How to Teach Kittens to Kill Mice, or Not To

You are probably reading this article for one of two reasons:

  1. You have a problem with mice, and you want to know if kittens will kill them
  2. You want to stop your kitten from learning to kill mice and other animals.

Most kittens will kill mice as is instinctual for them to want to hunt and kill mice.You can encourage or discourage this behavior.

Some cats are more inclined to hunt than others, and there are signs you can look for in a kitten, indicating if it likes hunting or not.


How to Encourage a Kitten to Hunt and Kill Mice

If you already have a kitten and you want it to learn to hunt and kill mice, there are things you can do to encourage this behavior.

Kittens are born with an instinct to hunt mice, so what you need to do is encourage and support those natural inclinations.

Some individual kittens are more inclined to hunt, and females may be slightly more avid hunters than males because they need extra food when they have babies to feed.

Here are some ways to encourage mice catching in kittens.

  • When it’s old enough, let the kitten outside at dusk and dawn when the instinct to hunt is highest and mice are scurrying around.
  • For indoor kittens, put it in a dark room or other safe, quiet place at dawn and dust where it can practice its hunting skills.
  • Give your kitten access to a hunting environment for as many hours a day as possible.
  • Play with the kitten using toy mice and similar toys to sharpen hunting skills.
  • One option is  giving the kitten feeder mice on one or two occasions to stimulate its desire for eating mice.

You can buy live feeder mice at some pet stores. These stores also often sell frozen feeder mice. Feeder mice are sold as food for predatory pet animals, and the taste of a real mouse could help a kitten develop an appetite for mice.

Many people think that using live feeder mice is cruel and unnecessary, and you may as well.

Frozen mice are popular because the kitten still gets the taste of the mouse, and the process helps to kill more diseases and pathogens that could be in the mouse.


How to Stop a Kitten Hunting Mice

If you don’t want your kitten to go around killing mice and other creatures, there are some things you can do to discourage this behavior.

One solution is to adopt a kitten or cat that is known for not liking to hunt. Or, these solutions may help deter a kitten from developing a desire to hunt.

  • Give your cat free access to dry cat food so it can eat whenever it wants.
  • Feed the kitten a high-quality, canned food or a raw meat diet two or more times a day.
  • Feed a varied meat diet.
  • Limit your kitten’s exposure to outdoor or indoor hunting opportunities, especially at dusk and dawn.
  • Give the kitten toys to mimic predatory behavior and use up this energy.
  • Play with the cat in short bursts throughout the day to re-channel hunting instincts.
  • Take away caught prey as soon as possible, alive or dead, and keep the kitten away from it.

Be understanding if your kitten hunts because this is a hard-wired instinct that is part of being a feline. Don’t punish a kitten for hunting. Instead, redirect the energy and limit hunting opportunities.

Research on cats shows that kittens that do not learn to hunt in the first five or six months of life are less likely to chase prey later in life.


How to Choose a Kitten that will Kill Mice

If you want to get a kitten that is likely to hunt and help you with rodents around your home, here are a few things to look for:

  • Although American Shorthairs and Maine Coons are known for being exceptional mousers, the individual cat is more important than the breed.
  • Look for a kitten with lots of energy and fast reaction times. Kittens that show sustained interest in vigorous playing, chasing and shaking of toys are more likely to be good hunters.
  • Kittens born in rural areas with a mother cat that hunts are the most likely to learn how to catch mice and other rodents during early life.
  • Female kittens might be better hunters than males.

Spaying or neutering a kitten does not affect their instinct to hunt, according to research and owner observation.

My cat was spayed early in life, and she is a remarkable hunter of mice and gophers, paying her way  by keeping down the populations of these pests around the house and garden.


Kittens Will Hunt Even When They Are Not Hungry

Felines do not hunt only when hungry. They hunt when they have the opportunity, so limiting hunting opportunities is a more effective way of discouraging hunting than feeding a lot.

