Why Won't My Cat Kill Bugs?

By Ashley Tyler

You'd think the least your cat could do would be to kill the random cockroach that makes its way into your apartment. After all, your cat probably lives the cushiest life ever — full of fresh purified water and catnip galore. But no. No amount of luxury would garner more than side-eye from your guiltless cat.

Lazy fat cat sleeping on the couch
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It turns out there are a few reasons why your cat just isn't into chasing down that runaway bug when he could be doing important things, like cleaning himself for the fifth time today.

Hunting is Learned Behavior

Crouching ginger cat
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Cats have to have been taught how to hunt. It's actually a learned behavior that is typically taught by the mother through a series of exercises involving semi-injured prey while the kitten slowly learns to get the job done himself.

If you adopted your kitten at a very young age, he may have simply never learned how to hunt. Those first 3-9 weeks are critical in developing normal cat behavior by observing its mother and siblings interact with potential prey. World-renowned cat behaviorist Roger Tabot has said that "kittens who are able to observe their mothers hunt and kill become better at these skills themselves." So, maybe he's trying to hunt, but because he was never given the opportunity to hone those skills, it's just a department that your feline is lacking in.

Sure, some of it's instinctual. That's why your cat will bat at a hanging string or chase a laser pointer for hours on end. But that's not hunting. That's prey drive.

Prey Drive

The beautiful striped domestic cat plays
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Prey drive just means how much instinctual desire a cat has to hunt. His mother would teach him the ins and outs of stalking and ultimately killing its prey, but the naturally curious, crouched down, and ready-to-pounce part of it — that's pure instinct.

And it's so cute when they go after that feather attached to a string, right? Well, that cuteness might be the mitigating factor in why your cat isn't taking care of your bug problem.

An article written on the topic from the website Pets4Homes explains that, "It may seem that playing with your cat in this way will reinforce their prey drive and make them more likely to hunt, but the opposite is usually the case."

Another reason why your cats not the best bug exterminator in town is because he simply can't see them.

Cat Vision

Domestic cat with eyeglasses.
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Did you know your cat can only see clearly about 20 feet in front of his face, while we can see 100-200 feet? We previously did an article on a young artist named Nikolay Lamm who consulted with a group of veterinary ophthalmologists to come up with a series of images representing human vision verses that of a cat.

Nikolay Lamm Cat Vision
credit: Nikolay Lamm
Nikolay Lamm Cat Vision
Human vision is on the top and cat vision is on the bottom
credit: Nikolay Lamm

A cat's eyes also have a faster refresh rate, which "helps your cat lock his sights on that fly buzzing around your apartment. In turn, that means when we see something moving very slowly, cats don't see it moving at all."

So the next time you're trying to kill a cockroach with a can of hairspray and a shoe, don't blame the cat. He's just here for the catnip and tuna fish.

Red tabby cat having a nap on the sofa on its back
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