What Time Of Day Do Cats Hunt?


Cats are notorious hunters, often seen stalking or catching prey both indoors and outdoors. Their natural hunting behaviors are complex and influenced by various factors. This article will provide an overview of what time of day cats tend to hunt and the reasons behind their hunting patterns. We’ll explore how a cat’s age, environment, and purpose for hunting all impact when they are most active predators. Understanding your cat’s natural hunting rhythms can provide insight into their behavior and allow you to better care for their needs.

Natural Hunting Behaviors

Cats have natural instincts to hunt prey like birds and rodents due to their ancestral origins as solitary hunters (Source). They employ stealth techniques such as stalking, hiding, and pouncing to capture prey. Cats have excellent vision and hearing to detect prey movements from far away. Their ability to tread softly and pounce quickly gives them an advantage when hunting. Cats enjoy mimicking these natural hunting behaviors even when they are not hungry. Indoor cats will stalk and pounce on toys or moving objects to satisfy their predator instincts.

Crepuscular Nature

Crepuscular animals are those that are most active during twilight hours at dawn and dusk. While we often think of cats as nocturnal since they can be active at night, research indicates that cats are actually crepuscular. Their peak activity times tend to be early morning and early evening when the sun is low or just rising and setting.

This crepuscular pattern likely developed as an evolutionary advantage for cats’ hunting behaviors. The low light levels of dawn and dusk allowed cats to see prey while remaining hidden themselves. Additionally, many small mammal and bird species that cats hunt are also active at dawn and dusk, making these prime hunting times with lots of opportunities.

So while indoor cats may keep their owners awake with nighttime antics, their natural instinct is to be most active and hunt most aggressively at twilight hours. Understanding this crepuscular tendency can help owners predict and manage their cat’s behavior patterns.

Night Hunting

Cats are able to hunt successfully at night thanks to their excellent night vision. They have a layer of tissue in the back of their eye called the tapetum lucidum that reflects light back through the retina, allowing the photoreceptor cells a second chance to capture photons and improve vision in low light conditions. This physical adaptation gives cats superior low-light vision compared to humans.

Outdoors, cats take advantage of the darkness to stalk and ambush prey more easily under the cover of night. Their night vision allows them to see when other animals cannot, giving them an advantage while hunting nocturnally. Indoor cats may still exhibit nighttime hunting behaviors like prowling, pouncing, and energetic play at night when their predatory instincts are highest, even if no real prey is available.

So for felines who still have their natural instincts and are not limited to being indoor pets, the darkness of night provides the ideal time to hunt successfully and productively.

Daytime Hunting

While cats are most active at dawn and dusk, they can also hunt opportunistically during the daytime (Understanding the hunting behaviour of pet cats). Daytime hunting often occurs when cats are hungry or see easy prey (Cat Hunting Behaviours). Cats rely heavily on their vision for hunting, so they are well-equipped to spot potential prey in daylight. During the day, cats may hunt birds at feeders, stalk rodents in the grass, or notice insects and lizards that are active. Even indoor cats may spot flies or other bugs near windows and attempt to hunt them.

Young kittens and juvenile cats tend to be more active during the day as they learn to hunt. As cats mature, they shift to being more crepuscular and nocturnal in their hunting patterns. However, adult cats that are hungry, bored, or have high prey drive may still hunt opportunistically during daylight hours (Cat Hunting Behavior). Providing food, playtime, and enrichment can help satisfy cats so they are less inclined to hunt during the day.

Indoor vs Outdoor

Indoor and outdoor cats exhibit different hunting behaviors due to their environments. Outdoor cats spend more time actively hunting compared to indoor cats according to Indoor-only or outdoor access?. Outdoor cats have larger territories to patrol and more stimuli to react to. The outdoor environment provides cats with more opportunities to hunt prey like birds, rodents and insects. Outdoor cats get more exercise from roaming, climbing, and stalking prey.

Indoor cats lead more sedentary lives with less territory and fewer prey stimuli. However, indoor cats can still exhibit hunting behaviors by stalking toys, chasing laser pointers, and pouncing on catnip mice. Indoor cats receive less exercise and mental stimulation from hunting compared to outdoor cats. But keeping cats indoors protects them from hazards like cars, diseases, and fights with other animals according to Pros and cons: Indoor vs. outdoor cats.

