Do Cats Eat Mice?

I found an upright mouse under my table once that was still alive but didn’t move when I came close to it.  Odd.

I didn’t see any blood, the mouse was just still. I’m sure my cats had something to do with this but it made me wonder and research why they hunted and played but didn’t kill or eat the mouse.

So, do cats eat mice?  If you have a house cat, then they’re less likely to eat mice.  However, feral or wild cats will kill and eat mice because they were taught as kittens by their mothers.  It’s their natural survival instinct to hunt, kill and eat mice out of necessity.  While house or domesticated cats will hunt and play but will less likely kill and eat mice.

Cats are born night hunters and predators no matter what.

gray feral cat outside with dead mouse in mouth

They are hardcoded with these instinctive skills to hunt, kill and eat mice or other prey.  

But does this apply to our indoor cats?

The reasons why some cats eat the mice and some don’t, could be from either their instinct or lessons their learning.  

It could be behavioral or environmentally driven.

Remember: Cats have domesticated roughly 10,000 years ago, which means they’ve got thousands of years under their belt of developing these hunting instincts.  

How And Why Do Cats Catch Mice

Every cat is different.  They instinctively stalk, hunt and catch mice because they’re easy, they’re the most nutritious (containing the most taurine) and a mouse’s movements seem to trigger a cats hunting instincts.  

Much like how we humans will put our hands under a blanket moving in quick jerky motions to get our cats attention.

So, it seems that cats innately have the hunting instinct to catch.

Now after the catch will they play or kill it?

That’s the question.

Below is a 10 minute video of an outdoor cat catching, playing then eating a mouse whole:

 

There are several reasons why cats will hunt and kill, but not always eat mice:

  • In the wild, momma cats teach their kittens how to hunt for their food. Maybe your cat’s trying to teach you how to kill food.
  • Cats seem to chase almost anything and sometimes playtime gets too rough where they kill.
  • If your cat leaves little presents, it may be an offering or a sign of love.

Is it instinctual behaviors or lessons learned that our cats eat, catch or kill mice?

Researchers from Sciencing are studying saying these instinctual versus learned behaviors in cats are easily explained. But identified differently in nature.

“Innate behaviors are ones the animal is born with — they’re essentially hard-wired into the animal’s DNA. Learned behaviors are just that — learned — and animals will acquire them throughout life.”

Much like when a kitten is born, they seek out momma to nurse. They seem to know what to do, they’re born knowing this is needed for survival.  

Like I stated before, they’re hardcoded.

This doesn’t mean that all cats will be good hunters. It all seems to come down to experience or whether they live in an environment where they’re the sole providers.

Some outdoor or feral cats will catch and kill mice but not eat them.  Depends on how hungry they are.

Most indoor cats will catch mice and not know what to do with them.

That’s why you’ll have cats that’ll bring you mice as gifts, touting they still got the hunting skills!

black cat with grey mouse dead in their mouth

How do cats catch mice?

Cats catch mice by using their sense of smell, their whiskers, hearing and “night vision”.  It’s amazing how they can catch a mouse and not even see them.

What they do is…

Track the mouse by scent, if they can’t see them, to get as close as possible.  

All the while using their ears, which rotate independently, to locate exactly where the mouse is.  It’s almost like they can hear them breathing or moving.

Their whiskers help by sensing slight vibrations and air movements that are given off by the mouse.

For the elliptical “night vision”, cats have those glowing eyes at night.

That reflective eye you see in the dark is a result of the tapetum lucidum layer.  

This allows your cat to see in super dim conditions because it concentrates all that light into their retina. But, cats can’t see in total blackout darkness.

Why does a cat play with her prey?

What seems like play to us is an instinctive defense mechanism cats have.  Understand that prey have sharp teeth, beaks, and claws.

For those reasons, cats need to make sure that the mouse is fairly motionless before it makes their kill strike to the neck severing the spine.  

Cats have a small muzzle to work with and need to be close in order to kill.

So, “playing” with the mouse is a technique the cats use to exhaust them.

orange cat outside throwing mouse into the air before killing

Why does a stray cat leave dead mice at my door?

When cat owners leave their cats behind, those cats become homeless.

So, they set out looking for a new home.  To test the waters with their new prospects, cats will leave you their caught prey as a “gift”.

Just in the same way a new neighbor would bring you a pie to welcome you.

The cat hopes you accept it and welcome them in with, well, food!

Do Cats Eat Mice Whole?

A cat will eat mice whole but will most likely leave the stomach or spleen behind.  

a dead mouse with head removed from body

One time my cat left the head and carcass and just ate most of the insides.

The rest they left somewhere I’d find it, like the closet or my bed… guessing they were showing me love or trying to “share” it with me.

Why do cats eat mice heads?   

Cats will heat the head of mice because it has the most protein. The mouse brain and eyes are full of it.

What is the mouse organ that cats don’t eat?

The mouse organ that cats leave is the gizzard which is part of the stomach. 

It has a strong pungent acid in it so cats instinctively know not to eat it. 

stomach of a mouse not eaten by a cat
Image credit to StackExchange

By the way, have your cat dewormed very regularly if it’s eating mice.

They will certainly give it parasites.

Best Cats For Catching Mice

I got my cats for the snuggles and for my kids to play with.  But some people get their cats for other reason like getting rid of mice!  

There’re too many cat breeds out there to choose from when you want to get rid of mice.

There’re also those cats that shine the brightest when it comes to having the wits and claws catching mice.

But if you’re on the hunt for a cat, please head to your local ASPCA or shelter to find one.

Ask about the personalities or behaviors to help make your choice like:

  • Demeanor – they’ll likely be super attentive.
  • Behavior – you can watch how they move or how they react to their surroundings.
  • Origin – where was the cat found, like a barn. I’ll bet they’re good at killing mice.
  • Good with kids – if they’re good hunters make sure they are gentle with small kids.

Below is a list of cats that are good for catching mice:

  1. American Shorthair
  2. Maine Coon
  3. Siberian
  4. Siamese
  5. Chartreux
  6. Burmese
  7. Manx
  8. Turkish Angora
  9. Japanese Bobtail
  10. Persian

You can even train your cat to hunt mice: http://www.victorpest.com/articles/how-to-train-your-cat-to-hunt-mice

Related Questions:

My cat ate a mouse should I be worried?  You should be worried when your cat eats a mouse because it could cause your cat to be to get sick, get worms or other diseases. Best to get your cat wormed regularly if they’re going to be eating mice at all. Or don’t let your cat eat them.

Does having a cat keep mice away?  A cat will keep the mice away from the living areas of your house, but this leaves other places like your basement, attic or inside the walls for them to hide in.

Can a cat get a disease from a mouse?  Cats can get worms, diseases like toxoplasmosis and secondary poisoning from rat bait when eating a mouse.

 

Sources and Citations:

Sipe, Marion. “What Is Innate and Learned Animal Behavior?”
Sciencing, https://sciencing.com/innate-learned-animal-behavior-6668264.html. 24 April 2018.

http://www.victorpest.com/articles/top-cat-breeds-for-catching-mice

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