Hard-wired to Hunt

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Breathes there a cat who will just roll over and snore at the sound or appearance of a bird, insect, or mouse? Even the most well-nourished feline will likely track a potential meal in motion, although our domesticated friends no longer need the protein sources of their wild ancestors.

Such was demonstrated by five-year-old Angel when I visited Purradise on April 19. A handsome gray tuxedo with a perfect upside-down heart of a white muzzle, he had a clear agenda when released from his condo into the Sunshine Spa. First, he batted at a mechanical wand hidden beneath a crackly cloth, grabbing its colorful plastic tip numerous times despite the random timing of its spins. Then, bird activity at the room’s two outside feeders drew his attention, as did a larger bird he spotted hopping on the grass below the sill. And although a landlubber from kittenhood, he also enjoyed tossing and recapturing a fish-shaped toy I offered him while he was midway up a carpeted cat tree.

In your own home, there are many ways to engage your cat’s ancient hunting instincts. Toy mice or other stuffed animals are oft a favorite plaything (just be sure they, or such attachments as whiskers, are not so small, flimsy, or fine as to be edible); likewise, wand-style dangling toys (take care that Kitty doesn’t ingest the object or cord, and put the toy away when not in use). Sturdy battery-powered or wind-up wheeled toys sold for either cats or young children are great to chase. Even a humble crumpled piece of paper or a drinking straw can launch many a thrilling game of pounce, bat, and release. Placing a ball or other object inside a large paper bag (cut off any handles first) or open carton for Kitty to play Whack-a-Mole also keeps those senses and paws alert at little or no expense. Some cats delight in carrying or hiding toys as they would in the wild to keep prey from rivals; learn Kitty’s favorite stashing places and mix it up by adding a new toy or two to the collection or rotating how many toys are available at one time, to keep the fun fresh.

Wherever you live, help Kitty safely birdwatch by creating a glassed or screened view (please see box) of surrounding foliage that attract birds or of feeders hung outside. Add a sturdy surface where Kitty can sit if sills are narrow. Securely lidded fish tanks can also provide hours of entertainment without harm to the fish. And see whether Kitty likes nature videos of birds or other animals, easily accessed on television or the Internet, or borrowed from the library…perhaps even those silly cat or dog videos that have you rolling on the floor!

If your home is invaded by undesirable prey, please use only nontoxic, nonsnapping means to eliminate them (those blue antimouse crystals can be deadly to pets; a snap trap could cripple a curious cat). Some natural, safe solutions: keep summertime ants out of pets’ food dishes by placing each dish in a slightly larger bowl filled with water (I squirt in a little peppermint-scented soap, which ants don’t like); peppermint (herb, oil, or soap), used along moldings, cracks, and pipe entry points, is also a good mouse preventative, as are those plug-in electronic gizmos that do not affect cats. Be sure to swat visiting bees or wasps quickly, before Kitty can swallow them live or be stung (again, see box).

If your pet does take down a mouse or other living creature, remember to say thank you as you release or otherwise dispose of it, as a scolding or show of disgust will only confuse your proud hunter. After all, Kitty is simply doing what cats have been wired to do for centuries to guarantee their own survival…so, why stop now!

Avoid high-rise syndrome, wherever your windows

It is not true that cats always land on their feet. It can take only a few inches of raised window—or an ill-fitting or torn screen—for a cat to get through and be hurt from any height. A sad example: when I lived midway up a three-story NYC brownstone, the lady downstairs found the upstairs tenants’ cat in her backyard—with a broken leg—after it had dived through a barely open window (she took it to the vet herself, as its owners were away at work).

Think of it this way: Screening your windows (inexpensive, horizontally sliding screens that fit snugly into the inner frame of an open window can be found by any hardware store) costs far less than emergency vet bills…or Kitty’s life.

Plus, they keep out flying insects, to everyone’s comfort!

This series follows the special human-feline bond at Purradise, the Berkshire Humane Society Cat Adoption Center at 301 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington, MA 01230 (413-717-4244), berkshirehumane.org. Open Wed., Fri., & Sat. 10–4 p.m.; Thurs. 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; and Sun. noon–4 p.m.

Iris Bass, coauthor of the Cat Lover’s Daily Companion, shares her Lee home with five shelter cats.

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