Cats are natural meat-eaters, and meat is essential in their diets. An average mouse weighs about ½ to ¾ of an ounce, and a cat needs approximately 3 to 4 ounces of food a day or the equivalent of six to eight mice!

Providing a high-quality meat diet gives kittens the nutrients they would naturally get from mice and other prey, possibly discouraging them from seeking this on their own.

Varying a kitten’s diet with different types of meat also mimics the natural diet of mixed prey cats find when hunting.   


Kittens Can Repel Mice without Killing Them

Even if you don’t want your kitten to hunt and kill mice, just having a cat in the house can be a deterrent for rodents.

Several studies found that a feline’s smell in a house or room is enough to keep mice and rats away.

You can encourage your kitten to leave its scent in places where you are concerned about mice getting established.

Set up a cozy bed, water bowl, dry food, and nearby litter box in the area so the kitten wants to hang out there. The kitten’s scent might be all it takes to deter rodents from coming around.


Why Kittens Kill Mice

Numerous science studies, along with observations by cat owners, tell us that kittens are natural hunters of mice and other small prey.

In one research study, eight kittens, five of which were male, and the other three female, from two litters were exposed to mice and their odors from shortly after birth until five weeks old.

All of the kittens showed complex predatory responses to mice during this whole time. But, by four to five months old, the kittens started losing interest in mice.

These kittens were not encouraged to chase or kill mice, and the scientists concluded that learning is also a part of the process that makes kittens become avid hunters or not.

One other interesting observation from this study was that the female kittens showed an increased instinct for hunting mice.

In another study, mother cats were observed with their kittens with mice present. The researchers saw the mother cats encourage the kittens to chase prey, and kittens interacted with the mouse for longer amounts of time if the mother was present.

These scientists also concluded that imitation and learning are a significant part of kittens learning to kill mice.

This research tells us that play involving hunting and catching mice simulations can help a kitten learn this behavior and then possibly use it in the real world.

The research also shows that if kittens do not learn how to hunt in the first six months or so of life, they may lose interest in chasing mice for the rest of their life.


Problems with Kittens Killing Mice and Other Prey

Cats are our companions because of their superb hunting abilities keeping down rodents in homes, offices, and businesses for thousands of years.

However, felines that like to hunt mice can bring problems into a household. For one thing, many domestic cats want to hunt and kill mice and then leave the dead animal lying around without eating it.

For some people, this is a problem because they don’t want to clean up dead mice. Another problem is that mice and rodents can carry dangerous diseases and pests like Hantavirus, salmonellosis, fleas, and ticks.

Another problem is kittens and cats catching prey outside, bringing it into the house, and letting it go indoors. Then you’ve got a new problem!

Hunting can also pose dangers for a kitten. A domestic cat can get bitten, scratched, or sick from an encounter with a wild animal of any kind, even a mouse.

If you do let your kitten hunt mice, be sure to:

  • Keep up on all vaccinations
  • Monitor for fleas and ticks and use a remedy immediately if you find any on the kitten.
  • Address rodent problems at the source and don’t only rely on cats to catch them.

Having a kitten or cat that likes to hunt may not end a rodent problem. Rodents breed quickly, producing many generations and often hundreds of offspring every year. One or two felines may not be able to keep up, even if they’re good hunters.

Having a feline hunter in the household is fine for keeping mice and rats away. But it’s best to address a rodent problem at the starting point and remove food sources and nesting materials attractive to rodents and block all known entry points into the house.


Conclusions about Kittens Killing Mice

Cats and kittens have been our companions for a long time, and a primary reason is their ability to hunt small animals like mice that do tremendous damage to people and their property.

You can take advantage of your kitten’s built-in instinct to hunt mice by providing hunting opportunities, engaging in energetic playtime, and selecting a kitten with a feisty personality.

You can also redirect a kitten’s hunting instincts to lower the chances of it killing mice and other creatures by limiting hunting opportunities and feeding a varied high meat diet.


Writer: Mary Innes

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