How Good Are Cats At Catching Mice?

Knowing how well cats catch mice is useful information for several reasons. First, it sheds light on the natural history and instincts of cats as predators and mice as prey. Understanding the core hunting behaviors of cats provides insights into their biology, evolution, and relationship to other species. Second, for cat owners, it informs how providing appropriate outlets for their natural hunting behaviors improves cat welfare and reduces unwanted hunting. Third, it helps measure the impact that allowing cats outdoors has on wildlife populations, which is an important conservation issue. Finally, it reveals the risks that hunting mice poses for cats in terms of contracting diseases. By exploring research on cat mousers, we gain a deeper understanding of feline nature.

In this article, we will examine the natural instincts of cats to hunt mice, factors that influence their success rates, observational studies of mousers, controlled experiments testing their abilities, their real-world impact on rodent control, and the implications for cat and wildlife welfare. This synthesis of research aims to satisfy curiosity and provide cat owners actionable insights on living with effective mousers.

Natural History of Cats and Mice

Cats and mice have co-evolved over millions of years as predator and prey, respectively. Studies show that the evolutionary arms race between cats and mice dates back over 60 million years, around the time mammals appeared on our planet ( Both the Felidae (cat) and Muridae (mouse and rat) families emerged during the Oligocene Epoch about 25 million years ago, catalysing the predator-prey dynamic between cats and rodents that persists to this day.

Early cats evolved as ambush predators, developing key hunting adaptations like sharp, retractable claws, quick reflexes, flexible bodies, stealthy movements, and sharp vision and hearing to catch prey like mice, rats, and other small mammals ( In response, mice evolved counter-adaptations like acute senses, speed, agility, cryptic coloring, and hiding behaviors to evade predation by cats.

This evolutionary arms race between feline predators and murine prey continued as wild cats diverged into different species and spread across the world over millions of years. Domestic cats retain strong hunting instincts that originally evolved to catch nimble and elusive prey like mice.

Mouse Hunting Instincts in Cats

Cats are natural hunters with innate predatory instincts that develop early on. Even kittens display hunting behaviors without being taught by their mothers or having any experience with prey. According to research from Purina, kittens as young as 7 weeks old will instinctively stalk, chase, pounce on, and kill prey-like objects when given the opportunity (

These hunting behaviors in kittens include stalking prey by silently creeping up or hiding and waiting to ambush. Kittens also exhibit the pounce behavior where they leap onto prey with their front paws extended and may deliver a fatal neck bite. Even kittens raised indoors away from live prey will bat around and bite toy mice or other small objects in a similar way to practicing hunting skills.

According to veterinarians, these innate hunting behaviors emerge in kittens around the time they are weaned from their mothers as their predation instincts kick in ( So while experience and training from the mother cat plays a role, much mouse hunting behavior in cats is driven by natural instincts present from a very young age.

Factors That Influence a Cat’s Mouse Hunting Ability

There are several key factors that impact how skilled a cat is at hunting and catching mice, including breed, environment, and early life experiences.

Certain cat breeds have stronger innate hunting abilities and instincts that make them better mousers. For example, breeds like the Turkish Angora, Maine Coon, and Egyptian Mau are known for their skilled hunting traits. Their lean, athletic builds, quick reflexes, and attentiveness give them an advantage when it comes to stalking and catching mice 1.

A cat’s environment also plays a role. Indoor cats may have fewer opportunities to hone their hunting skills compared to outdoor cats that can freely roam and interact with potential prey. Access to mice and the chance to practice hunting from a young age enhances a cat’s ability 2.

Early life experiences with their mother and littermates provide essential education for kittens on how to stalk, chase, and kill prey. Kittens that receive this kind of modeling and training during development tend to be more capable hunters as adult cats 3.

Observational Studies of Mouse Hunting

Several scientific studies have observed cats hunting mice in order to understand their success rates in catching prey. One study by McGregor et al. (2015) examined feral cats hunting in open and dense habitats. They found hunting success was highly dependent on the habitat, with a 17% success rate in dense grass or complex habitats compared to 44% in open areas. The study revealed cats are better killers in more open spaces where they can ambush prey more easily.

Another study by Dickman (2015) observed the hunting behavior of 15 domestic cats, finding that some individuals specialized in hunting rodents with success rates between 83-100%. However, there was high variation between cats, indicating not all cats are equal when it comes to mouse hunting abilities.

Lab Experiments on Mouse Hunting

Controlled laboratory experiments have been conducted to analyze cats’ natural rodent catching abilities in a scientific setting. In one study, researchers allowed house cats to freely interact with mice in an enclosed room and recorded the mice killed over a set period of time[1]. The results demonstrated cats’ proficiency in capturing mice when given the opportunity.

