How Do I Stop My Cat From Killing Wildlife?

a grey cat getting ready to pounce

Most domestic cats hunt – some more successfully than others. Most cat owners who allow their feline friends to venture outdoors and hunt have been gifted with small “presents” in the past. Finding these items of dead wildlife at your feet can be upsetting. No one wants their cat brazenly killing wildlife – especially when you feel you are adequately feeding your cat. Many owners ask how do I stop my cat from killing wildlife?

The answer is not straightforward. Once you understand why cats hunt you will be able to formulate some tactics to reduce the death rate and we will outline some of the scientifically proven methods you can use to reduce the death toll.

young grey cat carrying a mouse in their mouth

Why Do Cats Hunt?

Why do cats hunt? Are they just mean? Are they psychopaths? Generally speaking, there are three broad reasons why cats exhibit this type of behavior.

For Food 

There is no doubt about it, some of the hunting behavior you come across is motivated by hunger. 

But not all hunting is about hunger which is why sometimes your cat will hunt without killing, delivering live wildlife to your feet!. 

Undoubtedly, if your cat is not fed well enough they will hunt and consume the prey that they catch. So it is clear that hunger plays some role in the desire to hunt but is not necessarily the only driver of hunting.

Instinct 

Instinct plays a big part in your cat’s hunting drive. Remember cats are not as domesticated as dogs or other animals. They are closer to their ancestors and their ancestors were predators that relied on hunting to survive. So intrinsic was their need to hunt to survive that only those with the strongest drive survived and over millions of years they developed strong instincts to hunt.

Instincts are involuntary behaviors that are not learned. In a human, the survival instinct is involuntary – everything you do is to prolong your existence and survive. You don’t even think about it. Same with cats and hunting – no decisions are made, no plan is made, they just do it…because they have to…

an orange tabby cat hunting outdoors

Boredom

The third reason that cats hunt is believed to be for entertainment purposes or basically to relieve boredom. They seem to do some hunting simply to occupy themselves and keep their skills sharp and on point. 

Now you might ask how do we know that? Aren’t they just instinctively reacting rather than acting out of boredom? The answer lies in the discoveries pertaining to how we can reduce the killing of wildlife. We will see that certain “fixes” alleviate boredom and therefore some of your cat’s hunting activity is most definitely down to boredom!

How Do I Stop My Cat From Killing Wildlife? 5 Proven Strategies…

So we know why cats hunt so how can we use this knowledge to reduce the death rate your cat causes? Well here are five strategies that are proven by science to work. They will reduce but not necessarily eliminate the killer instincts in your cat! 

black and white cat hunting a mouse in undergrowth

Keep Them Indoors

The most obvious and effective thing you can do to stop your cat from killing wildlife is to keep your cat indoors so they live as a housecat only. Assuming your house is not riddled with mice or you don’t keep birds, your cat’s killing spree will be greatly reduced and your local wildlife will definitely survive longer in greater numbers!

Of course, this is not very fair on your cat who may have a territory that they yearn to patrol. If you are not willing to lock them up for good then you might consider keeping them indoors during periods of the year where local wildlife activity is at its highest and release your cat to the world at quieter periods of the year when they will have less impact on wildlife!

If imprisoning your cat just doesn’t feel right then try some of these additional strategies.

Set Aside Time For A Daily Play Session

Recent studies have found that playing with your cat for as little as 5-10 minutes per day actually reduces the amount of prey brought home by as much as 25%

The play should be object play. So instead of having your cat chase around after a laser pointer, you should have your cat chasing feathers and other objects that you operate and try to replicate the movement of prey. So get your cat ambushing and pouncing and this may be effective in reducing their boredom and the hunting that results from boredom. 

The study didn’t identify whether longer play periods led to a greater reduction in hunting than the 25% achieved by 5-10 minutes of play – but it might be interesting to try two periods of play to see if the impact of a second play period was even greater.

a tabby cat stretching jaws around a slab of raw beef on a kitchen table

Feed Them A High Protein Diet

The same study was also able to identify that feeding your cat a high meat protein diet that was grain-free also seemed to result in a 36% reduction of dead or live prey items landing at your feet! So feeding appropriate food to your cat is an even more effective tactic for reducing hunting than playing with your cat.

The findings also give credence to the old farmers’ idea of cutting your barn cat’s food to half rations after harvest time to control mouse populations that would damage your harvest. Other studies have found that cutting a cat’s diet potentially led to an increase in the cat’s range and territory as it searched out a food supply.

So, this study provides empirical evidence that hunting is partly hunger-related. 

Use A Brightly Colored Collar

The same study has found that brightly colored collars (birdsbesafe collars) fitted to your cat before they go out can massively reduce their hunting effectiveness in relation to catching birds

The collars don’t help with other prey like mice or voles but seem to offer birds enough warning prior to attack allowing them to escape. The number comes in at a 42% reduction in birds brought home when cats wore these collars!

Now, you might think that your cat doesn’t really catch many birds, and you wouldn’t be alone. My cat is a mouser, not an avian specialist and that is all down to what she learned in her first 6-7 weeks and which prey her mother favored. There is even evidence that cats prefer different flavors of prey like we might prefer Italian to Chinese food or vice versa! But if your cat is a birder then these collars are very effective.

Unfortunately, when bells on collars were tested they failed to achieve any sort of reduction in hunting effectiveness. Basically, cats learn to hunt in silent mode when they have a bell fitted!

a black and white cat hunting a mouse

Stop Using Puzzle Feeders

Now, this won’t impact every cat owner, but if you feed your cat via a puzzle feeder then your cat is going to be highly effective at hunting! In fact, they are going to be 33% more effective in their hunts!

No real reasoning is given for this but it could be that the puzzle feeders are leaving your cat hungrier and their hunting instinct is stimulated as a response. So if your cat is on a puzzle feeder and is a highly effective hunter (not all cats are) then expect their skills to get even sharper and more effective!

To Conclude

If you want to protect wildlife then the best thing you can do is keep your cat indoors. If this is not possible then science has now proven that feeding your cat a proper diet is effective in reducing hunting and additional play hunts can further reduce hunting. Unfortunately, nothing you can do short of locking your cat up can completely stop hunting activity because that is simply a reactive instinct in your cat!