If you have a rodent problem at home, your first instinct may be to get a cat. After all, we all know that cats are natural hunters with a particular dislike for rats. However, recent research reveals that cats may not be as effective at catching rats as we might think. In this article, we’ll explore why cats may not be the best solution for rodent problems and what you can do to keep your home rodent-free without putting your cat in harm’s way.
Do Cats Have an Instinct to Hunt Rats?
Cats are born with natural hunting instincts that drive them to catch small animals like mice, birds, and even rats. Surveys reveal that feral and domesticated cats kill billions of small animals annually, leading to the extinction of some bird species. However, the decline in their prey drive is evident from centuries of domestication.
While some cats still hunt for their food, many cats hunt mostly for their entertainment, and sometimes as a way to show their owners affection. Furthermore, many cats that are indoor and outdoor cats do not eat their prey or kill it but rather torture and play with their prey. Cat mothers in the wild teach their young ones how to eat their prey by bringing home their catch that is either injured or dead. This instinct still exists in domesticated cats, but spaying most female cats limits the opportunity for offspring to inherit the hunting wisdom passed down by the mothers.
Factors That Determine if a Cat is Suited for Killing Rodents
Most experts agree that breed, age, sex, temperament, and upbringing play a role in determining whether a cat is suited to be a successful rat hunter. Female cats are generally better at hunting rodents than males, and older cats are better than younger ones who are still honing their skills.
Why Cats Are Not So Effective at Catching Rats
A 2017 study by Fordham University explored how feral cats interacted with a known rat colony in a Brooklyn recycling center. The study monitored and microchipped the 60 rats and accidentally caught the attention of local feral cats. Despite monitoring interactions for 79 days, the cats ignored the rats most of the time, with researchers recording only 20 stalking attempts, three kill attempts, and just two successful kills by the cats.
This study sheds light on the fact that cats are not as effective in controlling rodents as we think. The main reason why cats are not good at catching rats is the size difference. Rats weigh up to 650 grams, which is significantly larger than mice, which weigh only 30 grams. If a cat is looking for a mouse and encounters a rat, it may hesitate as the size of the rat could be threatening. Feral cats that are experienced and have encountered larger animals understand the challenges of taking on a rat in a fight.
Will Rats Stay Away if There is a Cat Nearby?
Contrary to popular belief, having a cat nearby doesn’t necessarily mean that rats will stay away. Even though cats are born with natural hunting instincts and use their scent to mark their territory, a domesticated feline companion that is well-fed will have very little motivation to hunt rats. In fact, there’s a risk that a cat could attract even more pests into the home.
Rats have hiding spots and nesting areas that cats can’t get into, and they reproduce incessantly. A single female rat can have up to seven litters of 5-12 pups per year. Therefore, even if your pet cat is an avid hunter, their one or two successful captures may not be enough to reduce the rat population significantly.
Keeping Your Cat Safe While Controlling Rodents
Using poisons, chemicals, and traps to control rodents can put your pet at risk, as they cannot distinguish between poison and food. Rodent bait is especially dangerous for pets as it acts as an anticoagulant. It will thin the blood of the rat, leading to internal bleeding, and it can have the same effect on your cat, leading to severe health issues.
To keep your cat safe while controlling rodents, you can add a bell to their collar to warn prey and give them a chance to escape. Limiting their time outdoors at night, where they might be tempted to go hunting can also help. Using bait with a warfarin base and avoiding leaving bait traps out in the open is also advisable. If you use traps, place them in areas where rats can access but your cat can’t, such as walls, cupboards, or roofs. Checking your bait traps often and removing the dead rat immediately is also necessary. Store poison in a locked cupboard to avoid accidents.
While cats are known for their hunting instincts, they may not be suitable for controlling the rat population inside your home. With rats being larger than mice and most songbirds, cats may hesitate to take them on. Instead, cats are more likely to hunt for entertainment or to show affection towards their owners. Therefore, if you have a rodent problem at home, it’s best to seek alternative methods of control to keep your home rodent-free while keeping your cat safe.