Skip to main content

How to deal when your cat brings you dead animals

We understand. You love your cat, and you feed her well. So, when your cat decides to catch and kill a mouse or other small animal, it can be hard to comprehend, especially when she brings the catch to you and lays it, with pride, at your feet.

Why would a well-fed, well-loved member of the family choose to behave like this? Cats think a dead mouse is a gift, even though it’s not one their human family members typically appreciate. You can’t stop the habit completely, but here are some tips to slow down the constant parade of dead animals into your home.

gray cat on hunt in grass
Image used with permission by copyright holder

About that cat of yours

She’s a natural hunter. The instinct to eye, stalk, pounce, grab, and then kill is innate. In fact, early accounts of human and cat interaction suggest that Egyptians partnered with wildcats because they kept their granaries free from rodents.

Cats were eventually domesticated by the Egyptians as early as 1500 B.C. and proclaimed sacred animals in the fifth and sixth dynasties. Some say, based on ancient Egyptian drawings, that the tabby cat may be a direct descendant.

Millennia later, these true carnivores still thrive on hunting and killing their meals, no matter how tame they’ve become. Cats need to eat meat to survive. That’s why commercial cat food contains taurine, an amino acid found in animal proteins that is necessary for the health of your cat’s vision, digestion, heart muscles, and immune system.

Why do cats bring you dead animals?

It’s a gift in the truest sense. Your cat considers you family, and as such, it’s her responsibility to provide for you. It’s also her way of teaching you how to hunt for yourself.

One of the ways cats in the wild — big and small — teach their young survival skills is by bringing home injured or dead animals. Domesticated cats like yours are still natural parents and teachers. Even if she’s spayed or never had a litter of kittens, your female cat may still exhibit these natural tendencies with her adopted human family.

Besides, it’s fun. What good is having all this talent if you can’t exercise it? Stalking, chasing, and pouncing are all elements of cat play. Expensive catnip and wand toys aside, the thrill of actually chasing and catching a live object is much more exciting. Her offering may merely be a way of showing you her latest trophy so that you can praise her as a mighty huntress.

gray cat with little mouse

How to decrease the slaughter

Although receiving dead animals as gifts is unsavory at best, realize your cat is happy and healthy. And she loves you. Her constant gifts are simply her way of exercising the hunting-and-providing characteristics her ancestors have passed along.

Since these are highly evolved tendencies, trying to completely squelch this behavior could be stressful for your cat (and totally frustrating for you). Instead, look for ways to minimize the risk to the small animals in your yard while exercising your cat’s instinct to hunt and provide. Here are a few tips:

  • Put a bell on her collar. This will make it more difficult for her to sneak up on birds and rodents in the first place.
  • Keep your cat inside just before sunrise and sunset. That’s when small rodents are most likely to be out and about.
  • Restrict access to any bird feeders or birdbaths in your yard. Place them in areas she can’t get to or at a height she won’t attempt to reach.
  • Keep rodents out of her space. Check the interior and exterior of your home for any holes or spaces where they might enter. Store all food in airtight containers to prevent temptation and infestation.
  • Fulfill her need to chase and capture with interactive toys. Wand and kick toys that satisfy her prey drive are good ways to indulge her natural urges without causing harm to another living animal.

So, how should you accept future gifts? Graciously, especially when they come from your well-meaning cat. Praise her, then discreetly dispose of it as soon as possible. Whether the gift is parental, charitable, or simply instinctual, it’s a natural part of being a cat she simply can’t ignore.

Plus, she’s right, you know. You probably aren’t any good at catching birds and small rodents. And, most certainly, your cat wouldn’t understand your explanation about not wanting to learn in the first place. We suggest you “agree to disagree” on this matter. Resolve to implement our strategies for minimizing the number of future incidents and concentrate instead on enjoying your kitty’s other, more redeeming qualities.

