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Lots of people talk about cats as a natural pest deterrent. If you own a cat, chances are at some point you were presented with a ‘present’ made from their most recent hunt. With some cats that might be a leaf or a bug, but other cat owners are used to being presented with mice, rats, and other small animals from their successful hunters.
So, does a cat really keep mice away? Yes, cats will keep mice away. Cats will actively hunt mice, rats, and other rodents. The scent of a cat in the house does make it less likely that a mouse will move in.
But hunting isn’t the only way cats are reported to keep mice out of the house. Many suburban pet owners also comment that the scent of their cat will keep mice away, or that the fact that their cat hasn’t given them a dead mouse is proof of their effectiveness. Let’s explore some ways cats keep mice away.
How Cats Hunt Mice
Indoor cats love to chase laser pointers, bugs, and pretty much anything else that moves. Mice are no exception. If your cat sees a mouse, chances are they will show off their natural hunting prowess and leap into action.
It’s not unusual to see a cat chasing a mouse across the floor, going suddenly alert when they hear a mouse rustling around, or batting at a mouse’s favorite hiding place.
But, contrary to popular belief, most indoor-only cats won’t kill the mouse.
That doesn’t mean that they won’t chase it out of the house.
You see, indoor cats already have access to all the food and water they need if they’re properly taken care of. There isn’t much reason for them to chow down on a mouse, especially if they haven’t ever eaten one before.
Their instincts tell them to hunt mice, just like they hunt other moving objects and animals. But they don’t necessarily realize that the mouse represents a possible meal. It’s more like a living toy. Interesting, tons of fun, but that’s about it.
However, if your indoor cat does accidentally kill a mouse, or wound it in a way they can taste it, chances are they will do it frequently. Once cats know that they have a tasty meal on their hands, they’re more likely to want to repeat the experience.
But, indoor cats might not be very neat eaters so that you might have a little bit of a mess left behind. Some cats even develop a preference for certain parts, so you might find the same kind of leftovers consistently.
Indoor/Outdoor Cats and Working Cats
Of course, not everyone keeps their cats inside. While it’s recommended to keep your cats inside all the time unless they are working barn or farm cats, we know that that doesn’t always happen.
Cats that spend a reasonable amount of time outside are generally better hunters, and more likely to kill and eat their prey, even with access to plenty of food and water.
If you see leftovers from these cats, chances are they are getting rid of more mice than they can eat, or they are saving some food for a rainy day.
Does Cat Smell Really Keep Mice Away?
Yes. The scent of a cat makes any area less desirable for mice. You’ll see fewer mice in general, and are less likely to get a mouse infestation if you have cats.
But just the smell won’t keep mice away entirely. Even households with cats will occasionally see a mouse move in, simply because there are a lot of advantages for a mouse that can live in your house. For one thing, it’s warmer, and they are more likely to get access to reliable, high quality, high-calorie foods.
Houses with cats are also still somewhat safer than being out in nature 24/7. A cat is a dangerous predator. But homes don’t have the threat of owls, snakes, and other predators.
Some places are more likely to develop a mouse infestation than others, even with a cat:
- Any room your cat doesn’t have access to
- Storage rooms, especially with loose paper, fabric, and other clutter
- Rooms on the first floor or in the basement
- Any room in winter
- Rooms that often have crumbs and other loose food
If you want your cat to act as a mouse deterrent, make sure they have access to your whole house and try not to leave any food (including their cat food) out loose. Leaving a cat in one room is a bad idea if you want to keep the mice away.
Why Do Cats Play With Mice?
Hunting is probably as close to ‘fun’ as your cat gets. While we don’t know what emotion exactly encourages your cat to play and chase and bat at things, it sure looks like they are having fun while they do it.
And they probably are experiencing something like fun, or pleasure, because those emotions are great evolutionary encouragement for doing things that tend to keep you alive.
For cats, which are apex predators (despite the small size of most house cats), hunting is the best thing they can do to stay alive. It keeps them fit, provides calories, and provides hydration every time they make a catch.
That’s important since the modern house cat is descended from desert cats. That’s why they don’t have a powerful instinct to drink water. For thousands of years, cats got almost all the hydration they needed directly from their food.
Hunting gives cats a chance to exercise all their mental and physical talents. Since most house cats don’t tend to be hungry or thirsty, there isn’t much motivation to stop ‘playing’ and get down to business.
Essentially, a mouse is more valuable to most house cats as a fun and stimulating toy than it is as a meal.
That’s also why some cats seem disappointed if they accidentally kill a mouse or bug, they are playing with. They are disappointed because a dead mouse is a lot less stimulating than a live one.
That doesn’t mean you should give your cat mice as a toy. Not only is that unnecessarily cruel to the mouse, you never know when one might get away and make its home in your house.
You also can’t count on a wild mouse being healthy. The feeder mice you can get at the store are much better for the lizards and snakes they are meant for than your cat.
Why Do Cats Bring You Dead Mice Or Animals
One thing you’ve probably asked if you’ve ever been presented with a trophy from your cat’s recent hunt, is ‘Why’?
There are a couple of theories on this. The most common is that your cat is trying to feed you. Even though you provide most (if not all) of their food, your cat doesn’t see you hunting and killing, so they don’t entirely understand where their food comes from.
Some experts even think that your cat might be trying to teach you what food really is, just like they would with a kitten. That also explains why your cat might bring you a still-living but injured mice or another animal. They do the same thing to teach kittens to hunt, gradually increasing the difficulty of the hunt until the kittens can hunt and kill prey animals on their own.
Others think that cats are showing off and enjoy getting praise for their hard work. That might explain why some cats show you the animals they have captured, but don’t put it down, and walk away from you as soon as you acknowledge them.
They aren’t so much giving you food in that situation. Instead, they are showing off their skills.
As a note: dead mice that are just left around the house aren’t considered trophies. Your cat just isn’t bothered by them and doesn’t understand that you might be.
Will Getting A Cat Cure A Mice Infestation?
Most cats won’t immediately hunt out an entire nest of mice. If you have a lot of mice, you might want to invest in some traps in addition to a cat. Avoid poison, since that travels up the food chain and can hurt predator birds and other important and beautiful wildlife.
But your cat can eliminate infestations over time, given full access and time to work.
The best cats for mice removal are working cats and outdoor cats, though, so your indoor cat might not be as effective.
If you do decide to adopt a working cat, don’t necessarily expect it to be very affectionate or pay much attention to you. Most working cats are less socialized than indoor cats. That makes them more effective at mice removal, but less likely to enjoy a good cuddle.