The status of cats in Irish households has changed over the past thirty years. Formerly regarded as a necessary piece of equipment in the farmyard, cats were useful at keeping vermin under control, but definitely not to be allowed indoors. Nowadays many pet cats are welcomed into the family as honoured guests.
However cats have not lost the strong instinct which first earned them their place amongst humans. They are keen hunters – their predatory urge is still as strong as ever. Most modern homes don’t have serious problems with vermin, so cats have to look elsewhere to fulfill their instinctive desires. My own two cats regularly bring back trophies – they drag their unfortunate prey through the cat flap. I assume that the cats expect me to be pleased with them, but when I am presented with freshly killed carcasses of small animals, my modern emotion is exactly the opposite.
A common problem
This is a common problem amongst cat owners, most of whom would regard themselves as ‘animal lovers’. Why does cuddly, benign Fluffy suddenly turn into a bloodthirsty killing machine? Why does he seem to enjoy playing with his prey before killing them? How can we stop him from being so cruel? There are no easy answers – we have to accept that cats are serious carnivores at heart, and that they enjoy killing other animals.
However, we can use human guile to frustrate this sadistic tendency. Cats can be made to wear loud bells, or even plastic bibs designed to frustrate their killer pounce. Bird feeding tables can have cat proof ledges to protect birds while they’re eating. And cat flaps can be locked to keep cats indoors if vulnerable birds, such as fledglings, are seen outside.
It can be frightening for a cat owner if they catch their pet “in the act”. How can they rescue a small creature without risking being bitten or scratched themselves by an annoyed cat or a terrified rodent?
An interesting technique
Mrs M. told me about her technique recently. If she sees her cat tormenting a small animal or bird, she pops a large plastic flower pot over the prey, so that they are safe from further harm. She then slides a dustpan underneath the flower pot, so that she can lift up the little animal and carry it away, whilst still keeping it covered. Finally, she takes the whole assembly – flower pot, dustpan and contents – to a safe part of the garden for release. Cats rarely damage their prey until they have finished playing with them, so I am sure that this method saves the lives of many small garden animals.
Cats rarely get hurt themselves from hunting incidents, although I have seen rats and magpies fighting back when cornered. However, cats do pick up tapeworms from eating small birds and mammals. All regular hunters should be given an effective worm treatment at least once every three months.
Blog post by Pete Wedderburn. Check out his site at www.petewedderburn.com