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You're cuddled up on your cozy couch, waiting for your cat to join you as it does every evening before bed. This time, instead of hopping up on the couch near your shoulder, your cat plops a dead bird on the floor instead. Naturally, your first thoughts will be, "Why does my cat bring me dead animals?" and "How the heck do I stop this?"
Why do cats bring you dead animals? This could be for several reasons. Most cats are motivated by boredom and a nurturing instinct. If your cat doesn't have enough stimulation at home, it may try to make up for it by hunting and bringing its kills home. On the other hand, your cat may just be trying to train you by giving you the chance to kill prey yourself (ugh!).
Since your cat is a predatory species, its hunting instincts are strong. This is why one of the best ways to mitigate its desire to kill is to only encourage these natural behaviors in a safe, controlled environment. See the details below for a deeper understanding of why your cat is bringing you dead animals and how you can stop it.
Why Does My Cat Bring Me Dead Animals?
One of the most important things to remember about your cat is that it is naturally a hunter. This means that if you allow your cat to roam freely outside, it's going to want to look for prey (i.e., squirrels, birds, etc.). Whatever your cat gets its claws on is sure to be a dead animal soon if it didn't already start that way.
Here is where your cat's "gift-giving" habits come into play. Not all cats consume the animals they capture. Instead, many cats kill just for the heck of engaging with this instinct. (This is why it's so 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, cats bring gifts to their human companions to invite them into playtime. Remember that hunting can be a fun activity for your pet (to your cat, it's probably not as gruesome as it seems to you). This means that, to your cat, it's perfectly normal to extend you the invitation to toss around any critters it recently caught. It's just "innocent" fun!
Think about the last time your cat brought you something. You might have muttered like, "Aw, thank you!" in a high-pitched, swoony voice and offered your kitty a few pets. Because of responses like this, cats associate "gifts" with these rewarding behaviors, often leading to playtime or cuddles. So, if your cat needs attention, bringing you a dead animal may be one of its go-to strategies to win some quality time with you.
Why Do Cats Bring Home Live Animals?
Don't be surprised if your cats bring home a live animal, too. Although it may not happen as often as dead things show up in your cat's jaws, it's not unheard of. Cats bring live things home for the same reasons as dead ones. For instance, the cat might merely be motivated by getting your attention. However, since the animal is alive, there's likely another reason.
Living animals are more typical for cats that are feeling quite nurturing, especially with maternal instincts. Young cats learn to hunt by watching other cats (specifically their mother or siblings) pursue and catch other animals, then, of course, by practicing those observed moves themselves.
When a mother cat takes 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 presents an opportunity for trying to teach their young (or you) to catch and kill your own prey. Even though your pet is no longer wild, this evolutionary instinct is still alive and well within it.
Another (less sentimental) reason your cat may be bringing you live animals is simply that it's bored. Cats need to exercise their predatory instincts, which is why toys (such as interactive animals or wand-type toys) that resemble prey behavior are so great. If your cat lacks this kind of stimulation, it may attempt to fill the void by playing with a live rodent, birds, or other animals.
What to Do When Your Cat Brings You a Dead Animal?
Remember that your cat's primary motivations for bringing you dead prey are likely their need for attention or to create stimulation and fun. So, if you continue rewarding this behavior or fail to provide other engaging activities to do around the house, you are essentially encouraging your cat to keep hunting and killing things.
With this in mind, one of the first things you should do when your cat presents you with dead prey is avoid rewarding your cat. For example, imagine that your cat just walked into the house and set a dead mouse at your feet. Instead of thanking and cooing at your cat or petting it, pick up the dead thing 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 more if your cat presents you with a live animal. In this case, you will either need 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 this may come off as a game, further encouraging more incidents like this.
You can do this by closing all the doors and windows to keep your cat from chasing it down again. Try to avoid putting your cat in a carrier at this moment – you don't want to make your cat feel like it's being punished. Most times, it is also best to contact your local pest control department (especially if the animal was a bird). They can ensure that you or your pet were not exposed to an infectious disease.
How Do I Stop My Cat from Bringing Home Dead Animals?
It's best to find ways to prevent your cat from bringing home dead or live animals entirely. This requires behavioral change for both of you. Here are some tips to help you in reducing – and ultimately, eliminating – this behavior:
Don't let your cat outside. The easiest way to grant your cat the opportunity to hunt and bring gifts to you 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.
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.
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 like mouse "whack-a-mole" or taking controlled walks outside, and you'll hardly ever see dead prey presents ever again.
When you take the initiative to change your behavior, your cat's habits will inevitably change, too. In the end – even if you're not bothered by your cat's morbid habits of bring you dead or hurt animals – the above tips are the best courses of action. 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' most feisty companions. Unfortunately, this means that they can get into trouble now and then, leading them to bring home live or dead gifts to their owners.
If this is the case for your cat, it may be bored due to minimal enrichment at home or exhibiting nurturing, maternal behavior. Either way, 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
Jazmin “Sunny” Murphy began writing informal scientific content on nature and animals in 2015. Four years later, she launched her freelance career as a digital content and copywriter. This work merges her academic perspective, rooted in her B.S. Zoology, and professional experience as a veterinary tech, university research assistant, and more with relevant marketing, SEO, and engagement techniques across various industries. Jazmin now covers pet care, pest control, cannabis, outdoor recreation, STEM research and news, and product reviews across several niches.