Why does my cat play with his prey ?

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Our humans learnt as toddlers not to play with food, but us, cats, learnt exactly the opposite with our mom : you’ll see, there are several reasons for it.

PIXIE : This day, I was very proud, because I had caught this bird alone ; Zorro watched my activity by far, but did not intervene. When Claire took photos, I had already begun my dance of victory.

Why does my cat play with his prey ?

cat playing with a prey 1

Because he does not know how to kill her

An indoor cat since several generations has doubtless never seen another cat killing a mouse or a bird previously. He will play to hunt and to catch a toy in movement, and will be thus capable of catching a real prey, but might not know how to kill her because he has never learnt how to do it.
cat playing with a prey 2

Because he wants to be able to kill his prey easily and in complete safety

Cats capture and immobilize their prey with their claws, then kill it by a bite in the nape of the neck which splits her spinal cord. To do it, the cat has temporarily to release his prey from his claws and approach his snout. When his snout is at a distance of no more than a whisker of the prey, the cat cannot see her any more, and he is at risk of a wound to eyes, nose, or mouth. Any prey will seize the slightest opportunity to run away or to defend fiercely her life by bitting (rodents) or by pricking (birds).

What humans take for a game is in fact an instinctive way for the cat to tire and to disorientate a prey : pawing her, throwing her in the air, catching her up, and beginning again… But if the cat is too much in a hurry and approaches too early his snout to bite, he risks to be hurt.

Often, the game breaks off : the cat goes away a little and seems to lose interest in his prey. He is in fact verifying that he can deliver the fatal bite. Indeed, it happens that a prey plays the dead, or does the exhausted animal : if the prey tries to escape, the cat will be near enough to catch her up, and the game will start again, until he is sure that he can kill his prey in complete safety.
cat playing with a prey 3

Because it is funny

Playing is also a way to relieve the tension of the hunting.
cat playing with a prey 4
PIXIE : I don’t know how to kill ; when I saw that my bird was ready, I gave it to Zorro so that he kills it and eats it. My mom taught me that you should not waste food, and I believe it’s a rule that we have in common with our humans, am I right ?

21 thoughts on “Why does my cat play with his prey ?

  1. Mickey's Musings

    Great article.
    This explains a lot to our mum.
    While we do not go outside, our home is ole and mice can get in the porch.
    Julie is a very good hunter, but so far, she does not eat the mice.
    Sometimes, mum intervenes :/
    Purrs Georgia,Julie and JJ

  2. Edie Chase

    Cool pictures. My cat Jake loves to hunt and kill mice, and he sometimes eats them. Because he has spent almost his whole life inside, he isn’t a big bird chaser. My stray cat that lived outdoors for a few years loved to hunt birds and mice.

  3. Just Ducky

    Mum used to hate it when Derby would just play with the mousies when they got in the house. She knew, he could kill them, just taking his time about it, so he could do it cleanly.

  4. Eastside Cats

    Great action shots! I did not know why a cat plays like that; thank you for the knowledge. Our indoor-sometimes-outdoor cats would have no idea what to do, but we’ve witnessed both of The ‘O’ Cats killing mice. In fact, our neighbor’s always praise our ferals, because they no longer have mice in their house.

  5. Basil

    Swiss Cats, that was absolutely freaking brilliant, we were right there with mew, in the fray with the prey!!! MOL

    Yesterday I bought fresh baby bunny home…. but don’t tell anyone!!!

    Keep up the good wurk

    Big hugs

    Basil & Co xox

  6. da tabbies o trout towne

    pixie N zorro……claire cap sured sum grate shotz for sure.. tho ewe noe uz; wood that it had been a mouz in sted oh a ewe noe what…..zorro….dood….we hope ewe doez knot haza belly ache now ~~~~~~

    🙂 ♥♥

  7. LP

    You look very capable Pixie! If Zorro can teach you how to kill your prey, you can get your own delicious snackies in the future! :p

    the critters in the cottage xo

  8. M. K. Clinton

    That makes a lot of sense! Pierre has killed several moles and squirrels but he breaks their necks immediately. I was surprised that his instincts kicked in after trying to catch something for so long.

  9. Mark's Mews

    We know how to kill them, but we allus make sure ta wear them out first. LC used ta kill thm fast an she allways had little bite-scabs on her chin. We do play with them a lot after.

  10. Athena

    My mum doesn’t like me playing with prey, but then again, as an indoor cat, I don’t get the chance to catch anything other than some bug or spider.

    Purrs xx

  11. Raven

    Very interesting. One of my cats caught a bird once while she was in the backyard. She never learned to hunt for food so she played with it until it died, then continued playing with it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to rescue it and she didn’t eat it.
    Great photos of Pixie hunting the bird and I’m glad it didn’t go to waste (even though we prefer songbirds stay alive).


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