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Why Do Cats Play With Their Prey?

Cats are undoubtedly cute and cuddly animals. But don’t be completely fooled by appearances. Cats can turn into unforgiving hunting machines, chasing rodents until they capture and kill them.

Sometimes a cat will seemingly play with her prey before giving the fatal bite. There are a few different theories surrounding why cats enjoy torturing their prey.

A young white kitten playing with a toy mouse
A young white kitten playing with a toy mouse

1. They Never Learnt How To Kill

Cats learn hunting instincts like stalking and grappling from vigorous play sessions with their littermates. What they don’t learn is how to deliver the fatal blow. In the wild a mother cat may bring a mouse or other prey back to her kittens and deliver the fatal bite in front of them. In a domestic cat this will rarely happen, so it can be hypothesised that domestic cats never learn how to kill.

2. They Don’t Need To Kill

Domestic cats will rarely hunt for food. Their natural instincts to hunt are still there, but they prefer the chase rather than the catch. They may see killing their prey as the end to a game that they wish to keep on playing. By releasing, re-catching and tossing around their prey they maximise the enjoyment they get from the catch.

3. Risk Of Injury

To deliver a fatal bite the cat must sever the spinal cord by biting hard into the prey’s neck. To be able to deliver this bite the cat may have to release the prey momentarily while they reposition. In doing this they risk a bite or peck to their face which could injure their eyes or cause a wound that risks infection. Rather than take this risk it is possible that the cat chooses to tire out and weaken their prey by playing with it.

Overall, hunting is a natural instinct for cats and if the prospect of occasional mouse remains being left around your house/garden is too much for you to bare then maybe you should make your cat an indoor only cat. To find out more about whether your cat should be an indoor cat or an outdoor cat read our section here.

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