Cats and rats have a long, intertwined history. Felines are natural predators of rodents, so it’s no surprise that the question of whether cats actually eat rats or just kill them comes up frequently for pet owners and those interested in animal behavior.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: while cats are well known for hunting and killing rats, they often do not actually eat them after the hunt. There are several reasons for this, which we’ll explore in detail throughout this article.

In this comprehensive, 3000+ word guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the predator-prey relationship between cats and rats. You’ll learn about the history of cats as natural ratters, their instinctive hunting behaviors, and factors that determine whether a cat will eat its rodent prey or leave it uneaten.

We’ll also provide tips for discouraging your pet cat from hunting rats, look at risks to cats from eating wild rats, and more.

The Historical Relationship Between Cats and Rats

Cats as Natural Hunters of Rats and Mice

Cats have long been known for their ability to hunt and catch small rodents, including rats and mice. This natural instinct to hunt is ingrained in their DNA, making them excellent predators. Cats are agile, swift, and equipped with sharp claws and teeth, making them highly effective at catching and killing rats.

In fact, the hunting behavior of cats is often triggered by the movement of small prey, such as rats. They stalk their prey, pounce on them, and deliver a swift bite to the neck or head, instantly killing the rodent.

It’s not just about the thrill of the hunt for cats; they also see rats as a potential source of food.

Studies have shown that cats are responsible for a significant reduction in the rat population in areas where they are present. Their ability to control rodent populations has been recognized and utilized by humans throughout history.

Use of Cats for Rodent Control Throughout History

The association between cats and rats dates back thousands of years. Ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, recognized the value of cats in controlling rodent populations and often kept them as companions and pest control agents.

During the Middle Ages, cats became an integral part of European households and were highly valued for their ability to keep rats and mice in check. They were even considered good luck charms and were often depicted in artwork and literature.

One notable example of the use of cats for rodent control is the famous “Ship’s Cat” tradition. Sailors would bring cats on board ships to control the rat population, which posed a threat to the ship’s food supplies. This practice was particularly common during the Age of Exploration.

Rat-Hunting Cat Breeds

While all cats have hunting instincts, some breeds are particularly skilled at catching and killing rats. These rat-hunting cat breeds have been selectively bred for their hunting abilities and are highly effective at controlling rodent populations.

One such breed is the Maine Coon. Known for their large size and strong hunting instinct, Maine Coons are natural-born rat hunters. Their powerful build, agility, and intelligence make them formidable opponents for rats.

The Scottish Fold is another breed that excels at rat hunting. With their keen senses and playful nature, Scottish Folds are quick to spot and catch rats, making them excellent companions for those dealing with rodent problems.

Other cat breeds known for their rat-hunting abilities include the Siamese, Burmese, and Abyssinian. These breeds have a strong prey drive and are highly skilled at catching and killing rats.

Do Cats Like the Taste of Rats?

When it comes to cats and rats, many people wonder if cats actually enjoy the taste of rats or if they simply kill them for other reasons. While cats are known for their hunting instincts, their preference for the taste of rats can vary from cat to cat.

Cats’ Sense of Taste and Preference for Flavor

Cats have a highly developed sense of taste, which allows them to distinguish between different flavors. However, their preferences can be influenced by a variety of factors, including their individual genetic makeup and previous experiences with certain foods.

While some cats may find the taste of rats appealing, others may not be as interested.

According to research conducted by The National Center for Biotechnology Information, cats have taste receptors that are sensitive to certain flavors, such as umami and bitter. These receptors play a role in determining their food preferences.

However, it’s important to note that not all cats will have the same preferences when it comes to the taste of rats.

Rat Taste and Smell May Put Off Some Cats

Rats have a distinct odor and taste that may not be appealing to all cats. The smell of rats can be quite strong and pungent, which may deter some cats from wanting to eat them. Additionally, rats can carry diseases and parasites, which can make them unappetizing to cats.

As stated in an article by PestWorld, cats have a keen sense of smell, and they can detect the presence of rats based on their scent. Some cats may find the smell of rats unpleasant and may choose not to eat them, even if they have the opportunity to do so.

Kittens May Be More Likely to Sample Rats

While adult cats may not always be interested in eating rats, kittens are more likely to sample them out of curiosity. Kittens are naturally curious and explore their surroundings, which can include sniffing and tasting different objects, including rats.

According to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, kittens go through a period of exploration and play behavior, which includes interacting with objects and animals. This behavior helps them develop their hunting skills and learn about their environment.

During this period, kittens may be more likely to sample rats, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they enjoy the taste.

Why Cats May Kill But Not Eat Rats

When it comes to the age-old question of whether cats eat rats or just kill them, the answer may surprise you. While cats are natural-born predators and have an instinct to hunt, their decision to eat or not eat a rat depends on various factors.

Let’s explore some of the reasons why cats may kill but not eat rats.

Instinct and the Hunting Sequence

Cats have a strong hunting instinct that drives them to chase and catch small prey, such as rats. This instinct is deeply ingrained in their DNA, and they often exhibit the classic hunting sequence of stalking, pouncing, and capturing their prey.

