Often described as the perfect carnivore, cats are designed to hunt small rodents or birds and to eat meat. But why do cats hunt birds even when there is a bowl of kibble waiting at home?
Although domesticated more than 10,000 years ago, cats still possess excellent hunting skills. In fact, these skills and ability to protect food stores from rodents was their ticket into the hearts and homes of people.
While your kitty may seem like a cute cuddly type, in reality, it is a natural-born killer. It is a danger to all mice and birds in sight. The cat’s superb hunting abilities are causing a decrease in wildlife and have allegedly contributed to the extinction of 33 species!
Keep reading to find out why cats hunt birds and what you can do to stop your cat from hunting wildlife.
So, Why Do Cats Hunt Birds?
Compared to other mammals, such as dogs, cats are highly specialized in hunting. This is thought to be the result of indirect mutation which caused their ancestors to lose the ability to taste sugars. Thus reducing their intake of plant foods.
Consequently, their digestive tract evolved to be shorter, too short for digestion of plants. But not so short to prevent rapid movements needed for hunting. Thus, making hunting one of the central behavioral pattern observed in cats.
Cats are predators by nature. So, they will learn to hunt in order to eat and kittens are taught this from a young age. Mother cats bring prey to their kittens to eat, and as they grow they will accompany the mother to the hunt.
Not All Cats Like to Hunt
However, cats who never had the opportunity to hunt early on, never really develop the taste for the sport. Some are even afraid of larger birds and rodents!
But once a cat develops a taste for the hunt – rats, mice, birds, lizards, bugs beware!
Cats will hunt them, like their life depends on it! So much so, that it may have a major impact on the local bird and small mammal population.
Even a full stomach won’t prevent your cat from seeking out the thrill of the hunt! While hunger can increase your cat’s prey drive, most house cats hunt for the thrill, and not food.
In fact, research has shown that hunger and hunting drive in cats are under separate control in the brain.
So even if your cat is eating her favorite canned food, she will stop eating and hunt a bird that’s just passing by.
She will stalk, kill and bring back the unlucky bird and continue her previous meal like nothing happened. Thus, leaving to you to clean the mess and bury the dead “gift”.
How Many Birds Do Cats Kill Each Year?
On average, a domestic cat kills nine birds per year. While this may not seem like a big deal, keep in mind that your kitty is just one of the millions of cats that hunt birds on a regular basis.
According to some estimates, it is believed that cats kill 2.4 billion birds each year in the United States! Two out of three these birds were killed by cats that aren’t owned. Whereas the rest was killed by domesticated and owned cats.
Furthermore, a cat in a village will kill an average of 14 birds, whereas a cat in the city will on average kill only two birds per year.
Can Cats Get Sick from Eating Birds?
While most cats tend to leave the dead bird and plucked feathers as “gifts” for you to clean, others will remove the evidence by eating it!
In the latter case, the cat will be at risk of picking up diseases from his feathered victim. Cats who eat birds can catch the diseases listed below.
Cats can get Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite responsible for Toxoplasmosis by eating infected birds. However, the worst thing about Toxoplasmosis is that it can transferred to you or other members of your family.
While most cats remain asymptomatic even as carriers, some might experience diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, loss of appetite and fever. If you suspect that your cat is infected, take her to the vet as soon as possible.
Toxoplasmosis is potentially dangerous for pregnant women and can lead to birth complications.
Since this parasite is passed on from cat to human via close contact with infected poop, it is best that expecting mothers avoid cleaning the cat’s litter box.
Cats can be exposed to Salmonella from catching and eating sick birds or healthy birds that are carriers of this bacteria. Salmonellosis in cats is also known as songbird fever, and infected cats can pass it to their owners as well.
Symptoms associated with Salmonellosis in cats are fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea that may have blood in it. Cats can be sick for a couple of days to a week. Treatment includes supportive care and in some cases antibiotics.
Although most cats make a full recovery, this condition can be fatal for very young or older cats. Therefore, try to prevent your kitty from hunting and eating birds.
If you’ve ever seen rice-like particles around your kitty’s rump, you are familiar with tapeworms.
Cats generally pick up tapeworms from fleas but can get them from eating infected birds. Tapeworms will feed on nutrients inside your cat’s body, causing her to lose weight and develop a sick look.
Although over-the-counter deworming treatments are available, you should take your kitty to a vet to get a prescription.
How to Stop Your Cat from Hunting Birds?
Now that you know why cats hunt birds, lets find out how we can stop them from doing so. Besides potentially endangering local wildlife, a cat that hunts and eats birds can become very sick. And as explained above, it can make their human companions sick too.
Thus, it is your job to learn how to curb your cat’s predatory instincts. So here are a few helpful tips.
Using a Bell Collar
Getting a bell collar for your cat is the first thing you should try to lower her success rate in hunting birds. The collar will give out a warning to any prey that your cat is trying to get to them.
However, while effective, this approach doesn’t always work since some cats manage to tear the bell off.
Try to Keep Your Cat Indoors Only
By keeping your cat indoors, you won’t have to worry about her hunting and eating birds or other rodents at all.
Furthermore, indoors only cats live longer! Compared to cats that are allowed to go out of the house, they are less likely to become sick, get stolen or hit by a car. And your kitty can lead a normal and happy life without missing a thing even if she never ventures outdoors.
Get an Outdoor Enclosure
If you can’t get your cat to stay indoors regardless of your best efforts, get her an outdoor containment system. This way your cat will still get a chance to be outside without posing a danger to birds and other wildlife.
Always Keep Your Cat Well-fed
Make sure to feed your kitty with adequate cat food that will keep her full and energized. Thus, she will not out to search for an extra snack.
Feeding your cat well will also encourage her to stay close to home and be less likely to wander off to a bird-killing spree!
Get BirdSafe Collar
Designed to warn birds of a cat’s presence this colorful collar is a great option if your cat can’t stay indoors. The BirdSafe Collar is made to be comfortable for your cat to wear and won’t disrupt her regular routine in any way.
Spend Time Playing with Your Cat
Play with your cat at home every day to reduce her hunting instinct! Daily play sessions will provide the much needed physical and mental stimulation for cats.
Use feather toys, string and balls to encourage your cat to stalk, pounce and ‘kill’ her prey at home. Thus, minimizing her needs to go out and kill a real bird.
So, why do cats hunt birds? To put it simply, cats are born with a strong predatory drive and are hard-wired to hunt smaller prey.
Even if your cat eats well at home, she will have the urge to hunt birds just for the thrill of it. While you will never curb your cat’s hunting instincts completely, you should do everything you can to stop her from killing and eating birds.
Cats can get seriously sick from eating birds and can even transmit those diseases to you! Therefore, try to keep your cat indoors only – her health and local bird population depend on it!