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Are Cats Effective at Killing Rats? The Surprising Answer!

Cats are well-known for their hunting prowess, but some cats are more talented at this skill than others. If you’re wondering if cats are good at catching and killing rats, let’s find out the answer!

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Cats as predators

Cats have been prized for their ability to kill vermin for thousands of years, and it’s thought that it is one of the main reasons that they became domesticated in the first place. African Wildcats were first found near human settlements due to the presence of mice, and these cats were gradually tamed by farmers who saw the benefits of having a cat around to help control vermin.

While the ability to catch mice was a useful skill back then, modern-day cats, both feral and housecats allowed to roam outside, are now responsible for killing multiple types of wildlife. But does that include rats?

A study completed in 2013 estimated that domestic cats kill between 1.3 and 4.0 billion birds each year across the lower 48 states of the U.S.A. Cats also killed anywhere from 6.9 billion to 22.3 billion mammals in the same area of the U.S.A. These were mainly mice, voles, shrews, and rabbits.

It’s important to note that feral, unowned cats are what contribute to most of these numbers, with an estimate of around 69% of the mortalities being due to feral cats. So, we know that cats are efficient predators. But if you’re thinking about taking in a feral cat to help control rats on your farm, is this going to be an effective strategy?

The signs point to no.

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Image Credit: Nicholas_Demetriades, Pixabay

Cats are used for rat control

In Washington, D.C.., an organization called Blue Collar Cats, part of the Humane Rescue Alliance, releases feral cats to help control rodent populations. These cats aren’t used to human interaction, so once they’ve been trapped and given any veterinary care they need, including neutering or spaying, they’re not really suited to being adopted as domestic cats.

Instead, the feral cats are put to work to control the rodent population for local businesses. Cats are provided with shelter, food, water, and basic care. There are plenty of businesses that are thrilled with how having a Blue Collar Cat has helped reduce the rodent population, including rats, around their properties.

Blue Collar Cats doesn’t advocate withholding food to encourage cats to hunt rodents; in fact, this has been shown to be an ineffective method and cruel to the cat too. Most cats will hunt whether they’re hungry or not, it’s an innate instinct. So, while certain areas do use cats to control rat populations, how effective are cats at actually killing rats?

Are cats effective at killing rats?

There’s only one scientific study that we can find that looks at the effectiveness of cats in killing and controlling rat populations. The results show that cats aren’t all that great at killing rats. The study, titled “Temporal and Space-Use Changes by Rats in Response to Predation by Feral Cats in an Urban Ecosystem,” examined the relationship between a colony of around 100 rats and a group of feral cats.

Over 79 days, they found that while the cats spent a great deal of time around the rat colony, they didn’t often interact with them. There were only 20 incidents of the cats stalking rats, three attempted kills, and only two actual kills. Both kills were the result of a cat finding where a rat was hiding rather than actively stalking them out in the open.

The lead researcher, Michael H. Parsons, said that as the rats adjusted to the presence of the cats, they adapted their behavior by spending more time hiding in their burrows than roaming outside. He suggests that when this happens, observers assume they see fewer rats because the cats killed several of them. In reality, the rats have changed their behavior and are less visible because they hide more.

Cats versus Rats

cat with dead rat
Image Credit: HikwaMehluli, Pixabay

Rats are large prey for any cat to take on; even an experienced feral cat may think twice before hunting a rat. Rats are also good at defending themselves and can turn on a cat as they attempt to hunt them. Brown rats can weigh up to 330 grams (compared to a mouse, which weighs 30 grams). Often, it will only be a cat that has been taught by their mother to effectively hunt and kill rats that will attempt this formidable task.

Many cats will choose to ignore rats and find a way to live alongside them rather than hunt them. Researchers have even seen urban rats and feral cats eating out of the same trash bag.

Cats versus Mice

So, it seems like cats are not all that great at killing rats. Let’s see if they’re better at killing mice. It looks like they are. Another study, titled “Domestic cats as predators and factors in winter shortages of raptor prey,” found that over an area of 35 acres, six cats killed more than 4,200 mice over a period of 8 months.

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Wrapping it up

Cats can indeed kill rats, but most cats seem to prefer avoiding doing so. As a solution for keeping rat populations under control, it doesn’t look like cats are the answer.

That’s not to say that initiatives like Blue Collar Cats aren’t a great idea. Research has shown that the presence of cats reduces sightings of rats. So, whether the rats have moved onto a different area or are spending more time in burrows, the location still benefits from decreased sightings of rats.

It also gives a needy cat a new home, and what’s not to love about that?

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Featured Image: rihaij, Pixabay