Thanks, but No Thanks

How to discourage your cat from bringing you gifts…

Well, I can’t start this blog without a mention of the football – England are killing it right now! If ever the nation needed a lift the time is now, and the team are certainly delivering. Having secured their spot in the finals, all we can do is get behind the boys and give them all the support and encouragement we can muster. Is it…? Could it be…? Actually…? Finally…? We’ve got everything crossed… IT’S COMING HOME!!!

And, talking of ‘coming home’ (nice segue, eh!) it’s always nice to bring a gift when you return from your travels. In the case of the England team, we’d really quite like their ‘coming home’ gift to be the big, shiny Henri Delaunay Cup. When you go on holiday it’s often a stick of rock, a tacky t-shirt or touristy trinket. But, it’s the thought that counts, eh.

Cats are no strangers to this tradition of gift-giving. When Kitty returns from a day or night out exploring, wandering, snoozing – doing whatever it is that cats do when they’re out – she often likes to bring you a nice, thoughtful gift. The trouble is, a dead mouse or an injured bird is rarely top of your wish list. In fact, it makes a neon-yellow t-shirt emblazoned with ‘All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt’ seem positively appealing. So, how can you discourage your oh-so-generous moggy from bringing you these thoughtful presents?

Why do cats bring you presents?

Cats are natural hunters. Just because Kitty is now served regular meals from a dish, it doesn’t quell her in-built desire to catch prey. They may have been domesticated for thousands of years, but cats still retain the hunting instincts of their wild ancestors. From their stealth to their agility to their super-sensitive hearing, they’re custom built hunters and no amount of tinned cat food is going to supersede this breeding.

By bringing you a ‘gift’ of a dead (or almost dead) animal, Kitty is sending you a number of messages. Firstly, she’s demonstrating that she cares. She’s bringing you a gift of prey – feeding you – which is one of the nicest, most caring things your cat can do for you (honestly!). You may not really appreciate the gift but, as with the tacky tourist trinket from Benidorm that Great Aunt Hilda bought you, it’s all in the gesture.

Your marvellous moggy may be asking you for some praise and recognition. Everyone likes a ‘well done!’, a pat on the back, a nice bit of praise – and, like a kid who runs out of school proudly holding aloft their latest finger-painted masterpiece, your gift-giving pet is saying, ‘Hey, look at me, didn’t I do well!’

Your faithful feline could also be trying to teach you to hunt. She’s noticed that you’re a bit useless on the hunting front yourself, so she’s showing you a thing or two. In the wild, this is how a mother cat would teach her kittens to hunt – by bringing them prey that’s already dead or wounded. Think of it as a demonstration: ‘This is what you need to do. Your turn next!’ Not up for that? I can’t say I blame you…

Remember to say thank you

So, what do you do when your cat deposits a blooded carcass at your feet or lets a terrified, injured rodent loose in the kitchen? You’re not going to like this, but actually the last thing you should do is chastise them. Yup, talk about fighting instincts! Your natural reaction is to show how displeased you are with this unwanted gift but, just like the fateful day when Great Aunt Hilda returned from Benidorm with that gaudy donkey statuette, you need to pin a smile on your face and let the faux-gratitude flow. Give Kitty a stroke. She wanted praise, so give it to her. I’m certainly not asking you to play along with this façade to the point that you’ll have a munch on the said gift, or pop it on the mantelpiece whenever your feline friend is around (next to Great Aunt Hilda’s donkey) but don’t admonish her for bringing it to you. While you may think that praise will encourage them to bring more ‘treats’, telling them off certainly won’t discourage it. Kitty won’t make the connection and think ‘Oh, ok, you don’t like my gifts? I’ll stop then!’ Unfortunately you can’t, and shouldn’t, suppress the natural hunting drive.

So, what CAN you do about it?

Well, as with small children, distraction works a treat. Your cat wants to fulfil its hunting drive; you want a house free from rodent corpses. Distracting your prowling pussycat with a toy or two might just help you both to get your wishes. A feather on a string will help Moggy to practice prowling, pouncing and show off her superb stalking skills. She’ll get the thrill of the chase without killing any poor unsuspecting blue tits who came for a feast on next door’s feeder.

There are loads of toys out there to keep Kitty stimulated and entertained – from battery operated mice, to light toys (although be careful not to shine these directly into your cat’s eyes) – but even a simple ball of wool can provide some fun for your cat and help to fulfil that innate need to chase and catch. Just half an hour out of your day to play with your cat will not only help your bond but it could also reduce the number of small creatures you have to unceremoniously bury in the back garden.

Another solution is to reduce the likelihood of a catch and kill, by putting a bell on their collar. Try as they might, no matter how stealthily they sneak up on their prey, the bell will tip off Mr Fieldmouse or Mrs Sparrow and they’ll be able to flee to safety before they’re cat food. Really you should combine this with the addition of toys, otherwise your cat is going to feel like a very unsuccessful and unfulfilled hunter.

Of course, you can also avoid attracting prey into the garden or, at least, into Moggy’s reach. If you feed the birds make sure the feeder is high enough that your cat can’t jump or climb up to it, or pounce from a nearby fence post – and ask neighbours to consider the positioning of feeders, too. Don’t fit nesting boxes in accessible locations either, otherwise you’re just tempting birds into the lion’s den as it were (albeit a little lion). And, it goes without saying that if you’ve got other small pets – such as rodents, fish, birds or reptiles – make sure they’re safely shut away from your prowling pussycat because, sadly, even fellow family pets are fair game when the hunt is on.

Talking of hunting, it’s getting near teatime and I’m going to have to go in search of some food myself. Luckily, I only have to open the fridge and it’s right there; I’m so glad we’ve evolved beyond the hunter-gatherer days and I don’t have to turn all ‘Bear Grylls’ every night to fill my rumbling tummy!

So, it’s time for me to bid you adieu. Hopefully the only gifts you’ll receive will be good ones and, with any luck, by Sunday night we’ll be celebrating the best gift we could ask for – an epic win… *fingers crossed*