Mark Vette – Internationally renowned Animal Behaviourist, Educator, Author and TV personality

How to prevent your cat from hunting

How to prevent your cat from hunting

Practical advice to help stop your cat from hunting and killing animals like birds, mice and rats.

I’m working on an exciting cat project, and as part of my research will be adopting a cat of my own to love and cherish.

But I live in a coastal area that is home to the rare New Zealand dotterel, an adorable little bird that lives on the beach and lays eggs in the dunes. It’s important to me to protect the dotterel, and other native wild life in the area such as kiwi, so I’m making it a priority to do everything I can to prevent my cat from hunting.

It’s instinct…

The first thing to understand is that hunting is an instinctual behaviour for cats, and we have not done a huge amount of selective breeding to reduce this trait. Until a very short time ago, cats were mostly kept to control household pests so if anything, their powerful hunting abilities were desirable! So it’s normal and expected for a cat to be predatory.

    Things you can do to prevent a cat from hunting:

    Keep them inside or create a cat proof outdoor zone

    The most reliable way to stop a cat from hunting is to keep them exclusively inside. Cats can live a happy and healthy life indoors, or you can create a ‘catio’ – a contained cat enclosure outside to give your cat the benefit of fresh air and sunlight, without allowing them to roam freely and hunt. Cat proof netting and fencing is also available, which can be used to enclose parts of your balconies, decks or garden. Alternatively, keep your cat inside at night as dusk and dawn are the most prolific hunting time. Create a routine of feeding them high value food in the afternoon, then shutting them indoors for the night.  Some people even train their cat to walk on leash so they can get outdoors to explore without the risk of hunting.

    Have your cat ‘hunt’ or work for the  food you give them

    Feed your cat in a way that requires some effort to ‘hunt’ out their dinner. For example, use puzzle feeders or hide portions of dry food around the house for them to forage. You can cheaply and easily make puzzle feeders out of common household trash like an empty plastic bottle, and this gives an outlet for your cat’s desire to hunt their food.

    Restrict their early hunting access

    When your kitten is young (6 to 24 weeks),  keep them in a more controlled environment so their predatory behaviour which develops largely in the first 6 months is limited. Instead, redirect this hunting drive onto toys and play that you encourage. 

    Create lots of enrichment

    Hunting is a very stimulating and enriching behaviour for your cat. To help reduce the chances of this, give your cat PLENTY of other enrichment opportunities so that they’re occupied and less likely to need to hunt to fulfil that need. For example, do hunting-style play such as chasing a feather on a fishing line or a robotic toy mouse, give them a ping pong ball to bat around, engage them with games and have plenty of things for them to do and explore, like tunnels and cardboard boxes. A flirt pole is a great outlet too, which is a toy on a flexible pole that acts like prey.

    Feed a good quality diet

    Feed your cat a diet that is highly nutritional with a high meat content, and provide a varied diet to keep them interested. 

    Bell on the collar

    A bell might help reduce your cat’s ability to catch and kill prey, depending on their skill. Some cats are stealthy enough to stalk prey so slowly and steadily that the bell doesn’t sound until they leap and it’s too late. But it’s worth having as an extra! 

    Try a cat bib

    A cat bib has been shown to reduce a cat’s success when hunting birds, a study showed it prevented 81% of cats from catching birds! It doesn’t interfere with other activities, so this is a good option if your cat is a hunter. Check them out here: https://catgoods.com/faq/

    Need more help?

    If this is a persistent problem for you, get in touch and we can arrange a Virtual Consultation to go through your situation and your unique cat, so that I can help you build a training plan. Email us on support@dogzen.com.

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