Cats, for all the docility and affection they may display, are consummate predators. Virtually any species smaller than they are sets off those hair-trigger hunting instincts. This can be difficult for a loving cat owner to reconcile: the cuddly, purring bundle of fur who provides so much love and comfort indoors, versus the hungry savage who leaves half a vole on the doormat with an air of pride. As a cat lover since childhood, I’ve come to terms with the fact that my sweet and fluffy companion are also apex predators. Cats will chase anything: mice, frogs, insects and — yes — squirrels.
Do cats eat squirrels? Most cats can and will hunt squirrels, along with other species of wildlife. They may catch them to play with, but will certainly eat them if they feel like it. Cats are instinctual predators and squirrels are a natural prey animal for them.
You’ve landed on this page because you have questions about your cat’s hunting habits. Perhaps you have squirrels in your garden and you’re hoping to keep them safe from your cat. Maybe you’re concerned about ill-effects to your cat if she hunts and eats squirrels. You might be looking for ways to curb your cat’s hunting instincts, or worried that your cat is hunting because she’s hungry or because of some other issue.
Keep reading, because we have the answers you’re looking for. You’ll learn why cats hunt, why squirrels are interesting as prey, and how you can reduce your cat’s impact on the local wildlife.
Do Cats Eat Squirrels?
Cats are predators. They may be sweet, friendly, loving and companionable, but they’re also fiendishly cunning and eager hunters. It’s in a cat’s nature to chase any small furry thing that crosses her path, whether or not she has food and toys at home.
Because squirrels are smaller than cats and don’t usually trigger their protective, maternal drives, they usually get put into the category of “dinner” by our feline friends. In my experience, cats tend to catch fewer squirrels than they do other creatures — the seem to be more successful at catching voles, mice and other smaller rodents.
I think this is simply because squirrels are faster and better at climbing than cats; they’re better at escaping. Even so, they do end up as cat food from time to time.
Many cat owners struggle with this. They try to discourage their cats from hunting by giving them more food, or even punishing them when they hunt animals. This is, frankly both absurd and rather cruel. A cat is simply wired to hunt, just as they’re wired to eat, sleep and sharpen their claws on the furniture.
Punishing cats is usually a pointless act of cruelty, since they don’t learn in the same way that dogs do. When you smack a cat with a newspaper or spritz her with a spray bottle, all you’re really doing is giving her a reason to be afraid of you. She can’t understand why you’d want to stop her doing something as normal as hunting.
Some people assume that cats hunt because they’re hungry. This is another misconception. They don’t hunt because they’re hungry — they hunt because they’re cats. If you want to stop your cat from eating squirrels (not to mention all sorts of other lesser fauna) you’ll need to take a different approach.
Will Eating Squirrels Harm My Cat?
Hunting wild prey may have health consequences for your cat. Some animals are quite feisty and inclined to fight back when cornered, which can result in scratches, bites and other injuries. Wild prey can carry diseases which can be transmitted to your cat. It’s also possible for such animals to consume poisoned bait or other toxic substances. Sick or poisoned prey is easier to catch, and may pose a threat to your pet’s health if consumed.
Parasites are another concern. Wild creatures like squirrels are prone to infestation with fleas, mites, ticks and other external parasites. In the event of a successful hunt, it’s very easy for internal parasites to be consumed by your cat. Many small rodents carry worms, which can present a major hazard to your cat’s health.
In short, there are plenty of reasons why letting your cat hunt rodents, birds or other creatures is a bad idea. Cats kill an incredible number of animals and birds every year, but it’s also just possible for the wrong prey animal to end up killing your cat. Even if it doesn’t come to that — well, fleas and worms aren’t fun for anyone. I wouldn’t go so far as to ring the vet if one of my cats happened to take down a squirrel, but I would keep an eye on the fearsome hunter and make sure that there were no unpleasant consequences.
How Can I Stop My Cat Killing Squirrels?
The only real way to stop your cat from killing squirrels, and everything else that triggers her prey instinct, is to keep her on the other side of the door. I have seen all sorts of remedies proposed to protect wildlife from cats, and none of them are as good as simply keeping your cat inside.
Some people try to prevent their cats from hunting by making the cat easier for prey to spot, often by putting them in brightly coloured collars equipped with bells to alert prey. This might cut down the number of successful kills, but it won’t completely stop your cat from killing. I think the worst advice I’ve seen is to force your cat to wear a hair scrunchie round her neck. It might make her more visible to prey, but it’s much more likely to be removed by a very annoyed cat at the earliest opportunity. Worse, a scrunchie is more likely than a conventional collar to catch on a branch or a nail, potentially injuring your pet.
Yes, you should provide your cat with a collar. This is to make retrieval easier if your cat escapes and gets lost. Choose a breakaway model that won’t choke the cat if it happens to get snagged on something, and use it to display your contact information.
Some owners feel that preventing their cats from hunting is an act of cruelty, fearing that if a cat is deprived of this outlet she will suffer. You really needn’t worry on this score, however. If your cat is provided with a rich, stimulating indoor environment and enjoys lots of playtime with you, she’ll be just as happy as she would chasing squirrels. Your cat will also be safer, healthier and have a longer life expectancy.
Keeping Your Cat Safe
While protecting your cat from rogue squirrels might seem a little absurd, there are so many threats in the outside world that I really recommend making all cats indoor cats. Yes, they will fuss and try to get out. You can make them less restless by engaging that predatory instincts in healthier ways.
Provide your cats with plenty of fun things to do indoors. Cats love to climb and explore, so set up cat perches and a cat tree for them to enjoy. Set up cat habitats that your cats can hide in; even an old blanket or a towel in a cardboard box makes a great hideout for a cat. My British Shorthair likes to peer out at the world from his kitty tunnel, while my domestic shorthair girl has a favourite shelf equipped with a scrap of carpet from whence she can survey her domain.
Spend plenty of time each day playing with your cat. Tempt her with a teaser toy and try to get her to chase it. Some breeds, like the aforementioned British Shorthair, can get a bit stolid and lazy as they reach maturity. Vigorous games of chase-the-toy that engage their prey instincts can help to counter this. I like to spend 15-20 minutes getting my cats to chase a toy, at least twice a day. This helps them burn off their excess energy and keeps them in good shape.