However, once they’ve caught a rat, their instinct to eat it may not be as strong.

Influence of Fullness and Hunger Levels

The satiety level of a cat can greatly influence whether it chooses to eat a rat or not. If a cat is already full from eating its regular meals, it may not feel the need to consume the rat as a source of nutrition.

On the other hand, a hungry cat is more likely to eat the rat if it sees it as an opportunity for a meal.

Age and Health Conditions

The age and health of a cat can also play a role in whether it eats a rat. Older cats or cats with dental issues may find it difficult to consume and digest the rat. Additionally, if a cat is suffering from certain health conditions, it may not have the appetite or energy to eat a rat, even if it has successfully caught it.

Prey Size Relative to the Cat

The size of the prey relative to the size of the cat can also impact whether it decides to eat the rat. If the rat is relatively small compared to the cat, it may not provide enough sustenance to be worth consuming.

In such cases, the cat may simply leave the rat after killing it, as it does not see it as a valuable food source.

Safety Concerns Due to Rat Pests and Parasites

Another factor that may deter cats from eating rats is the potential risk of ingesting pests or parasites carried by the rats. Rats are known to carry various diseases and parasites, such as fleas and ticks, which can pose a danger to cats.

In order to avoid potential health risks, cats may choose to kill the rats but refrain from eating them.

While it may be disappointing to discover that your cat may not eat the rats it catches, it’s important to remember that their hunting behavior is deeply rooted in their nature. Whether they choose to eat the rats or not, their instinct to hunt and keep their territory clear of pests remains beneficial for both cats and humans alike.

Dangers of Wild Rats to Cats

Diseases Transmitted From Rats to Cats

Wild rats can pose a significant threat to the health of cats. These rodents are known carriers of various diseases that can be transmitted to felines. One such disease is Leptospirosis, which can cause severe kidney and liver damage in cats.

Another dangerous illness is Hantavirus, which can lead to respiratory problems and even death in cats. Additionally, rats can carry parasites such as fleas and ticks, which can further compromise the health of cats.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rats are responsible for transmitting over 35 different diseases worldwide. It is crucial for cat owners to be aware of these potential health risks and take necessary precautions to protect their pets.

Risk of Rat Bites and Scratches

When cats encounter wild rats, there is a risk of physical harm due to bites and scratches. Rats have sharp teeth and claws, and they can defend themselves when cornered or threatened. A rat bite or scratch can cause wounds that may become infected or lead to other complications.

It is essential to keep cats away from rats to prevent such injuries.

Accidental Poisoning from Rodenticides

One common method of rat control is the use of rodenticides or rat poisons. These products are often used in homes, gardens, and other areas where rats are a problem. However, they can also pose a significant danger to cats.

Cats are curious creatures and may accidentally ingest the poison, leading to severe illness or even death.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), rodenticides are among the top ten toxins that can harm pets. It is crucial for cat owners to be cautious when using rat poisons and ensure they are placed in areas inaccessible to their feline companions.

Keeping Cats From Hunting Rats

Providing Adequate Food and Stimulation

One effective way to discourage cats from hunting rats is to ensure they are well-fed and mentally stimulated. Cats that are well-fed are less likely to seek out prey as a means of satisfying their hunger.

Feeding them a balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs can help reduce their natural hunting instincts. Additionally, providing toys, scratching posts, and interactive play sessions can keep their minds engaged and their energy directed towards play rather than hunting.

Using Deterrents and Aversive Training

Another method to deter cats from hunting rats is to use deterrents and aversive training techniques. There are various commercial products available, such as motion-activated sprinklers or ultrasonic devices, that can startle and discourage cats from approaching rat-prone areas.

Additionally, aversive training methods, such as using noise or water spray when the cat displays hunting behavior, can help associate hunting with negative consequences in their minds.

Blocking Access to Potential Rat Dens

Blocking access to potential rat dens is crucial in preventing cats from hunting rats. Cats are natural explorers and may venture into hidden areas where rats reside. Seal off any gaps or openings in walls, floors, or doors that rats can use to enter your home or property.

Ensure that your garbage bins are tightly sealed to avoid attracting rats. By eliminating the rats’ hiding spots, you are reducing the likelihood of encounters between cats and rats.

Remember, it is important to approach this issue with kindness and understanding. Cats are natural hunters, and while it may be difficult to completely eliminate their hunting instincts, these methods can help minimize their impact on the rat population.

If you are facing a severe rat infestation problem, it is advisable to seek professional pest control services for a comprehensive solution.


The predator-prey relationship between cats and rats has existed for millennia. While cats are known as expert hunters of rats and mice, they don’t necessarily eat their rodent prey after killing it. A cat’s decision to eat a rat or leave it uneaten depends on factors like taste preference, satiation level, age, health status, and precaution against pests.

Although cats are adapted to hunt and kill rats, pet cats allowed to eat wild rats face risks of injury and illness. Cat owners should take steps to discourage undesirable rat hunting behaviors through enrichment, training, and blocking access to rodent habitats.

Understanding the complex dynamics between cats and rats allows owners to protect the health of their feline friends.

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