Some domestic cats have been reported to hunt for up to six hours a day. While hunting can be upsetting for us to witness, it is an instinct many cats can’t ignore.

In this article we explore how kittens become little hunters, through instinct and learning.

Instinctively hunting

Like human babies, kittens are not born fully equipped with life survival skills. They need to learn these skills through observation and play. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t have deep-rooted instincts to help them along the way.

The cat’s ability to hunt appears to be at least partly innate. According to behaviour expert Roger Tabor, studies between the 1940s and1960s showed that cats who had never learned to hunt as kittens could still be enticed to kill prey. This suggested that their behaviours are instinctive.

However, as the studies also showed, these cats used less effective killing techniques than those who had learnt to hunt in during their kitten years.

Learning to hunt

The 4 stages

It would seem that to become a refined hunter, kittens need to learn the behaviour from their mother. In order to do this, the mother teaches her kittens in stages.

Stage 1 - play hunting

As curious animals, kittens begin to follow their instincts and attempt to playfully catch anything that moves.

Stage 2 - dead prey

Next, the mother brings dead prey home. At first she is likely to eat it in front of the kittens to demonstrate that they are a food source. The kitten may then attempt to play with the animal. This teaches the little ones how to identify prey through smell, shape and taste.

Stage 3 - half-live prey

Now that the kitten has learnt to identify prey, they can begin to play with wounded, but not dead prey, learning techniques and gaining confidence.

Stage 4 - out in the wild

Finally, the kitten is ready to join their mother on a hunting trip. Here, they will not necessarily be shown hunting methods, but will most likely be left to develop their own techniques. They may still observe their mother's behaviour.


Hunting behaviour in everyday life

Have you ever seen your kitten or cat watching the TV? In reality they may well be attracted to fast moving images due to their instinctive need to track their prey.

You may also have noticed your cat wandering outside in the rain despite their apparent hatred of water. This is most likely a hunting trip. The rain is likely to dampen or eliminate any hunting sounds that may scare the prey away, thus allowing for a more successful haul.

Have you noticed hunting behaviour in your kitten?

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