Why Do Cats Bring Owners Hunting Presents?

Gift-Giving Cats Are Expert Hunters

Photo of Cat With Dead Mouse
Cat With Dead Mouse. ©Getty Images

Cats have been domesticated for centuries, but the wild child remains inside. Many cats become expert hunters adept at capturing critters, be they a feather toy on the end of a string, a moth at the window—or even a mouse or other prey creature. These prizes often are presented to the cat’s owners with well-deserved pride. They may be displayed on the back step, in the food bowl or on your pillow.

Cat Hunting Gifts

I’ve heard of owners who awake and are greeted with dozens of toy mice, paper balls, or other “prizes” scattered all over the bed. Seren adores playing with the soft, mylar “sparkle balls” and leaves these presents for me in my shoes. She’s also been known to leave crickets (or the body parts, anyway) as a special gift. The one time she came nose-to-whisker with a live mouse, she seemed surprised by the interloper, and at a loss what to do. (I had to catch-and-release the critter outside!)

Other times, cat hunting results in prey animals lined up on the back porch especially for the owner. The indoor-outdoor cat may bring the prey into the house. Cat hunting skill doesn't depend on hunger. Even well-fed indoor only kitties with overflowing food bowls indulge in the practice.

Generous Cats?

Why does Kitty bring his human family these less-than-savory gifts? Well, of course, the cat thinks she’s offering you the highest compliment when she presents the result of hunting prowess for your inspection.

These cats wouldn’t bother bringing presents to a human if they don’t have a loving relationship with you. Kitty brings you these treasured prizes because she loves you and cares about you.

Franny's Take on Cat Gifts

My experience with Gift-Bearing Cats has been somewhat different from what Amy is describing.

On the contrary, my Bubba, while he was grateful that "I" was the one who assured him a home when my son brought him home from the California Delta, did not think that generosity merited the number one slot in my husband, Asa's attentions. Asa was HIS human, and Bubba never lets an opportunity go by without reinforcing that information to all who were in the area at any given time. Gift-giving occasion? Asa and our other family members got the fragrant water hyacinths which regularly floated into our bay on the California Delta. Yours truly was the recipient of a stinky, dead three pound catfish that had met a violent death several days earlier. My gift, by the way, was deposited on the rug next to my side of the bed in our master bathroom. He also once brought me three or four baby snakes from a nest near our house. These were deposited right next to the stool next to my kitchen counter where I enjoyed my morning coffee. I'm not sure if Bubba could understand my shrieks of gratitude that particular morning. 

Billy is very jealous of Lance, his human. All the gifts he finds, whether they be a bit of dried cat food stuck on a  plate or a faded catnip sock, go to his hero, Lance. 

Feline Teachers

Some behaviorists believe cats look on humans as poorly-equipped hunters unable to bring home the bacon without feline help.

Certainly, mom-cats often bring bugs, mice, or other delights home for their kittens to enjoy. Your cat might even catch-and-release live prey inside the home. Other experts theorize the cat simply brings his trophy to his nest—the house—with plans to enjoy and eat it later.

Certainly, Kitty seems to preen with pride when complimented on his exceptional skill. So praise your fearless hunter. When he’s not looking, dispose of it appropriately and replace with a more wholesome treat.

Edited by Franny Syufy