Other controlled tests have investigated whether the mere presence of a cat can deter mice, even without direct interactions. In one experiment, mice were allowed to roam between two enclosures – one with a cat and one without. The mice strongly avoided the cat’s enclosure, suggesting cats can scare away rodents simply through odor and indirect cues[2].

Overall, lab trials have quantified cats’ innate predatory skills and confirmed their ability to reduce rodent numbers through both hunting and deterrence. The controlled settings have isolated cats’ abilities to effectively catch mice when given the opportunity.

Success Rates of Mousers

Several studies have looked at the success rate of cats catching mice in controlled experiments. One study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science evaluated the mouse hunting skills of 78 cats in a contained indoor area. They found the average success rate per mouse-hunting attempt was 28% (1). However, there was significant variation between individual cats, with the most successful cats able to catch mice on over 50% of attempts.

Another study published in Mammal Review observed feral cats hunting mice in more natural outdoor environments (2). They found an average success rate of 30% across all cats during the daytime. However, success rates increased to 70% when cats hunted mice in open habitats at night. The researchers concluded that feral cats can be very effective nocturnal hunters of mice in certain environments.

Overall, research suggests house cats can successfully catch mice in around 30% of hunting attempts on average. But success rates can vary widely based on the individual cat’s skill and hunting environment. More independent, athletic mousers tend to achieve higher rodent catch rates.



Impact on Rodent Populations

Cats are often thought of as natural pest control, due to their ability to hunt and kill rodents. But how much of an impact do cats actually have on rodent populations? Studies have found that well-fed domestic cats kill an average of 14 rodents per year (1). While this shows cats do hunt rodents despite not needing them to survive, it’s a relatively small number compared to rodent reproductive rates.

One study in rural Wisconsin found that a population of 55 free-ranging cats killed an estimated 83 rodents per square mile per year (2). Meanwhile, the rodent population remained stable at about 2,050 rodents per square mile. The researchers concluded that predation by house cats does not have a significant impact on rodent populations. Other studies have had similar findings (3).

So while cats can help control rodents around homes and farms to some degree, they do not significantly reduce overall rodent populations. Their predatory abilities are limited compared to the high reproductive rate of rodents. Other more intensive methods of rodent control are needed for broader impacts. But having a mouser cat can still be a useful part of an integrated pest management plan.

(2) Kays, Roger & DeWan, Adam. (2004). Ecological impact of inside/outside house cats around a suburban nature preserve. Animal Conservation. 7. 273-283. 10.1017/S1367943004001489.

(3) Loss, Scott & Will, Tom & Marra, Peter. (2013). The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States. Nature communications. 4. 1396. 10.1038/ncomms2380.

Risks to Cats from Catching Mice

While some pet owners may encourage their cats to hunt mice, this predatorial behavior can pose health risks to cats. Mice and other rodents can carry diseases and parasites that they can transmit to cats who hunt, kill and eat them.

One of the most common risks is infection from organisms like Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. According to the Pet Care Rx article “Is it Safe to Let Your Cat Get Rid of Mice?”, toxoplasmosis can infect a cat through ingestion of infected mice and cause fever, lethargy, breathing problems, and even death in severe cases. Pregnant cats can also pass the infection to their unborn kittens.

Other rodent-borne diseases include salmonellosis, leptospirosis, and campylobacter – bacterial infections that lead to vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal issues in cats. An article from Texas A&M Veterinary Medicine (“Put A “Paws” On Hunting”) notes these bacteria are shed in rodent feces and urine, posing a risk even if the cat doesn’t eat the mouse.

Additionally, mice and rats can transmit internal parasites like tapeworms, roundworms and hookworms to cats that ingest them. These intestinal worms can cause malnutrition, vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss. Rodent fleas can also transmit the bacterium that causes plague in cats.

While cats are natural hunters, pet owners should weigh the risks of letting them catch and eat wild mice. Supervision, preventing access to rodents, and vet care can help keep cats safe if they do manage to catch mice in the home.


In summary, cats have a strong natural instinct to hunt mice that has evolved over thousands of years. While their success rates vary based on factors like breed, age, environment, and hunger level, observational studies show that cats can be prolific mousers, capable of killing numerous rodents per day. This can significantly reduce mouse populations and damage in homes and farms. However, cats also face risks from catching and ingesting mice, including diseases and parasites. Mouse hunting provides important mental stimulation for cats, but owners must weigh the costs and benefits of allowing the behavior. With proper precautions like deworming and veterinary care, cats can successfully and safely indulge their prey drive.

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