Why Do Cats Bring Home Dead Animals?

Updated: May 15, 2024

It’s a nice gesture, but can’t they leave a flower on your doorstep instead?

If you have a cat that you let outdoors, there has probably been more than one instance where you’ve opened your door and found a disgusting dead mouse sitting on the ground. Hopefully, you’ve been lucky enough to notice it before you accidentally step on it. But if not, you’re probably left wondering why cats have this somewhat disgusting habit and how you can get them to stop. Here’s how to decode some other weird behavioral things your cat does.

Why do cats kill animals in the first place?

“Although the process of domesticating cats probably began over 10,000 years ago, their instinct to hunt remains strong,” says Mikel Delgado, cat behavior expert with Rover. When cats live in the wild, moms teach their young how to eat food by bringing home dead or injured prey and that instinct still remains in domesticated cats.

“Even if domesticated cats don’t need to catch their own food to survive, they cannot resist the urge and often enjoy the hunt and chase—it’s in their blood,” says Delgado. “Their instincts are telling them this is what they need to do to survive and that they need to pass these important, life-saving skills onto their offspring.”

Why do cats bring the animals they kill back to their owners?

A cat’s instinct is to bring the prey that they’ve hunted away from the source and back to a safe place where they can eat in peace. Sadly, for you, that spot is most likely right outside your door. Cats also often bring animals home to consume later or through their instinct to present prey to their young.

Their instinct to bring animals back to a safer place to eat also means that sometimes the animals they bring back aren’t fully dead. “Some cats hunt with less gusto when they are well-fed, so your cat may just not have completed the hunting sequence that would kill the prey,” says Delgado. If you want your cat to listen to you more, here’s how to train them to do 5 life-changing things.

Do cats ever bring “gifts” to their owners that aren’t dead animals?

Some cats will bring toys to their owners. This often means that they’re looking to play with you. “Cats associate your shared presence with their toys as a sign they will get to play—once they learn this relationship, they might instigate play by bringing the toys to you,” shares Delgado.

Is there a way to stop your cat from hunting and bringing dead animals to your door?

You can’t stop a cat from following their natural instincts, but Delgado knows of a few ways to help you avoid a nasty mouse situation. If your outdoor cat loves to hunt you can try putting a small bell on their collar to scare animals away before your cat can get them. There are also cat “bibs” that you can put on them when they’re outside to stop them from getting birds or rodents. You can also try taking your cat outside on a harness and leash to restrict their ability to roam and hunt—that is if they’ll let you put it on them in the first place.

Increasing interactive playtime with your cat can also help to decrease their need to kill. Delgado recommends using wand toys that allow your cat to act out those hunting instincts.

If the deed has already been done and you’re able to ignore the dead animal that they’ve left for you, offer them catnip or a toy to draw their attention away from the animal so you can dispose of it. Now read about some other things you never knew about cats.