Early Maine Coon cats lived on farms in New England where they expertly kept rodents at bay. These days we provide our cats with more nutrition than they could ever need yet their natural instincts to prey on small animals remain. As they no longer hunt out of necessity, how accomplished are today’s Maine Coons when it comes to capturing prey?
Are Maine Coon cats good hunters? Maine Coons are natural-born hunters and are particularly good mousers. Even when they’re well-fed, Maine Coons love to hunt. If they can’t get outside to satisfy their hunting urges, they will stalk and pounce on their toys instead.
Let’s look at why Maine Coons love to hunt and if determine if we should try to prevent this instinctual habit.
The History of Maine Coons as Hunters
It’s widely believed that the early ancestors of Maine Coons were ship cats kept to control the pests that would otherwise spoil the cargo and eat the sailors’ food supplies. The cats were well-respected by the crew and were actually treated like crew members. Whenever the ships docked in Maine the cats would disembark with the rest of the crew and sow a few wild oats with the local long-haired queens.
Maine Coon cat’s seemingly domesticated themselves. They hung around farms in Maine, New England, and used their well-honed hunting skills to catch the rodents that were attracted by the plentiful food and nesting sites.
Farmers were quick to spot the service these cats were providing. They encouraged them to stay by providing comfortable places for them to live and breed.
They soon began to brag about the beauty and hunting abilities of these cats and during the1860s a show began for farmers all over the State to enter their cats into. The winner earned the title of “Maine State Champion Coon Cat”.
Favorite Family Pets
Maine Coons have come along way since those early days in Maine. They are now one of the most popular family pets in the world and no longer have to hunt for their keep. But their hunting skills are still very much intact.
Maine Coons Are Effective Predators
If you’ve ever witnessed a Maine Coon in hunt mode you will know how effective they are as predators. They ambush and immobilize their prey in much the same way as leopards and tigers do. They observe, wiggle, pounce and then kill by piercing the neck with their long canine teeth.
Do Maine Coon Cats Like to Hunt?
Maine Coons, like all cats, love to hunt. It’s not so much about the kill, it’s the thrill of the chase. Once life is extinguished, they very rarely eat their prey and will move on to the next distraction.
Why do Maine Coons often present their hunting spoils to their owners? When my Maine Coons catch anything they can’t wait to bring it in for me. No one knows exactly why cats do this but it could be a friendly bonding gesture.
We feed our cats so they might want to reciprocate by feeding us. And they love it when we act pleased by their efforts. Perhaps cats imagine that we’re hunting hard all day when we’re out at work and that’s how we manage to provide so much food.
Maybe they bring home their kill as a sign that they are contributing to the pack. Cats do consider their owners and themselves to be part of a social group.
I imagine if a cat was really hungry it would eat its prey on the spot. As it’s highly unlikely that a pampered Maine Coon even knows what hunger feels like, it considers anything it catches to be excess to requirements and so is happy to share all with you.
Do Maine Coons Catch Mice?
Are Maine Coons good mousers? Yes, they are accomplished mousers, despite their size. Maine Coons are adept at spotting mice and will wait patiently to pounce upon them – for hours if necessary.
We live in an area where mice are common but none dare to enter our house because of our skilled mice-catching Maine Coons. Though they kill many mice, Maine Coons rarely eat them.
The Reason Why Maine Coons Know How to Hunt
Although has a natural instinct to hunt, it requires skill and technique which is gained through practice. As Kittens, Maine Coons pick up plenty of skills through playing with their siblings and by watching their mother. Many Maine Coons are destined for indoor life.
They may never actually get to pit their hunting skills against live prey in the big wide world. If you happen to live in an area where mice sneak indoors (as we do), a Maine Coon’s hunting talents are indispensable.
Maine Coon Hunting Techniques
If you’ve ever made the mistake of wriggling your fingers in front of a kitten you’ll know how instantaneous and enthusiastic the instinct to pounce and kill is (and how painful it feels too).
Maine Coons use several hunting techniques, depending on the type of prey they’ve spotted:
- The Ambush
- Stalk and Pounce
If a Maine Coon notices its prey disappearing into a hole or somewhere else out of reach, it will lie in wait ready to ambush the creature should it re-emerge. It crouches in one spot, eyes riveted to the particular spot from whence it believes its prey will appear.
A Maine Coon will crouch motionless like a statue for what seems like hours, ears alert for the sound of movement. Eventually, it will give up but may return to that same spot later in the day for another look, ever hopeful that whatever it was is still lurking.
Stalk and Pounce
The stalk and pounce style consists of several steps. First comes a swift movement in a low, crouched position towards the prey. Then, when close enough, the cat freezes and watches, sometimes for quite some time.
If the target moves further away, the cat moves after it with stealth, one paw at a time, keeping the distance between itself and its quarry equal.
At any point, it might freeze again, sometimes with one paw suspended in mid-air. When finally ready to swoop in for the kill, you’ll spot a slight wiggle of the cat’s rear end before it thrusts forward into the pounce.