Effects of Age

Kittens and younger cats tend to hunt more frequently and energetically than older, senior cats. As kittens, cats have a strong natural instinct to hunt, but their skills are not yet fully developed. They spend hours each day practicing their hunting techniques on toys, objects, and anything that moves. Kittens will often hunt even when they are not hungry. This frequent hunting behavior helps them develop their physical abilities, coordination, and learn skills like stealth, pouncing, and chasing.

According to Cat Hunting Behavior – When and How Cats Hunt, kittens that are not properly exposed to prey between 6-12 weeks of age may have decreased hunting efficiency as they mature. Therefore, it is beneficial to provide appropriate toys and supervised interactions with prey during this developmental stage.

As cats reach adulthood around 1-2 years old, their hunting instincts remain strong, but their energy levels and metabolism change. Adult cats will still hunt frequently, especially if allowed outdoors. Indoor adult cats often engage in play hunting behaviors like stalking, pouncing, and chasing toys or laser pointers to satisfy their instinctual drives.

According to What Age Do Cats Stop Hunting?, most cats begin decreasing hunting behaviors around 7-10 years old as they enter their senior years. Their physical abilities, senses, and reflexes decline with age, making hunting more challenging. Senior cats tend to hunt less frequently and for shorter time periods than in their youth. However, the motivation to hunt never fully disappears in cats.

Effects of Environment

A cat’s environment can significantly impact its hunting habits and behaviors. Cats that live in urban areas with high-rise buildings and less green space tend to hunt less than cats in rural areas. According to a study published in Biological Conservation, rural free-roaming cats in Georgia were estimated to kill an average of 14.2 animals per year while urban free-roaming cats in Athens, Georgia killed an average of 5.4 animals per year[1]. The decreased hunting in urban environments is likely due to the scarcity of potential prey as well as the presence of more human interaction and caretaking that decreases hunting needs.

Cats in rural or natural environments have much more access to birds, rodents, reptiles and other small animals that can become prey. With more green spaces, shrubbery, trees and hiding spots, cats in rural areas have ideal hunting grounds and greater opportunity to enact their natural predatory behaviors. The abundance of prey also provides more stimulation and enrichment for rural cats.

So in summary, environment plays a key role in predation rates for cats. While cats have natural hunting instincts, the availability of prey and hunting opportunities in their surrounding environment can significantly impact the frequency and success of their hunting activities.

Hunting for Play

Cats exhibit natural hunting behaviors not just for food, but also for play and stimulation. Even when cats are not hungry, their predatory instincts often lead them to hunt for “fun.” This is especially common with indoor cats who do not get to hunt real prey outside. According to Play-N-Squeak Mouse Hunter Cat Toy, when cats cannot express natural hunting behaviors outdoors, they will often direct those instincts towards toys or household objects inside the home.

Indoor cat hunting for play follows a similar sequence to actual hunting. As explained by Outdoor cat hunting for play, cats begin by stalking or hiding, before pouncing on their “prey” item. They may carry the item in their mouth, kick it with their hind legs, or even pretend to “kill” it. These lifelike hunting behaviors allow cats to satisfy their predatory needs through play. Interactive toys that move or make noise are especially helpful for triggering a cat’s hunting drive.

While outdoor cats get to explore hunting in nature, indoor cats should be provided with sufficient outlets for hunting play behaviors. Rotating toys, food puzzles, and simulated prey items allows cats to tap into their natural instincts in a safe, controlled way. Understanding a cat’s drive to “hunt” even without hunger can help owners provide a stimulating indoor environment. As Best cat hunting for play suggests, interactive play sessions are an excellent way to provide cats with needed mental and physical enrichment.


In summary, cats are most active and likely to hunt during crepuscular hours of dawn and dusk. This is due to their natural instinct as predators who use the dim light to their advantage when catching prey. While many cats do hunt at night or occasionally during the day, the early morning and evening hours remain their peak activity and hunting times.

To reiterate, the main question of when cats hunt can be answered as follows: The majority of cats will hunt most actively at dawn and dusk, capitalizing on their crepuscular nature. Some individuals may hunt more frequently at night or during the day depending on factors like age, environment, and indoor/outdoor lifestyle. But in general, crepuscular hours are a cat’s prime time for hunting due to their biology and natural behaviors.

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