Why Do Cats Bring You Dead Animals?
By Chyrle Bonk, DVM July 10, 2019
Contrary to what some people may think, cats love to share. They share their hairballs, their homes, and even their affection. Some cats also like to share their latest kill with you. While dead animals may not be something that you’re fond of, the fact that your cat brought it to you is worthy of noting. Your kitty isn’t trying to gross you out. There are some deeper meanings behind their dead animal 'gifts.'
Why Do Cats Bring You Dead Animals?
Bringing dead animals back to a cat’s family is an instinctual practice that goes back to their hunting days. Cats routinely brought dead or near-dead animals back to the colony to provide sustenance, to teach hunting skills, or to show it off. By bringing you dead animals, your cat is trying to show you that you are an important part of their family.
Just because your kitty is lucky enough to have the shelter and comfort of a home and the reliability of you as a cat parent to feed them and care for them, doesn’t mean that the desire and drive for them to hunt has disappeared from their instincts. The desire to hunt also includes the need to bring their captured prey back to their colony. Cats that hunt for survival in the wild or in a feral situation still practice this skill for a variety of reasons.
- Feeding the Family
Mother cats will hunt and bring the kill back to feed their hungry kittens. Mama cats aren’t the only ones that do this however. Other cats in a colony may hunt and share their spoils with the rest of their family, especially in times of need.
- Teaching Skills
Bringing back dead animals is also a great way to teach young kittens hunting skills in a cat colony. You may notice that your cat sometimes bring you dead or injured animals. These animals are meant to help cats pass on the hunting tradition.
Since most of our domestic feline friends don’t need to hunt to survive anymore, they may be more into hunting as a form of recreation. Kitties need mental stimulation, and nothing is better to them than the chase and stimulation that hunting provides. With no hunger motivation behind their need to hunt, the prey typically doesn’t mean anything to them other than to show you what they have done.
- Include You
Again, bringing dead animals back to a cat colony is a hunting cat’s way of taking care of their family. While you’re unlikely to eat that dead animal for dinner or to use it as a hunting training tool, your cat doesn’t know that. Your cat just thinks that they’re taking care of one of their family members.
- A Safe Place to Snack
A much lesser reason your kitty may be presenting you with these gory gifts is that they’re simply looking for a safer place to eat it. As fierce hunters as they are, cats are also a prey species. It’s not always safe to consume their prey out in the open, so they may seek the safety of your doorstep, living room, or bed to devour their meal.
What To Do If Your Cat Brings You a Dead Animal
There are many ways of receiving these dead animal gifts that your cat brings you. Let’s first look at the right way to react when you find one on your floor or bed. Hopefully, your cat chooses to bring you a perfectly dead animal rather than one that is capable of getting loose in your house. For animals that are already dead, be sure to put your kitty in another room so that they can’t see you disposing of their hard-earned treasure. If your cat sees you doing this, they may do a better job of hiding it the next time around.
It’s best to wear gloves when picking up any dead critter since wild animals may carry diseases that you don’t want to get. Put the animal in a plastic bag. Seal or tie it up, and put it in an outside trash can, preferably on trash day. This will help avoid odors and your cat from ‘re-catching’ it. Clean the surface with a disinfectant that is safe for the surface and for your cat. Congratulate your feline friend, and move on with your day.
If your kitty has a propensity for bringing in animals that aren’t quite dead, you may want to keep better track of their comings and goings. If you have a cat door, think about locking it so that your cat has to ask to come in. That way, you can see exactly what your cat has and allow them to leave their gifts outside.
Another problem may arise if your cat won’t drop the gift. Instead, your cat insists on carrying it around in their mouth. If you want your cat to drop the gift, then use the gift exchange method. You can encourage them to let go by offering them a treat of some kind. Consider a special toy, kibble, or catnip in exchange for the dead animal.
What Not To Do If Your Cat Brings You a Dead Animal
As much as you might disapprove of your kitty’s gifting habits, there are some things that you shouldn’t do when presented with a dead animal from your cat. First of all, if your cat has been allowed to go outdoors in the past, then chances are keeping them inside all of the time isn’t going to go very well. They may drive you crazy trying to get outside or try to escape in an unsafe way. Getting rid of their outside time probably won’t work.
You should also avoid taking the dead animal away from them if they aren’t ready to give it up. This may end up in a squabble with the one having the sharpest teeth and claws winning. Instead, wait for them to drop it on their own or employ the gift exchange method mentioned previously.
When disposing of a dead animal, you shouldn’t touch it with your bare hands if that is possible. Moreover, don’t dispose of the dead animal by burying it as this can further the game for your cat by allowing them to reoffer the gift several days later.
Punishing your cat for bringing you dead animals is not productive because the behavior stems from their natural instincts. This isn’t something that should be curbed. Instead, you can try to foster that behavior in other ways that leave you with fewer dead animals to worry about.
How To Stop Your Cat From Bringing Home Dead Animals
As we said before, you don’t want to stop your cat’s natural hunting behavior, but you can slightly modify it to help keep things a little more clean. Use toys that enable the stalk and chase behavior that your cat is looking for during hunting. Feather wand toys are great for encouraging pouncing, running, and jumping. Interactive toys like motorized mice will also fulfill that urge. Since your cat considers you part of their family, anytime that you play with them is an extra bonus. If they aren’t allowed to bring you a dead animal to show they care, then let them show you through play.
Your Cat May Bring You Other Things As Well
If your kitty isn’t allowed outdoors, you can still be the willing recipient of many gifts. Since house cats aren’t given access to hunt animals, they may use other objects as stand-ins. Your cat may choose to bring you their favorite toys. Not only are they trying to start a game with you, they are using it to teach you how to 'hunt.' It may be their form of sharing as well, and we all know that sharing is caring! Other objects can be used instead of toys. Things like socks, dryer sheets, and other clothing will help fill that need. Anything that is small enough to be carried around can be considered prey in a kitty’s mind.
We touched on the live animal subject earlier, but cats will also bring critters that are still breathing. Again, this is their ramped up version of trying to teach their family survival skills to ensure that the family thrives. They don’t want you to be left out of the learning experience.
Even though our kitties may rely on us for everyday comforts, that doesn’t mean their desire to hunt is any less subdued than a lion in the savanna. Bringing you dead animals is their way of providing for you, their family, and to teach you the necessary life skills that they don’t know you don’t require. If dead animals aren’t your idea of nice front porch décor, rather than squashing your cat’s hunting behavior, you can try to redirect it through play. Your kitty is trying to show your importance to them with these gifts; you can reciprocate by spending time with them.