Do Cats Really Crave Human Flesh?


Cats have long been portrayed in popular culture as sneaky, mischievous creatures. Movies, cartoons, and stories sometimes depict them lurking in shadows, waiting for the chance to pounce on unsuspecting humans. And with their sharp teeth and claws, it’s no wonder some people wonder – do cats really eat humans?

While the idea of a cat eating a person sounds far-fetched, it’s rooted in the fact that cats are natural predators. Their powerful hunting instincts and ability to take down prey much larger than themselves causes some to think that under the right circumstances, even a house cat could be capable of attacking humans.

In reality, the chances of a typical domestic cat eating its owner are essentially zero. But that doesn’t mean bites and scratches are impossible if a cat feels threatened. Understanding cats’ true dietary needs and predatory capabilities provides a look at the truth behind the myths.

Cats as Predators

Cats are natural predators with strong hunting instincts and abilities. Although domesticated house cats do not need to hunt to survive, they still retain their innate predatory drive and skills. This means that even well-fed house cats may still stalk, pounce, and kill prey if given the opportunity.

A cat’s hunting sequence begins with searching for and stalking prey (Purina, n.d.). Their excellent vision and hearing allow them to spot potential prey from afar. Once detected, cats enter into a crouched, stealthy stalking posture and slowly sneak up on their target. When close enough, they pounce with great speed and agility, using their sharp claws to seize and kill the prey. This hunting behavior is instinctual and triggered by the sight and sound of prey.

Cats are especially adept ambush hunters. They often patiently lie in wait or hide in order to suddenly burst out and capture unsuspecting prey. Their stealth allows them to get very close before being detected. Cats have also been observed exhibiting play-like behavior that actually helps refine their hunting skills.

While predatory skills are inherent in cats, kittens normally require training from their mothers to hone them. However, even hand-raised orphaned kittens will begin stalking and pouncing on their own as their predatory instincts kick in.

Cats’ Diets

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat meat to acquire certain nutrients like taurine that can’t be obtained from plants. In the wild, cats eat small prey items that are high in protein and fat but low in carbohydrates. Wild cats’ diets consist primarily of:

  • Small rodents such as mice, rats, squirrels, and other mammals that cats can hunt and kill
  • Birds such as sparrows, robins, and other songbirds
  • Reptiles like snakes and lizards
  • Amphibians like frogs and toads
  • Insects and arachnids like grasshoppers and spiders

Wild and feral cats have also been observed occasionally eating larger prey like rabbits when available. The diets of wild cats provide the high protein and fat content they require, and help satisfy their strong hunting instincts.

According to, given the choice cats naturally prefer to eat a diet high in protein, low in carbohydrates, with moderate fat and high moisture content. This is why many pet food companies strive to mimic the nutritional composition of wild prey animals in their cat food formulas.

House Cats vs. Big Cats

While house cats and big wild cats like lions and tigers share many similarities and a common ancestry, there are some key differences between domestic cats and their larger cousins.

One major difference is in their size. House cats typically weigh between 4-10 pounds, while big cats can weigh anywhere from 90 pounds for a cheetah up to 600 pounds for a male lion or tiger. This large disparity in size also leads to differences in strength and killing ability.

There are also differences in sociability. House cats are solitary hunters that live alone or in small groups. Big cats are more social, with lions living in prides and tigers, leopards, and cheetahs often associating with other members of their species.

In terms of behavior, big cats have round pupils, while house cats have elongated slit-like pupils. Big cats can also roar, while house cats purr and meow.

Perhaps the biggest difference comes down to their relationship with humans. House cats have been domesticated and are dependent on humans for food and shelter. Big cats remain undomesticated and can be very dangerous to humans.

Documented Attacks by Big Cats

While not common, there have been many documented attacks by big cats like lions, tigers, cougars, and leopards on humans over the years. According to Big Cat Rescue, incidents involving captive big cats in the United States since 1990 have resulted in the deaths of over 130 big cats, at least 250 human injuries including 75 maulings, and the deaths of 25 humans.

Some examples of fatal big cat attacks include a tiger killing a zookeeper in Kansas in 2005, a captive lion killing an intern at a California animal sanctuary in 2013, and a lion mauling and killing a 22-year old American woman on safari in South Africa in 2018 (Big-Cat Incidents in the U.S.).

There have also been many non-fatal but serious big cat attacks. In one incident in South Africa in 2015, British tourist Katherine Chappell was fatally attacked and killed by a lion when she rolled down her window at a safari park. In Nevada in 2021, a woman was seriously injured when she tried to pet a jaguar at a zoo. These types of attacks demonstrate the innate predatory instincts that big cats can have towards humans when given the opportunity.

