Q&A: Hunting birds

Q: Should I stop my cat from hunting birds in the garden?

A: Hunting birds is a perfectly natural and normal behaviour for cats, and would be their means of survival if they were not in our homes. Our companion cats often kill birds but do not eat them, simply because they have access to plentiful food. This behaviour is due to instinct and stimulation rather than a need to eat, which is not entirely fair on garden wildlife.

It would be difficult to stop a cat from hunting, and approaches such as punishing the behaviour would be pointless. Cats have an innate need to hunt, so it’s essential to fulfil this need in other ways, and provide your cat with ‘hunting’ options that will satisfy her instincts and address her need for mental and physical stimulation.

Teaser toys are ideal, as your cat can go through the entire hunting sequence from stalk to catch and bite. Some cats prefer fluffy catnip toys that they can hit and chase on their own, but you can also join in these games by throwing the toy for your cat to pounce on. It’s worth trying a few different toys to discover what your individual cat enjoys, and there are plenty of DIY ideas on the internet, so it doesn’t have to be expensive. See page 38 for a few cat toy ideas.

Ideally, cats (especially the hunters) should be played with regularly, at least once a day. Laser lights are not an option for play, and should never be used with cats or dogs. Lasers cause immense frustration and potentially obsessive behaviour because the hunt sequence can never be fulfilled – the ‘prey’ can never be caught. And remember to place bird feeders out of reach!

Katherine Brown, behaviourist


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