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Why cats play with prey

The catch and the game
Karla Kirby

Cat lovers all over the world whose cats are ever allowed outside, supervised or safe within an outdoor run have observed their feline playing with their conquered prey. They seem to be extending the utter thrill of the victory. Quick, smart and agile, cats have amazing hunting skills and these fascinating talents can be traced back to the beginning of time itself.

Often cats will bring their quarry inside; still alive. Mice seem to be the most common victims, then birds, rats, squirrels worms and even the occasional rabbit. Cats seem to enjoy playing with their prey as much as catching it! They'll pat at it with their paws, fling it in the air, and basically have a grand, old time tormenting the helpless animal. But it is not out of cruelty or meanness at all.

Cats, as a whole, wear down prey to evade sustaining injuries. They're stimulated by self-preservation, as other animals are. Mice and rats, for instance, can deliver nasty bites that can cause seriously injury or spread ugly disease. Birds are able to scratch and peck. So, what's a sweet kitty to do? Rather than playing with their prey for sheer delight, cats tire out their victims to the point where they're too exhausted to fight back. Once this goal is accomplished the cats will feel better, and safer about finishing the kill.

Indoor cats often mimic this with toy mice and birds. Their skills and dexterity are astonishing and more than a little entertaining. Cats are not malicious; they just do what they have to do, often referring back to their wild side and who doesn’t want to do that?

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