Domestic cats are tiny predators, as anyone with a feline friend will know very well. Your kitty may occasionally bring you dead rats, mice, and even birds as a well-intended offering to you, their beloved owner. But, do they ever actually eat the rats they catch?
The answer is; sometimes. Though some cats will frequently catch rats, not all do, and even those with the killer instinct won’t necessarily eat what they hunt. If your cat is the type to eat rats, you may be rejoicing over the effortless pest-control – however, it’s not always safe or healthy for your moggy to ingest rat meat.
When do cats eat rats?
Cats are most likely to eat rats when they are hungry. Like their wild ancestors, domestic cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they can only digest meat. Cats with big appetites may, therefore, supplement their daily diet with the occasional rodent or any other small creatures they can catch.
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However, many cats will simply ‘toy’ with prey, exercising their predatory instincts by chasing, throwing, clawing and biting rats and mice. This will usually kill the rodent, but your cat may leave it on your kitchen floor as a gift to those incapable of hunting for themselves, rather than actually eating it.
Of course, some cats are simply disinterested in hunting, especially older felines. If your cat isn’t catching rats, don’t worry – this just means they’d rather be sleeping in the sun and eating the food that’s conveniently delivered to their dish every morning.
Should you get a cat to kill rats around your home?
If you have ongoing problems with rats and mice around your home, adopting a cat may seem like a tempting solution. A domestic cat will get to work hunting out the rodents in your area and you’ll be rat-free within weeks – right?
Unfortunately, cats are surprisingly ineffective at catching rats and are unlikely to offer a viable pest control solution.
Domestic cats are to blame for the widespread eradication of billions of birds and small mammal species every year (and are even thought to have contributed to several wildlife extinctions on small islands). However, cats are most likely to go for the easiest prey available and, as rats can reach ten times the size of mice, they are rarely their first choice. In fact, one study found that five feral cats only succeeded in killing two rats over a 79 day period so, if you’re having problems with rats, it’s better to use other control methods.
Unfortunately, these other control methods (namely, rat poison) can present a serious hazard for your feline.
What are the dangers of cats eating rats?
Should you allow your cat to eat rats? Most of the time you won’t be able to do anything to stop them unless you keep them exclusively indoors. However, eating rats and mice can have serious health consequences for your kitty, especially if rat poison is being used in the area.
One of the biggest risks your cat faces from eating rats and mice is secondary poisoning. This happens when they eat rats or mice that have ingested rat poison and can be fatal depending on the type of poison used. Bromethalin, a common rat poison, is especially toxic to cats and can cause cerebral edema (water on the brain) and seizures. Toxic doses of bromethalin are very low in cats, at only 0.3 grams per kilogram of body weight, and many felines die as a result of ingesting this poison.
Tapeworms and roundworms are two parasites that can take up residence in the guts of cats that eat rats. These are generally not dangerous to adult cats, and most will show no signs of infection.
However, if your cat has a habit of eating rats they may end up with a heavy burden of worms which can lead to vomiting, weight loss, diarrhea, and generally poor health.
Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that reproduces in the intestines of cats and is transmitted when the feline eats an infected rodent. Though generally harmless, this microorganism can be dangerous if passed on to pregnant women as it can lead to serious and debilitating birth defects in the unborn child.
How can you stop your cat from eating rats?
You cannot override your cat’s natural instinct to hunt; however, you can limit their contact with rats if you are worried about secondary poisoning or parasites.
Keep your cat indoors overnight
Cats are largely nocturnal by nature, meaning they are most active at night. It stands to reason that this is when they’ll do the majority of their hunting, so you can reduce the number of rats they catch (and potentially eat) by keeping them indoors at night. This also allows you to keep better tabs on your pet, so you can monitor them and take action more quickly if you suspect they have eaten a poisoned rodent.
Reduce the number of rats and mice around your home
If you live in an area with large numbers of rats and mice, discouraging them from the area immediately around your home can help to keep your cat away from them.
Clear away all clutter around your house (including overgrown plants and shrubs, long grasses, recycling boxes, old furniture, and garbage cans), as these are all potential harborage sites for rats.
You can also set up traps (out of reach of your cats) to reduce the number of rodents nearby.
Cats have inherited their predatory nature directly from their wild ancestors, and are highly effective killers of small birds and mammals.
Though they are most likely to pick on the easiest prey (usually mice and birds) they will occasionally kill rats, too. Your kitty will often proudly present their catch to you the next day, as a gift for the family – but sometimes, they’ll take a bite or two first. This is not necessarily a problem but can be dangerous if rat poison is used in the area as this can lead to secondary poisoning.
Keep the area around your home as rodent-free as possible to discourage your cat from eating rats, but don’t stress too much. Generally speaking, eating rats and mice won’t harm your cat, and hunting gives them a chance to exercise their killer instincts.