Oh Heavens!! Spring approaches…. Don’t get me wrong, I love this time of year, all the new life and the promise of Summer to come…. For me, there’s just one drawback, Lola has woken up! Being a fair weather cat, she has been content to stay indoors and sleep most of Winter….
My problem is one many a cat owner will sympathise with…. Spring is prime hunting season….need I say more…. With 7.4 million cats in the UK, it’s estimated between them they catch some 275 million items of prey each year, approximately 20% of which are birds. I’m thankful that Lola is not particularly fond of birds (Lewes is the one I have to watch for that) – but she will try her luck if the opportunity arises. Lola’s preference is for rodents, especially rats….
It is impossible to tell whether a kitten is going to grow to become a prolific hunter; some cats don’t hunt at all, while others are like Lola…. However, just about all cats have an overwhelming desire to hunt, they are born with the instinct.
Through play, they learn the techniques; they develop co-ordination and master how to judge speed and distance…. Eye, stalk, pounce, grab….
The mother cat will teach her kittens; firstly by bringing prey back and eating it in front of them. She will then bring back dead prey for them to eat. Next, she will bring live prey for them to play with….and learn. Finally, the mother will take her brood out hunting with her….
Female cats, (especially those that have been neutered), are far more likely to bring prey home…. A cat without kittens may find it necessary to attempt to feed her human…. So, that rodent dropped at your feet really is a gift for you…. Of course, our reaction to such a present is “Arghhhh!!” – but really we should show appreciation and gratefulness, as this is a real compliment. In the wild, there is a pecking order to who gets first bite of the kill; it is usually the alpha-male, as head of the family. So, by a cat gifting to you its hard-earned quarry, take it as being acknowledged as ‘alpha-human-cat’….
If Lola comes in with a dead something or other, it is not normally a gift for me, (as far as Lola is concerned, alpha-cat is Lola). Sometimes, she will donate her kill to Lewes, I think out of pity, as he is rather hopeless and lazy in the hunting department – thank goodness! Invariably, she will devour it herself, leaving a pile of guts behind – for me to clear up; (actually, now I come to think of it, in Lola’s eyes, I may well be at the bottom of the pecking order)…. Cats tend to eat the heads and more muscular parts of their kills, rejecting the innards….
When I do get gifts, they are usually still very much alive. I am still, apparently, viewed at being at the ‘kitten’ stage; Lola is obviously concerned that I am not capable of looking after myself, I need educating…. I need to learn how to hunt….possibly she has realised her human eats no meat…. Vegetarianism is not a lifestyle choice a cat can comprehend….
In this household, we have what we jokingly refer to as the ‘Mediaeval cat flap’…. John’s DIY skills, (bless him), usually involve large slabs of oak…. We needed to come up with a Lewes proof cat flap, as he rips the doors off of conventional ones, in order to let himself out…. We would probably get a slap on the wrist if Heritage knew we had cut a hole in a Victorian, or possibly earlier, door (whoops! They may know now….) – but I am sure future generations of felines will still be enjoying its benefits for years to come…. Had they of had cat flaps in the Middle Ages, I am certain they would have been very similar to this one….and I must say, it works rather well! The door can be slammed shut in a hurry and the bolt slid across….a necessity with the likes of Lola around….
Only this morning I heard the familiar ‘yowling’ that alerts Madam is home with the spoils of her morning’s hunt…. This is my signal to sprint and bolt the cat flap. Lola was not in the best of humour this morning, so my refusing to allow her and what ever rodent was hanging from her jaws entry, did not go down well. After spending a few minutes trying to ram-raid her way in, she eventually gave up and walked off in disgust. A gift of dead vole was left on the doorstep for me. Now, I could look at this ‘gift’ in one of two ways: either she was saying ‘don’t worry, I understand. I’ll leave your present outside, to show there’s no hard feelings’. More likely though, it was left out of protest, as she knows I hate dead things; like I said, she was not in good humour, as she’d had a worming treatment earlier this morning. Of course, a necessary evil, especially for cats who are keen hunters. I have given up trying to hide powders in their food and attempting to get either of them to swallow a tablet is not a good idea, if I want my hand to stay intact; so, I opt for the spot-on method…. Equally unpopular, it takes two of us to hold down and administer it – but is the least stressful option for all of us….
