Are cats useful for controlling rodents?

Everyone knows that cats are natural born hunters. Their brains are wired to catch mice and other tiny varmints. It’s their raison d’être—their primary purpose of existence.

But asking if cats can catch mice is very different than asking if they are good at controlling a rodent population. Far from it! In fact, a well fed, well cared for cat does exactly the opposite. It will infest a suburban home faster than an open door smeared with peanut butter and cheese. Allow me to explain…

I live in the suburbs of Boston. That’s my house below.

My neighborhood has no rodent problem. Apart from early morning walks with my dog into the woods, I have never seen a mouse, vole, gopher or chipmunk with one very big exception. I’ll explain later. Typically, the only rodents I see are squirrels on lawns and a pet hamster or gerbil in a neighbor’s terrarium…

That was before I became a cat owner. But, I have lived in the same house for 35 years. During that time, my family has had 6 cats (not all at the same time—But, thankfully, our cats have all lived past 20 years).

Our cats have access to the outdoors. They have their own door and can come and go as they please. They occasionally get into a scrape with a raccoon or another cat, but they have managed to avoid cars. But here’s the thing…

Earlier, I said that I never saw a mouse, a vole or a chipmunk. You might think this is because our cats scare them away or catch them on sight. Far from it! In my experience, cats don’t control or eliminate mice—they party with them!

Let’s be clear: Apart from a pet or a laboratory, I never saw rodents until I owned cats. In the Fall and Summer, they bring mice, voles and chipmunks into the house every single day. And they rarely kill or seriously injure the little critters. Instead, they drop them in the kitchen (where I am cooking or working) or at the foot of the bed (where I am trying to sleep). Anyone who knows cat behavior understands that they gloat over their accomplishment and that they consider it a treasure for their human companion. They want high praise for delivering a fresh, intact toy.

So, in response to your question, a well-fed suburban cat is a rodent magnet! It may be different, if you live in the city or on a farm, and if your cat is perpetually hungry. But my cats hunt for friendship and for gifts. And this results in a rodent influx rather than rodent control.


Postscript: Rabbits are a different story altogether

Our cats also bring in an occasional bird, frog and snake. As with rodents, they take care to minimize hurting the creatures that they bring into the house. They are either playmates or gifts for their human companions. But, rabbits get special treatment…

For some reason that I cannot fathom, my cats exhibit a more traditional, predatory behavior when it comes to rabbits. At least once each month, they bring a wild rabbit into the house. They systematically torture and then slaughter it—typically, before I wake up. They decapitate the poor thing, disembowel the intestines and dismember the carcass. Then, if I am still asleep or out of the house, they devour every little bit except the tail and heart. Seriously! Upon close inspection of the murder scene, there is no evidence of a skull, fur or teeth. Even the spinal cord is gone. The only explanation is that the perp eats everything. With the exception of the aforementioned tail and heart, there is only a smear of blood on the floor.

In the photo below, we stopped our rabbit killer before it completely eliminated evidence of it’s gruesome act. At left, is an empty hide and a leg. On the right is the large intestine. Had we not intervened, even the guts and fur would be gone.