Your little tigress has landed yet another mangled mouse at your feet, having dragged it up from the basement. A week earlier, she even left one under your pillow. Is she bringing you a present? Hoarding her bounty for a nice snack later on?
The activity may not have a purpose other than for the cat to express her instinct to hunt. “Cats can act on their predatory drive even when they’re not hungry,” says the head of the Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic, Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM. “They’re sometimes in it just for the chase,” she says — although they may feel compelled to bring home their kill. That, too, is instinctual. Keep in mind, Dr. Borns-Weil advises, that our pampered house cats are not that different genetically from their big-cat ancestors. They still are hard-wired to seek out and capture prey. But why drop it at your feet, or under your pillow, or in some other spot that’s yours and yours alone?
Some have thought that perhaps the cat wants to demonstrate how proud she is of her conquest. But it’s probably not that. Since the activity is more common among females, behaviorists posit that the cat is displaying a misplaced instinct to teach her kittens how to eat prey. “I’ve cooked this up. It’s good for you, so eat it.”
Other cat owners have wondered whether their cat is trying to say thank you for all the nurturing she has received, to pay back their caregivers with a gift. That, too, is unlikely. Although your cat is bonded to you, she is not going to process the care you give her as something to be grateful for.
That said, hiding her catch in your own personal space is very much an act of trust, especially given that cats are territorial animals. So while her deliveries are “not quite the same as a gift, trust itself is a gift,” says Dr. Borns-Weil.