How Kittens Learn to Hunt
Cats have been famous for hunting mice and rats for as long as cats and people
have been together. As strange as it may seem to some people, cats are not born knowing
how to hunt. It is a skill they learn from watching their mothers. If the mother cat is a
good hunter, then her kittens will learn to be good hunters. Interestingly, kittens seem to
learn the best from their mothers. They do not seem to learn as well or as quickly from
watching other adult cats.
At about five or six weeks of age, a mother cat will begin teaching her kittens
how to hunt. At first she brings dead mice to the kittens. She will eat some of the mice in
front of the kittens. In this way she is showing them that mice are their prey and that they
are good to eat. As time goes on the kittens begin to play with the dead mice their mother
brings them. Before long the kittens are flinging the dead mice around and pouncing on
them. It’s a good idea to stand clear of them when they’re at this stage. You might get
smacked by a flying mouse if you don’t!
After awhile, the mother starts bringing mice that are still half alive and releases
them for the kittens to practice. Very soon the kittens are leaping on and flinging these
mice around as confidently as they did the previous dead ones their mother brought them.
Then, mother start bringing live, healthy mice and releases them for the kittens to practice
on. The first time the mother cat releases a live mouse, and it tries to run off, there’s
immediate bedlam among the kittens. Wildly excited, the kittens flying around trying to
leap onto the running mouse zigging and zagging between them. If the mouse escapes the
kittens, the mother will usually swat it back into play. By this time the kittens are so over
excited they’re leaping at anything that moves. The mouse, a blade of grass, a blowing
leaf or even each other, are all fair game to the kittens. Not surprisingly, the mouse often
escapes during these early lessons.
As the lessons progress the kittens become more discriminating in their targets
and develop their skills in catching the quick and agile mice. These lessons don’t always
go smoothly. One kitten got the surprise of her life when a large mouse she was chasing
suddenly sat up in front of her and began scolding her at the top of its’ lungs. The mouse
was apparently so fed up with the whole business that it actually jumped at the kitten.
The startled kitten fell over backward and the mouse raced off to safety. Live and learn.
Eventually, the mother cat will decide that the kittens are ready for their first real
hunt. She will take them out to a good location that she knows will have plenty of mice
for the kittens to practice on. She does not demonstrate her hunting technique to the
kittens. Instead, lets them develop their own unique styles on these hunting forays. Each
kitten discovers the techniques that work best for them. By the end of their lessons the
kittens have become fine mousers in their own right.