Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I read somewhere that kittens learn hunting, climbing trees, and stuff like that from their mothers and from each other. If this is so, then if a kitten is born to a house cat, who was born from another house cat, will the kitten be able to hunt and climb trees and do other cat stuff? Thank you.
Siouxsie: This is a very good question for Mother’s Day. We cats do learn a lot of important stuff from our mothers, of course.
Thomas: Our mothers teach us how to use the litter box–by working with the innate feline instinct to bury our waste–and whether to view people and dogs and the like as a threat or a friend.
Dahlia: However, a lot of the behavior you describe is based in instinct. We kitties are born with an innate desire to climb things and pounce on moving objects.
Siouxsie: As kittens, we begin to use these instincts and learn how to develop them. You’ve probably seen indoor kittens climbing up scratching posts, furniture, or even curtains. These skills can be transferred to climbing trees as well.
Thomas: Although an indoor cat might not instinctively think to climb a tree, our instinct is to go up if we’re threatened. If the place we can go up is a tree, that’s what’s going to happen.
Dahlia: The problem is usually returning to the ground. It takes some thinking to figure out how to get back down from a tree, because our claws are curved in a way that works best for going up, but not so well for coming down.
Siouxsie: We learn that we can safely drop from the top of the curtains to the floor if we need to. But we are wise enough to know it won’t end well if we try to jump out of a 20-foot-tall tree.
Thomas: Likewise, the desire to catch mice (or other moving objects) is an instinct. If we have a mother who teaches us how to catch and kill mice, we’ll learn the best techniques for doing so when we’re kittens.
Dahlia: An indoor cat would get some hunting skill practice by chasing moving toys or catching bugs. But chasing toys won’t teach us the best way to deliver the “death bite.”
Siouxsie: That’s not to say that indoor cats wouldn’t learn how to be great hunters if they got the chance to be outdoor cats. Sinéad and Thomas and I were indoor cats from the very beginning of our lives. But when we got to go outside back when we lived on the farm, we did learn how to hunt. We were pretty clumsy at first, but it didn’t take us long to learn the best way to dispatch rodents.
Thomas: We also learned that mice were pretty tasty. Oh, and I came to love bunnies as well–what a delicious midnight snack a rabbit is!
Siouxsie: Thomas even earned the title Most Puissant Rat Slayer, because he killed all the rats that were living in the barn and left them on Mama’s doorstep to show off.
Thomas: Let me tell you cats out there, rats are not tasty! Leave them as gifts for your people, but don’t try to eat them. They taste like poop and garbage and rotting compost. Even after just killing one, I had to cleanse my palate with some grass and a shrew or two.
Dahlia: I got to go outside, too, but I never quite picked up the hunting skill all that well, even though my kitty mama taught me. It was mostly because I didn’t want to. It’s much more fun to play and be cute and get petties. Besides, I get plenty of food from Mama.
Siouxsie: In short, a cat that’s always been an indoor cat, raised by an indoor cat who was also raised by an indoor cat, can and will learn how to hunt and climb. The cat will make a lot of clumsy attempts at first, but it won’t take too long before they’re pros at all that outdoor stuff.
Thomas: The one thing you should be aware of, though, is that cats learn to be “road smart” from other outdoor cats. Cats that don’t get taught about staying out of the road or avoiding cars run a very high risk of being involved in potentially fatal accidents.
Dahlia: We’re lucky that our house was really far away from the road and we had all the fun and food we needed right on our property, so we didn’t feel the need to roam around and go near the road.
Siouxsie: Also, Thomas and Dahlia and I are fixed. Most cats that roam do so because they’re not spayed or neutered and they’re looking for mates. And our hormones certainly don’t do anything to increase our wisdom and sense!
Thomas: We cats can be very happy as indoor-only cats, and we do recommend that as the first choice. If you do consider letting your cats out, consider very carefully the risks and benefits of doing so. If you have a courtyard or a fenced back yard where your cats can enjoy the outdoors without the risks of road accidents or predators, it’s definitely a lot safer than letting yoru cat roam freely.
Dahlia: Mama let us go outside on the farm because she knew we wouldn’t go far from our home territory, the road was very far away, and we wouldn’t roam because we were fixed. But now that we live in town again near a busy road with fast traffic, Mama prefers that we stay indoors. Besides, the neighbor has a cat that’s mean to us and swears at us through the window, and Mama doesn’t want us to have fights and hurt each other.
Siouxsie: If you do let your cat to go outside, have the cat spayed or neutered to prevent roaming and unwanted kittens. We strongly recommend that any cats that go outdoors have collars with tags containing their caretaker’s contact information. You might want to seriously consider microchipping your cat, too, so that if he’s rescued by the shelter, they can call you and let you know your cat is there.
Thomas: So there you go, Mary. Indoor cats can learn to hunt and climb. We’re living proof.