Why House Cats Don’t Eat Humans

The main reason why house cats do not eat humans is due to our relative size differences. House cats, such as domestic tabbies, are quite small compared to the average human adult. An average house cat weighs 8-10 pounds whereas the average adult human weighs around 170 pounds. This significant size disparity makes humans unsuitable as prey for house cats.

House cats are predators of small animals such as mice, rats, birds, lizards, etc. Their small jaws and teeth are adapted for killing smaller prey, not large animals. They do not have the size or strength to take down a full-grown human. While a house cat may nibble on or play with human hands and feet opportunistically, they lack both the physical capability and predatory drive required to attack, kill, and consume an entire human body.

In contrast, big cats such as lions, tigers, and leopards are large enough and have the predatory instincts that enable them to hunt and eat large prey, including humans on very rare occasions. But domestic house cats do not exhibit these same characteristics and so do not view humans as potential food sources. Our much larger body size compared to house cats protects us from being targeted as prey.

Overall, house cats are simply too small to seriously consider humans as prey. Their tiny jaws and teeth cannot deliver lethal wounds to people. So while house cats may nip us occasionally, they do not have the physical attributes or innate desire to hunt, kill, and eat humans.

When Cats Might Bite Humans

Even though house cats do not view humans as prey, they may still bite people for various reasons. Cat bites often happen during play when the cat gets overly excited. Kittens and young cats tend to nip and bite more during play since they are still learning how to control the intensity of their bites. Cats may also bite out of fear, such as if they feel cornered or threatened. Mistreatment, rough handling, or invasion of a cat’s space can cause them to bite defensively. Cats use biting as a way to communicate that whatever is happening needs to stop (

Biting is part of normal cat communication and social behavior. It most often occurs when the cat’s boundaries are not being respected. With proper training, socialization, and care, cats can learn more acceptable ways of communicating with their owners. Understanding cat body language helps owners avoid eliciting defensive bites from their cats. Providing an enriching home environment also reduces problem behaviors like biting that result from stress, frustration, or lack of stimulation.

Avoiding Cat Bites and Scratches

There are several tips for avoiding cat bites and scratches:

  • Do not pet or disturb a cat when it is eating, sleeping or caring for kittens. Cats can be territorial and see this as threatening behavior.
  • Avoid prolonged petting or touching near sensitive areas like the lower back, belly or paws which may overstimulate the cat.
  • Watch for signs of agitation like twitching tail, ears back, hair standing up, etc. and stop petting if noticed. Let the cat walk away if they desire.
  • Trim cats’ nails regularly to minimize scratch damage if they do lash out. Use nail caps if needed for aggressive scratchers.
  • Do not startle or corner a cat. Give them an escape route.
  • Carefully introduce cats to children and teach gentle behavior. Supervise all interactions.
  • Desensitize cats to handling and restraint from a young age to reduce biting later on. Reward tolerance.

With knowledge of cat behavior signals and proper precautions, most bites and scratches can be avoided through respect of cats’ boundaries. For advice on cat bite prevention, see this reference:

Treating Cat Bites

Cat bites often become infected due to the bacteria in a cat’s mouth. Providing proper first aid right away is important for treating a cat bite wound. Here are some tips for first aid care of cat bites:

  • Wash the bite wound immediately with soap and warm water. This helps remove bacteria from the wound.
  • Apply an antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin to the bite. This can help prevent infection.
  • Wrap the wound with a clean bandage or gauze. This protects the wound from further contamination.
  • Elevate the bitten area if possible. This can help slow bleeding and swelling.
  • Apply ice wrapped in cloth to the bite area. Icing for 10-15 minutes at a time can reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Take over-the-counter pain medicine if needed for pain relief.
  • See a doctor right away if the bite is deep, won’t stop bleeding, or shows signs of infection like redness, swelling, oozing pus, red streaks, fever, etc. Cat bites often require medical treatment with oral antibiotics and professional wound care to prevent dangerous infections like cat scratch disease or sepsis.

With prompt first aid care and medical treatment if the bite is severe, cat bite wounds can heal properly. Always seek medical care for deep bites or bites showing any signs of infection. Sources:,


In conclusion, while big cats like lions and tigers will attack and eat humans if given the chance, domestic house cats do not see humans as prey or food. House cats have a natural instinct to hunt small rodents and birds, but they can be fed cat food and do not need to hunt to survive. Well cared for and fed house cats have no reason to attack or eat humans. While house cats may bite or scratch if feeling threatened or playful, they do not view humans as a food source. With proper care and handling, cat bites are avoidable, and house cats can live harmoniously with humans without ever attempting to eat them.

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