Throughout time, cats have been taken into homes, as well as barns and even retail stores, for their hunting deftness, and specifically for their mouse-killing abilities. (After all, the cat vs. mouse is probably the most popular predator-prey pairing, immortalized in idioms and cartoons from all over the world.) Tiny in size and lacking flight abilities, which limits the possibility of counterattack or escape, mice are present in cats’ diet simply because they are an easy prey.
The same goes for flies, moths, cockroaches, grasshoppers, spiders, and anything else that happens to wander inside your house. Cats love to chase (and sometimes kill) pretty much anything that creeps, crawls, or scurries before their eyes. They are born with natural hunting instincts, and many homeowners rely on them to chase and catch vermin on their property. However, allowing them to put their natural instincts to use may not only be ineffective at stopping a rodent infestation, but can actually encourage more pests into your home.
Although a lot of farmers would swear that their barn cats keep mice out, the idea of a modern-day house cat decimating armies of mice is probably more wishful thinking than reality. A standard domesticated cat living inside the house with plenty of food available has little incentive to kill a mouse, let alone vicious adult rats that might fight back.
First of all, not all cats are natural mouse killers. Centuries of domestication have declined the prey drive and hunting skills of many cats, and those who are still at it do it for entertainment or as a sign of affection for their owner. When they do go hunting, many cats don’t eat their prey, and sometimes they don’t even kill it. A common behavior in indoor-outdoor cats that don’t have the opportunity to catch live prey is to torture and play with their catch, trying to prolong the ‘event’ as much as possible.
Most agree that breed, sex, age, temperament, and upbringing also matter in establishing if a cat is suited for mouse-killing. For instance, the popular Maine Coon, initially bred for killing rodents, has currently lost its reputation as a mouse-killer, and breeds such as Birman, Persian, or Ragdoll are considered mellow and laidback. Females are said to be better hunters than males, possibly because they have the instinct to teach their kittens how to hunt, and older cats are preferred to younger ones who are still honing their skills.
Even if your cat is active and seems interested in hunting, that doesn’t automatically mean your house is vermin-free. Rodents prefer nesting in undisturbed locations, and when they come into your house, they will head for wall cavities, ceiling voids, areas behind appliances, or in unoccupied areas such as attics and basements, where cats have little or no access at all. Given rodents’ capacity to breed incessantly – one female can produce up to 10 litters per year – the occasional mouse your cat catches will hardly make a dent in the rodent population.
Indoor cats (who may or may not spend time outdoors) are an excellent host for fleas, ticks, and parasites, despite their rigorous hygiene regimen. The soft, warm fur of cats and dogs provide the perfect environment for these blood-sucking pests, who can then easily hop onto people and spread in all living areas of the house.
Bed bugs especially can become a serious problem if they gain access inside your house. While they are not particularly fond of furry animals – they have a hard time moving through fur –they will not refuse to hitch a ride on your cat or dog and even have a meal or two off their blood until they detect a human host nearby. And once they find it, it’s almost impossible to convince them to move house.
However annoying and gruesome, live pests plaguing your cat are not your only concern. Fleas and ticks often spread disease by feeding and nesting on pests. Fleas are known carriers of cat scratch disease, plague, tapeworm, or flea allergy dermatitis, while ticks transmit the notorious Lyme disease, as well as ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and tularemia. Sometimes, the parasites causing these diseases may not pose a risk to your pet’s health, but they will endanger the health of humans and especially children.
Cats who hunt are susceptible to even more bacteria and parasites, which can result in life-altering consequences for their owners. Those who kill or feed on small prey such as birds and rodents can pick up toxoplasma gondii (the parasite responsible for toxoplasmosis), avian flu, salmonella, hantavirus, leptospirosis, and others. Cats may contract these diseases themselves or transmit them to their owners through a bite, lick, or scratch.
Cats may be famed for their mouse-catching capabilities, but if you have a full-blown infestation in your house, a cat will be of little use to you. They may be helpful in preventing a mouse from entering the house in the first place, but if the infestation has already occurred, you should rely on effective control options such as sanitation, mouse-proof construction, and population reduction through professional methods. Contact an experienced pest control company in your area and find out how you can eliminate rodent populations without risking the health of your family and pets.
About the Author
Daniel Mackie, co-owner of Greenleaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert well-known as an industry go-to guy, an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions, and is a regular guest on HGTV. Mackie, along with business partner Sandy Costa, were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid gardener.