Editors' Recommendations

Debbie Clason
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Debbie Clason's work has appeared in Family Life Magazine, Sports Illustrated, The Lutheran Witness, Massage Magazine…
Why do cats’ eyes dilate? What your pet’s extra big peepers mean
Your cat might have big eyes because of darkness, excitement, or surprise
A cat snuggling on a person's chest

Sometimes you come home to a dark house, and through the pitch black of your living room, you spy two big round orbs. While it might look Halloweeny at first glance, this is actually just how your cat sees things. Cat's eyes seem to glow at night because they reflect light, a lot more than ours do in any case. Just as with other animals, you will see a kitty's eyes dilate, but what is your cat's pupils meaning? We'll walk through what your pet's eyes tell you about their feelings and physical state and when you need to step in and get your cat to a vet.
What does it mean when cats' pupils get big?

Big eyes on your cat could mean a few different things, some physical and some emotional. Rarely, you may find that your cat has a larger issue since occasionally dilated pupils can be medical in nature (we'll go into this more later). Fortunately, it generally doesn't have to do with any underlying condition and instead has everything to do with the current situation. Here are some reasons your cat might have extra large peepers.
They're hunting
Cats love to hunt and frequently do so at dawn and dusk — both inside your home and out of it. Your pet might not literally be hunting for prey, but they could still enjoy stalking their toys or food. When they're in hunting mode, you may see extra big eyeballs staring at the object of their interest.
It's dark outside
When you spend time in a dark room or outside at night, you'll almost certainly notice your own pupils get bigger. That's because our eyes open up to let in more light and allow us to see better. It's the same with your cat but theirs tend to stand out a bit more in part because of the prior mentioned reflectivity.
Something surprised them
If you've ever heard of eyes widening with surprise, this is what we're talking about. From a physical perspective, your globes are attempting to take in everything as quickly as possible, because this surprise could mean a bad thing. A wild cat could get startled by a predator for example and need that info to find a way to safety.
They feel anxious
You may discover that your cat has eyes that seem to dilate under certain conditions or more frequently than usual. It might mean they're experiencing some anxiety and want to destress. Ensure there is somewhere in your house where they feel secure and that the day-to-day routine suits their needs.
They're aggressive
Sometimes you might see your cat's eyes turn to slits before they get into a fight with another cat because narrowing the opening can help them protect their sensitive ocular region. On the other hand, having wide-open eyes gives your feline more information about their opponent. Pay attention to other signs of aggression, which will help you determine if this is causing the widening.
When do dilated pupils indicate a medical issue?

Read more
These useful tips can help you support your senior cat’s health
You'll have to pay special attention as your kitty gets older
Senior cat sleeping on a cat tree perch

If you're fortunate, you'll get to watch your cat age and progress through her senior years. But senior cats have different health needs than younger ones do, so the way you care for your aging cat will need to change in different ways, as well.
With certain health conditions becoming more likely in older kitties, staying on top of your cat's wellness becomes extra important. This may mean some additional time and vigilance, as well as more frequent trips to the vet. When you provide your pet with top-quality care, you can support her health and comfort as she moves through her golden years.

At what age is a cat a senior?

Read more
Cats chirping at birds is totally normal (and here’s why you should encourage it)
This adorable hunting behavior is nothing to be concerned about
A tabby cat with yellow eyes stalks low to the ground

Have you ever spied on your cat looking out the window, crouched and zoned in as if they're getting ready to hunt? This behavior is common among cats -- they're predators, after all -- but some felines even chirp at birds, squirrels, and other small animals. What exactly does this mean? You may hear these chirps and chatters while your furry friend is playing, lounging around, or even in hunting mode, and it's only natural to have questions.
This one is for cat owners who wonder, "Why do cats chirp at birds?" We'll review the reasons why kitties make this sound at birds and other small animals, as well as what -- if anything -- you should do about it. Odds are, these answers will make you smile.

Why do cats chirp at birds?

Read more