Predator or Prey?
Q&A with Pet Expert Arden Moore
For Pets Best Insurance
Q. My three cats seem to enjoy batting around toy mice and chasing the feathers on a wand toy. Why is their hunting instinct so strong after they have been domesticated for thousands of years?
A. While we usually think of cats as mighty hunters, they actually fill the role of both prey and predator, depending on the other species involved. Let’s start with the predator part. All cats, from a mighty lion to that sweet kitty on your lap, are genetically programmed to hunt. In keeping with their size, cats focus on small mammals and birds. Interestingly, most biologists regard cats as small mammal experts and bird opportunists because cats tend not to be very good at catching birds unless the birds are sick, young or ground nesting.
Predator behavior is mostly innate, and kittens early on show a tendency to chase moving objects and to pound on littermates. Just like us, they learn through trial and error, and their play sessions help them increase their speed and refine their leaping abilities.
Their moms also teach them by example. Outdoor cats often bring home a dead mouse or bird to their litter and eat it in front of the kittens to demonstrated needed behaviors. She will then present a dead animal to the kittens to eat themselves, and finally, will bring home a nearly dead creature for the kittens to finish off. These experiences hone their hunting and killing skills. For indoor cats, the prey happens to be a store-bought toy or perhaps your pink slipper. But the lessons learned are the same, and many cats who never see a mouse or a bird until adulthood quickly figure out how to catch and kill their prey.
When the tables are turned and cats become the prey, they tap into their survival skills and the fight-or-flight mind-set. Outdoor cats are at risk not only from neighborhood dogs; even in suburban areas they often fall victim to coyotes, hawks, and other predators. Their first response is usually to flee if at all possible, either diving into a hiding place or scooting up a tree. A cornered cat can fight fiercely, however, as many a startled (and scratched) dog has discovered. The very tools that make them effective predators become their best defense. That must be where the phrase, “to fight tooth and claw” comes from!
Confounded by your canine? Frustrated by your feline? Relax. Pet expert Arden Moore is here to deliver the real truth about cats, dogs…and you with her column appropriately called, “Oh Behave!”
On a regular basis, Arden will unleash excerpts from her two award-winning books, The Dog Behavior Answer Book (named the top training and behavior book by the Dog Writers Association of America) and The Cat Behavior Answer Book (named the top training and behavior book by the Cat Writers Association). Learn more about Moore, who hosts the “Oh Behave!” show on Pet Life Radio (www.petliferadio.com) – the No. 1 pet podcast in the world — by visiting her Four Legged Life website (www.fourleggedlife.com).