I’ve spoken to groups a few times about “How to think like your cat,” and it never fails: a few people are always disturbed when I describe their pets as “fierce killing machines.” But with their retractable claws, talent for stealth, and instinctive knowledge about the “killing bite” that instantly severs their prey’s spinal cord, that is exactly how they are built. That kitten dancing around a crinkle ball, the senior cat basking in sunbeams on the back of the sofa and all felines in between – they are born hunters. Cute, cuddly, purring, cold-blooded killers.
OK, so maybe your cat couldn’t kill a fly, or even if he did, he would not know what to do with it. Maybe your indoor-only cat has never hunted anything livelier than a dust bunny. Even if they aren’t fierce killing machines in actuality… it doesn’t matter. They are fierce killing machines in their minds, and that’s where it counts.
The beautiful thing about cats is that they chose to be domesticated by humans and thousands of years later still retain an element of wildness. That independence and mystery is what makes them so fascinating, and part of that includes the hunting instinct. It’s one of the reasons you should never leave a cat alone with a pet that’s a prey animal, such as a rabbit, rat, Guinea pig or bird. Even if they are pals, there is always the possibility that something will cause the cat to snap into her inner killer and harm her friend.
Wouldn’t it be better to breed the prey drive out of cats? I don’t think it’s possible or desirable. It would be like trying to breed the need to excel out of a human. The CEO or competitive athlete needs a certain amount of killer instinct to achieve, and a cat needs a certain amount of killer instinct to just be a cat. In fact smart cat companions will help their kitty hone his killing instincts daily. We call it “play,” but our fierce hunter thinks “prey.” And these sessions are some of the most joyful times you can have with your cat.
All the best cat play involves hunting and stalking. Whether she is chasing a ball on her own or if you are holding a wand toy with a tempting feather toy at the end of it, your cat is pretending that the inanimate object has suddenly come to life and must be subdued! You can tell by the way her eyes glitter that her imagination is running wild. Sparkle’s imagination is particularly fertile – when I watch her leap in the air after a pipe cleaner or she helps a small toy mouse fly across the room so she can chase it, I can almost believe along with her that this is prey that must be hunted down. Boodie loves stalking small, soft toys and once she has caught one, she wanders through the house with it in her mouth, moaning through the fabric. It’s exactly the same sound Harlot, my indoor-outdoor cat used to made when she caught living prey. She was letting me know that she had something for me … and so is Boodie.
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This is why the prey drive is a good thing, and a way for you and your cat to bond. In the wild a cat provides for her kittens through hunting. If your cat brings you a toy, she is sharing sustenance with you. It is a love offering, the same way you might cook a special meal for your family, or offer a bit of life-enhancing advice. It is an act meant to bring the two of you closer together. Being a fierce killing machine just may be more warm and fuzzy than it appears on the surface.