Hunting—A Learned Skill From Mother by the Kitten


“Cat and mouse” is defined by Merriam-Webster as a contrived action involving constant pursuit, near captures, and repeated escapes. That sounds like the plot of every Tom & Jerry cartoon if you ask me. It’s common knowledge that cats are natural hunters. Even if your cat lives indoors, he/she has retained many of the survival behaviors of his wild ancestors.

In their natural environment, cats are motivated and driven by the sight, sound and smell of prey to hunt for food, hide from predators, and defend their home territories. Kittens are a perfect example of this. Their life is all about play, and play is all about prey. Racing down the hallway, pouncing from behind the couch, swatting and nipping are all displays of a kitten’s instinctive hunting skills. In fact, research suggests a connection between playing and hunting. Everything that a cat does when it's playing seems to be a part of its normal hunting behavior. Our furry felines may be born with hunting and chasing instinct like good ‘ole Tom but they are not necessarily born hunters that kill for food. Killing and eating prey are generally learned behaviors. That’s where mothers come in! Kittens begin to sample the mother's kill while still nursing. She does this by initially bringing them killed prey. As they get older, she then brings them live prey as a means of teaching them how to hunt and kill through play. Playing with their siblings is highly important. The rough tussle and tumble of kittens helps them hone their hunting skills. Around 8 to 16 weeks of age kittens are able to begin to hunt alone. Food is the ultimate survival resource and, for cats, it is a private affair. Cats are solitary hunters.  This means that given the choice they will search, acquire and consume their prey in solitude and, with the exception of mothers teaching their kittens to hunt successfully, the feeding process is not a socially interactive one.

Consider how cat owners typically feed their cats. It is completely counter to how they are fed in their natural environment. Cats need to have frequent small meals. Cats in the wild hunt about 10 to 20 small meals a day and they have repeat hunting. A typical day for a cat in the wild consists of a cat nap, then they go and hunt to try to catch a meal. Fifty percent of those hunting excursions are unsuccessful therefore the hunt continues. After a successful kill they eat that meal, follow-up with another cat nap, and later set off to hunt again.

Guidelines developed by the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and the International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM) provide further support for the important role that hunting plays in cats. They include the five pillars of a healthy feline environment. It’s no surprise that pillar 3 recommends that cat owners provide their cats opportunity for play and predatory behavior. In other words, we need to let our cats be hunters! The good news is that we can give them other outlets for their hunting. Providing various types and sizes of toys can allow your cat to utilize this hunting instinct and at the same time, providing fun and stimulation for both of you. Environmental enrichment such as using food puzzles or food balls, tossing kibbles, or hiding them around the house can mimic the action of hunting for prey, and provides more natural eating behavior.

The NoBowl Feeding System is the world’s first indoor hunting system. It replaces the bowl with the hunt and lets cats engage their natural instincts. Order one for your cat today!

Stay tuned to our next blog that will present additional facts pertaining to feline hunting. To receive an email when this blog is posted, sign up at the orange button below.






  5. Meeting the Needs of the Pet Cat. Rodan I. Presented at: AAFP 2013. Available at:

  6. Unique Challenges to Manage the Neonate and Kitten. Scherk M. Presented at: Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference 2014. Available at:




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