Sunday, September 2, 2012

Hunting skills

There is never a dull moment with two cats in and around the house. Charlie and Tina go outside a lot and are perfecting their hunting skills. When they’re not hunting, they’re chasing each other around the garden, climbing trees and catching flies, sometimes midair.
The first time I was aware of their hunting success was when I saw Charlie snacking on a new-born mouse. Two weeks ago, Orla was mortified when they chased a shrew into the house and started playing with it. She eventually got the poor animal out with a dustpan while it was hiding under the brush. If it lived to tell the tale, it probably needs counselling for the rest of its life.
A week-and-a-half ago, Tina was playing outside with a dead mouse, throwing it up and dancing around it. A week ago, Charlie brought a dead rat into the house. Orla got it out again (these incidents happen when I’m at work). A few days ago I saw Tina with a small shrew in her mouth and yesterday she was eating a newborn mouse or rat. At least the rodents they’ve brought in after the incident with the shrew were dead.  I haven’t seen them with a bird yet and I hope I won’t. Rodents I can live with, as they have nests throughout the year and lots of offspring, certainly around where we live as the neighbouring field is a wheat field.
It was because of their hunting abilities that cats became popular pets in the first place. There was a 9500-year-old grave found on Cyprus with the skeleton of a human and a cat close together. Domestication seems to have started in the Middle East, as soon as humans settled down and grew crops. From there domestication spread to Cyprus and Egypt. Cats were used as mouse hunters in the grain stores in Egypt from about 6000 BC.
It is said that Egyptian cats came to Europe on board of grain vessels headed for Rome. There were, however, wild cats already in Europe. The domesticated Egyptian cats may have interbred with the European wild cats. The African wild cat (Felis lybica) and the European wild cat (Felis silvestris) are genetically very similar and the domestic cat (Felis catus) can interbreed with both.
Cats had a rough time in Europe during the Middle Ages when superstitious people associated them with the devil. But from then on they were doing well and kept vermin away from the grain stores. Even when they found homes as companions and didn’t have to hunt for their food anymore, they never lost their hunting skills and sometimes will bring back “presents” to their humans.
Cato once brought in a finch and insisted on eating it on the kitchen floor. He only left the little head behind. The rest he ate, feathers and all. Tiles are easily cleaned so after a wipe with disinfectant, even CSI would have had a problem finding any traces. I felt sorry for the poor bird but hey, that’s nature, right? And at least Cato ate what he caught.
There are definitely advantages of cats hunting their own prey. I feed my cats mostly wet food, as dry food doesn’t contain enough moisture and cats don’t drink enough. A cat who only eats commercial food might get a problem with the teeth as wet food doesn’t really clean a cat’s teeth and dry food is too brittle and won’t do the job either, even when it says so on the package. Biting and tearing certain toys or the use of a special toothbrush if the cat allows you to will help but piercing the skin of prey animals is a natural way of keeping their teeth clean.
Cats can’t process plant-based proteins and grains. Too much grain can even cause renal failure. They are carnivores, so they need the meat protein. They themselves know best what is good for them so when they catch a prey, you’ll be sure they’re eating something that meets their nutritional needs. The only cat fast food is the stuff provided by humans: the dry food with a lot of grain-based fillers.
They certainly won’t get renal failure from eating a mouse.
Oh, and in ancient Egypt cats were considered sacred and were worshipped. That won’t happen in our house. They’re family and we love them to bits. They will have to live with that.

 Charlie and Tina near the hedge. Something is moving.......

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