Why don’t all cats have hunting instincts?

While some cats have only one obsession, to go in search of prey, others are not, but then not at all interested in the subject. And whether it’s mice or toys. They even make friends with potential prey! However, the survival of felines in the wild depends above all on their hunting instinct… But then, is it normal that some cats are completely devoid of it?

Hunting, an innate or learned behavior? 

First of all, it is necessary to distinguish between innate behavior and learned behavior. An innate behavior is a behavior that an animal will adopt naturally from birth, without any external intervention. For example, when a kitten is born, it instinctively knows that it must move towards its mother’s teats in order to be able to suckle and therefore survive. This knowledge is genetically programmed and passed down from generation to generation.

A learned behavior, on the other hand, is a behavior that the animal discovers through its experiences and observations. Let’s take the example of a domestic cat that goes to its bowl every day at the same time to ask for its meal. It was with experience that he understood that his human usually fed him at that time, it was by no means born with this knowledge.

But then, what about hunting? Is this an innate behavior or a learned behavior? In an attempt to answer this question, an experimental psychologist, conducted the survey in the 1920s. They separately raised orphaned kittens and kittens that had not been separated from their mothers in order to determine whether it is the mother who teaches the kittens to hunt or whether all cats instinctively know how to do it. And its results are surprising.

To hunt, yes, but to kill, not necessarily

Kittens raised by mothers who hunt will become hunters themselves. In contrast, kittens raised by humans or by mothers who do not hunt will not become hunters.

Our study showed that kittens can be led to kill a rat, to love it, to hate it, to fear it or to play with it: it depends on the life history of the kitten“.

Thus, you will have understood it, the fact of stalking, killing and eating prey seem to be learned behaviors in cats. In contrast, all cats are born with a chase instinct. It is then up to the mother to transform this instinct into a hunting instinct.

How does a mother cat teach her kittens to hunt? 

In order to teach their kittens to kill for food, a mother cat first brings home dead prey and eats it in front of them. Then, the second step is to bring back dead prey but let her kittens eat them.

Note that this is a behavior that can also be observed with humans: when your cat brings you dead mice or birds and drops them at your feet, it is above all to teach you how to feed yourself. Nice, right?

But back to our sheep. The teaching of the mother cat continues when it brings home injured prey and finishes it off in front of their kittens. Then it will be up to the kittens to do the same. And finally, the kittens will end up accompanying their mother on the hunt and killing their prey on their own. Once this step is completed, the kittens are now autonomous to hunt.

As you can see, this teaching takes time. It is therefore normal that your cat, if it has not learned to hunt, never kills his prey, or even does not want to pursue them.

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