Animal Stories

Why Do Cats Bring Home Live Mice?

Summer’s here and we’re sleeping with all the doors and windows wide open. Dawn comes early and we wake up to birds chirping and sunlight filtering through the broadleaf maple leaves. If I’m facing the window, the first thing I see when I open my eyes is the heavily laden branches of the apple and pear orchard. It’s going to be a very good year for pies.

Some mornings, however, I wake up to a little crunch, crunch, crunch sound. Oh dear. I know what that means. When I open my eyes, sure enough, one of our cats is having a fresh mousie breakfast on the bedroom rug. It’s one of the realities of country life, that barn cats catch and eat whatever happens to be running by in the barn or field, and if they’re also house cats, as ours are, they have a strong predilection for bringing the mice in to show us.

So let me ask you … if you have cats who go outdoors, do your cats bring you presents like ours do? And if so, do you ever wonder why they bring these mice in still alive? Or, more likely, do you wonder how to stop your cat from bringing home live mice?

Ah, grasshopper. Let me explain what is going on in your cat’s brain.

Kittens are trained to catch mice by momma cat who shows them how to do it in a sequence. First she brings a very dead mouse to the kittens and they bap it around. Momma cat watches them closely. Hopefully after playing with a few dead mice, the kittens move from bapping to pouncing. That tells her it’s time for the next step.

Next — and this is important for humans to pay attention to — BECAUSE the kittens showed so much interest in the dead mousie, momma cat can see that they are smart enough and physically skilled enough to learn to catch a slightly less dead mouse. How does she know? Because she watched them play with it, toss it around and noticed how they made a general fuss over it.

If the kittens continue to show interest, momma cat will continue to bring mousies who are more and more lively, coaching them along in their skills until they graduate to being real mouse hunters on their own.

Now let’s see this in action …

Remi with mouse

Here is our cat Remy’s version of bringing the Freemans breakfast in bed. He brought the mouse in and tried to lure us out of bed with at 6 a.m. so we could chase around the room with him. Very effective because in no time flat we were truly wide awake. (Despite my compassionate nature, I have to remind myself this is what cats are designed to eat and mice keep them healthy here on the farm.)

So now that we’ve seen how our morning went and why we have no need for caffeine to start our day, let’s get back to the mouse your cat just let loose in your house and look at what’s happening from the cat’s point of view …

When most humans see the cat release a very alive mousie in their kitchen, what do they do? What do YOU do? Do you leap about, yip and yell and try to catch the mousie as it hides under the toaster oven? When the mouse dashes away and scoots into the broom closet, do you run after it?

That is exactly what your cat is hoping you’ll do. Your cat thinks of you as a young, possibly trainable kitten, and your behavior, you have to admit, is pretty similar.

See? There you go, an unmistakably excited, jumping, squealing human chasing the mousie around the bedroom with a yogurt container in one hand and magazine in the other. Leaping on the bed, pulling back the covers, lunging and pouncing here and there. You’re clearly showing a lot of interest in catching the mouse.

Yes, indeed, missy, your cat just pegged you as a mouse-catcher-in-training! You are someone who, with enough coaching on the cat’s part, might very well be smart enough to learn to catch a mouse on her own.

And what happens next? You already know. Your cat starts bringing home MORE live mousies. You jump, yell, chase, maybe even catch the lively little mousie — all on your own! Oh, what joy your cat feels at you learning to do this!

If only we knew how to get our cat to stop bringing home live mousies and releasing them in our house — or on the BED (!!) — like ours did again this morning!

I don’t know the answer but I suspect there’s no stopping them. And it’s nigh impossible for Joseph or me not to run around in a jammie-clad dither, dragging the bureau away from the wall (“There he goes, under the bedspread!”), scraping the broom under the bed, flinging piles of laundry about to roust the mouse as we chase from room to room.

Just remember this: Each time you make any kind of fuss over a mousie, it encourages the cat to bring more of them home. Oh dear.

Despite the fact that we don’t really WANT live mousies in our bedroom at dawn, don’t you think it rather sweet that they have such faith in us, hoping we, too, can learn to catch our own breakfast and fend for ourselves?