise and Enrichment

 

You’re cuddled up on your cozy couch, waiting for your cat to join you.. But this time, instead of hopping up on the couch by your shoulder or onto your lap, your cat plops a dead bird on the floor. Naturally, your first thought might be, ”Why did my cat bring me a dead animal and how do I stop it?” Well, just like many other things in life: It depends.  

Why do cats bring you dead animals? The most common motivators are boredom and nurturing instincts. If your cat doesn’t have enough stimulation at home, it may try to make up for it by hunting and bringing its prey home. On the other hand, your cat might just be trying to train you by giving you the chance to kill prey yourself (bleh).

Since your cat is a natural predator, its hunting instincts are strong. So, one of the best things you can do to mitigate its desire to kill is contain these natural behaviors in a safe, controlled environment, either in the home or an outdoor catio. It’s also best to manage your cat’s behavior with regular walks a balanced diet. You can manage it all and say goodbye to the dead animals at your door by using the guide below.

Why Does My Cat Bring Me Dead Animals?

One of the most important things you need to remember about your cat is that it is a natural hunter. This is why allowing your cat to roam freely outside is so risky. A cat that has free reign of the neighborhood will instinctively look for prey (i.e., squirrels, birds, etc.) in and around its territory, whether it’s fed or not. And whatever your cat gets its claws on is sure to be a dead animal soon if it didn’t already start that way. 

A cat sits in the street beside the overlaying title, "Indoor vs. Outdoor Cats..."

 

This is why cats bringing gifts home is so common. Not all cats eat the animals they capture. Instead, many cats kill just for the heck of engaging with this instinct.

(Because so many cats leave their dead or injured prey behind, it’s common to find dead birds and mice in your yard or neighborhood.) If your cat keeps its trophy in one piece, it may be tempted to bring it home as a kind of social behavior.

Usually, domestic pets will bring items to their human companions to invite them to play or bond. To your cat, it’s perfectly normal to extend you an invitation to toss around any recently-captured animals. It’s just “innocent” fun!

Think about the last time your cat brought you something. You might have muttered, “Aw, thank you!” in a high-pitched, swoony voice and offered your kitty a few pets. And when a cat brings you a mouse only to be met with rewards, playtime, or cuddles, this forms a positive feedback loop, further motivating the cat to hunt and kill even more. So,  bringing you dead animals turns out to be one of the best ways to earn your affection and praise, in your cat’s mind.

 

Why Do Cats Bring Home Live Animals?

Don’t be surprised if your cat brings home a live animal, too. It may not happen as often as dead things show up in your cat’s jaws, but it’s not unheard of. And it often happens for many of the same reasons. But the fact that the animal is alive signals another possible motivation.

Live animals are more typical for cats that are feeling nurturing, or maternal, in particular. Kittens learn to hunt by watching other cats (specifically their mother or siblings) pursue and capture other animals, then, of course, by practicing those observed moves themselves.

When a mother cat brings her incapacitated prey back home, she can help them improve her kittens’ ability to fend for themselves in the wild. This is called “opportunity teaching,” meaning the cat brings you (or its kittens) an opportunity to catch and kill your own prey. Even though your cat is no longer wild, this evolutionary instinct is still alive and well.

 

 

Another less sentimental reason your cat might bring you live animals is simply that it’s bored. Cats need an outlet for their predatory instincts, which is interactive toys that resemble prey behavior—such as an automatic flipper fish or chase toys—are so great. If your cat lacks adequate stimulation, it may attempt to fill the void by playing with live rodents, birds, or other animals.

What to Do When Your Cat Brings You a Dead Animal

One of the first things you should do when your cat brings you a dead animal is avoid rewarding the behavior. So, instead of thanking your cat or petting it the next time it drops a bundle of fur or feathers at your feet, pick up the dead animal safely and dispose of it. Don’t give your cat any attention that would suggest their behavior was desirable.

You’ll need to do a bit of extra work if your cat gifts you a live animal. You’ll likely have to dispose of the animal or set it free back outside, far away from your home. Additionally, make sure that your cat can’t immediately recapture it, as your cat might perceive your actions as a game, further encouraging more hunting like a long-haul game of fetch.

Close all the doors and windows to keep your cat from chasing it down again and only allow controlled outdoor enrichment from then on. Apart from that, try to avoid whipping out the carrier the moment your cat arrives with a dead mouse or bird. Not only will this form negative associations with the carrier, but a punishment as harsh as isolation isn’t fair for a behavior that comes naturally to your cat.

Finally, it’s also a good idea to contact your local pest control department (especially if the animal was a bird). They can ensure that you or your cat were not exposed to an infectious disease.

How Do I Stop My Cat from Bringing Home Dead Animals?  

Ideally, you can get ahead of the problem and find ways to prevent your cat from bringing home dead or live animals at all. This requires behavioral change for both of you. Here are some tips to help you in preventing unwanted hunting:

  1. Don’t let your cat outside unsupervised/uncontrolled. The easiest way to grant your cat the opportunity to hunt and bring you dead or live animals is to keep it from going outside unsupervised to begin with. When you think your cat needs more time outdoors, secure it on a leash to prevent any unwanted hunting or let it relax in a catio.
  2. Improve your cat’s diet. In a 2019 study on domestic cat hunting behavior, researchers listed “dietary factors” as one of the main, indirect elements owners can use to reduce cats’ destructive habits. Since some cats hunt out of a desire for greater variability in their daily meals, a break from routine with healthy alternatives will help quell their need to pursue prey.
  3. Boost your cat’s home enrichment. As mentioned above, some cats hunt animals out of sheer boredom. Because of this, quality time with you can go a long way in changing your cat’s behavior. Spend more time with your cat playing games with wand toys and plush mice or taking controlled walks outside, and you’ll hardly ever see dead animal gifts ever again.

Keep Your Home Free of Dead Animals with Exercise and Enrichment

When you take the initiative to change your behavior, your cat’s habits will inevitably change, too. And the effort is well worth it. Less hunting reduces your cat’s chances of contracting various diseases and protects your local wildlife at the same time.

It’s no secret that cats are some of humans’ feistiest companions. Unfortunately, this means that they can get into trouble now and then, leading to cats bringing gifts of dead or live animals to their owners’ homes.

If your cat is guilty of this, it might be bored due to minimal enrichment at home, trying to supplement an inefficient diet, exhibiting nurturing, maternal behavior, or generally trying to socialize with or impress you. In any case, it’s best to initiate behavioral change by keeping your cat inside, offering a healthy, flavorful diet, and buying toys to keep it happily entertained.


About the Author

My name is Jazmin "Sunny" Murphy, and I am a science communicator and web content writer. Since 2015, I've been producing scientific content that is written in plain English. My love for life science has influenced my professional and academic aspirations since I was a kid. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Zoology and 21 units of a Master's education in Environmental Policy & Management (concentration: Fish and Wildlife Management). You can learn more about me and my science writing and reporting work at my website, Black Flower Writing Services.

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