I have read the various information available on how to discourage cats from hunting, or at least make them less successful…. A collar with a bell is frequently recommended…. Personally, I shy away from cat collars, having experienced a couple of mishaps with previous cats. Luckily, no real harm was done on either occasion but it could have been very different…. Aware of collars getting caught up on branches and shrubs etc. I always chose the soft ones with the safety elasticated piece sewn into them – one of our cats, Bruno, managed to get his lower jaw stuck through his collar whilst grooming…. Bruno was a rescue cat, who had been feral; he was always sweet-natured with us but when this incident happened, he momentarily became quite wild again….removing the collar from his mouth was no easy feat…. The second time happened with Gemma, who somehow got her front leg trapped in her collar, again one very panicked cat…. In both cases the collar had to be cut off, (I am just so thankful somebody was around each time it happened) – and now I vow no cat of mine will wear a collar….
One thing I do try to adhere to though, is keeping both Lewes and Lola in at night. Cats are more successful at hunting at night, particularly in the early hours….
The other piece of advice often given, is one that makes me smile…. Apparently, a well fed cat is less likely to hunt. Firstly, these two couldn’t be better fed, food is always available to them; secondly, Lola seems to treat her kills as ‘appetisers’. The moment she has finished devouring her ‘first course’, she will rush to her food bowl and empty it. So much for that theory….
Cats typically eat small, multiple meals over the course of the day…. I always make sure there is a plentiful supply of dried food available. Pouches are demanded at various times during the day, especially by Lewes, who cannot bear the sight of a half empty bowl – he also has the infuriating habit of sucking the jelly off and spitting out the lumps…. This cat has an obsession with food; he is not really a hunter, although he will go after birds if given half a chance but luckily without much success. Lewes has two main functions in life, eating and sleeping. Any opportunity to eat and he’s there, if it’s in a bowl and looks remotely like cat food, he’ll have it. This includes rabbit feed; which does, I suppose, look a little like cat biscuits – although I can’t imagine it tastes anything like them. Doesn’t seem to bother him though, I’ve lost count of how many bowls of alfalfa hay nuggets he’s scoffed his way through…. Another favourite trick is to sit by the recycling bin in the kitchen – just in case a piece of packaging is dropped in that’s worth a lick – ham wrappers preferably….
I sometimes question whether we have really domesticated the cat or have they actually trained us to suit their needs…. Cats became our companions about the same time man started growing his own food. With the beginning of agriculture came the need to store crops and grain, which of course brought the problem of vermin, in the form of rats and mice….which in its turn, attracted wild cats…. Speculation suggests domestication of the cat started some 12,000 years ago in the Middle East. It is thought the cat we know today descends from a Middle Eastern wild cat named Felis Sylvestris – translating literally as ‘cat of the woods’….
It didn’t take long for those first farmers to realise the benefits of having wild cats around. In return for their mice catching skills, the felines had access to warm shelter and a plentiful supply of food, maybe with the occasional prepared meal thrown in….
Trying to pin point exactly when cats became domesticated has proven very difficult to do accurately. There is very little difference between the skeleton of a wild cat and that of the cat we know; so, archeological finds have been hard to distinguish. However, a dig on the island of Cyprus unearthed a grave dating back 10,000 years; the person within had been buried with a cat….
It seems ironic that we try to seek ways of discouraging our domestic cats from their natural instinct of hunting, when it was for this very reason we encouraged them to share our lives in the first place….
I just take comfort from the fact that apparently, as they get older the desire to hunt lessens…. Although, knowing my luck, Lola will be a geriatric serial killer….