You come back home after a long day at work expecting to chillout with the cat but instead, you find a dead carcass on your bedsheets. And it’s not the first time. Sometimes it’s small birds, other times rodents, maybe even some leftover chicken bones from last night’s dinner. Why do cats have to be such sadistic little devils?
Well, they’re not actually evil at all. They just think you’re part of the family and that, frankly, you’re a lousy hunter.
Living with a mini-hunter
It’s thought cats were first domesticated some 10,000 years ago, around the time humans started properly setting down, helped by agriculture and animal husbandry. Having felines around proved helpful at warding off pests and, in time, they became affectionate household companions. Just look at how a wild sand cat behaves when prey is near. That’s not to say, however, that cats are completely domesticated.
Unlike dogs, house cats still retained their predatory instincts and have a well-adapted carnivorous lifestyle. To quote William Burroughs, ‘The cat does not offer services. The cat offers itself.’
The fact that cats are so independent and self-reliant, often acting very smug, can be attributed to the fact that they’re not really domesticated. Scientists seem to agree nowadays that cats are merely tamed or semi-domesticated, and there’s genetic evidence of back this up. One study led by Wesley Warren, a geneticist at Washington University in St. Louis, looked at the DNA sampled from several wild cats and breeds of house cats. The analysis revealed that cats have diverged far less from their wildcat ancestors than dogs have from wolves. The cat genome also shows little sign of artificial selection.
Such studies help explain why cats retain sharper hunting skills than dogs or why abandoned cats are far likelier to survive without human intervention. “You don’t have the true differentiation you see between wolf and dog. Using the dog as the best comparison, the modern cat is not what I would call fully domesticated,” Warren said.
That being said, both wildcats and housecats hunt a lot. It’s believed cats kill billions of birds and small mammals each year. When they hunt in the wild, cats will often bring some of the prey home to the kittens. She will also bring live prey to the kittens so they can learn how to ‘handle dinner’. It immediately follows, most would say, that your very own feline is treating you like one of her own when she brings dead animals home. And yes, the cat will still do this even if the bowl is packed with food. Like outlined earlier, cats are far from being domesticated and would rather hunt their own food than be provided.
“They will go out and kill their prey and then bring it home for the rest of the ‘pack’ for sustenance, and maybe to boast—but that is really anthropomorphic and probably not a real explanation,” Dr. Stephanie Liff, a veterinarian at Brooklyn Cares Veterinary Clinic in Brooklyn, New York, told Mental Floss.
Even without maternal interactions, a cat will still hunt and likely bring home some dead animals because the behaviour is hardwired. They’re basically treating you as her adopted family — you’re the poor little kitten that can’t hunt on its own.
Bottom line: your cat thinks she is actually doing you a favor, so act grateful unless you want to hurt her feelings. Publically congratulate the little hunter while you hastily dispose of the kill.
Enjoyed this article? Join 40,000+ subscribers to the ZME Science newsletter. Subscribe now!