Being great lovers of water, Maine Coons are accomplished when it comes to fishing. They will sit for hours staring into a pond, waiting for an unsuspecting fish to swim within reach.
One paw executing a swift scoop and flick is all it takes to render the fish on dry land. Maine Coons are often happy to paddle ankle-deep into
Playing with their prey
Much to its owner’s dismay, a Maine Coon will often bring its quarry home alive where it is promptly released to be recaptured all over again. Much tossing and batting often ensue, as if a game is being played out.
This is not an exhibition of cruelty; your cat is merely practicing its hunting skills and techniques. Most domesticated cats have perfected the art of capturing prey without killing it, toying with it to build up excitement before finally going in for the kill.
Going in for the Kill
Cats kill by biting their prey through the neck. You may hear a chattering noise as they do this much like the noise they make when watching prey that’s out of reach on the other side of a window.
You may have noticed that a cat catches its prey, kills it and then leaves it on the ground. This is a sure sign that it is well-fed. It may bring it to you as a present.
Remember the good intention and refrain from scolding your cat. Much as it might pain you to, act pleased and lavish praise. After all your cat is only acting instinctively. It is trying to show you that it appreciates all that you do for it.
Female Maine Coons are apparently better hunters than males. I have two boys so can’t speak from experience on this point but I presume there are two main reasons for females being more accomplished in this field:
- It’s still in their genes from the days when queens had to provide for their young
- They require excellent hunting skills in order to train their kittens
Hunting After Neutering or Spaying
Neither of these procedures should affect a Maine Coon’s hunting instincts as it is not a hormone-driven activity. I think, if anything, it is possible for hunting in males and females to increase
Should We Prevent Maine Coons from Hunting?
Some owners go all out to prevent their Maine Coons from hunting. They intervene at every opportunity and admonish their cats when caught in the act. But should they?
Is it cruel to prevent cats from hunting?
Hunting provides important mental stimulation for Maine Coons. Even indoor cats need to have their urge to hunt satisfied. A cat may become bored and frustrated if it is prevented from following its natural instinct to hunt which, in turn, can lead to psychological issues.
How does this affect them?
If you prevent a Maine Coon from hunting live prey it is essential to provide it with another way to satisfy its urges to hunt. Play games with it on a daily basis that involve a chase, e.g. a toy on a string that you can jerk for your cat to chase.
Always allow your cat to capture the ‘creature’ to give it the satisfaction this entails. Laser pointers are great for cats to chase but can cause a great deal of frustration as there is nothing to physically catch. When your cat has chased the little dot for a while, throw in a small toy to satisfy its need to conquer.
How to deter hunting
If your cat hunts the real thing too much for your liking there are several ways in which you can deter it (to an extent):
- Keep it indoors from dusk till dawn as this is when it is more likely to be successful at hunting
- Fit a safety collar with a bell. Bear in mind that some cats learn to move carefully enough to prevent the bell from making a noise
- If you feed birds, keep the feeders out of your cat’s reach. Remember birds are still at risk from collecting dropped seeds from the ground underneath these
- Keep your cat well fed as a full-up cat is less likely to hunt than a hungry one
- Make lots of time to play hunting games with your cat in the hope it will feel less of an urge to go outside to hunt
- If you’re really desperate try a CatBib attached to a safety collar. These are awkward looking devices that really get in the way when a cat pounce
How Many Creatures do Cats Really Kill?
Cat owners are often made to feel guilty by reports containing details of the numbers of creatures killed by cats, many of which are birds.
A 2013 study estimated that cats are responsible for the deaths of up to four billion birds and 22.3 billion small mammals every year in the U.S. The BBC reported that domestic cats have had a large hand in the global extinction of 33 species.
There are about 96 million domesticated cats in the US. Surely they can’t be solely responsible for the aforementioned deaths as this would equate to every single pet cat killing 5 creatures per week. It’s estimated that as many as 70% of pet cats in the US are indoor cats o are the 30% of outdoor cats really killing 15 little animals each every week? What do you think?
Feral cats are responsible for most of the damage to wildlife. There are approximately 50 million strays living in the US today. So Maine Coon cat owners can relieve themselves of some of their guilt.
Protect Your Own Small Pets!
A Maine Coon may not know the difference between any little pets you have and wild creatures. Anything will be fair game, so make sure they are well protected.
Don’t for one minute believe you can train a Maine Coon to live in harmony with a budgie or a mouse. Yes, you might have seen a viral video of a cat schmoozing with a bird. Remember that’s probably the only one of the 600 million domesticated cats in the world that wouldn’t just eat it.
If you have birds, mice, gerbils, hamsters, rabbits or rats, etc. in cages think carefully about where you keep them. They will feel terrorized and have no quality of life if a Maine Coon cat has its nose pinned to the bars of the cage all day.
If your Maine Coon is an outdoor cat there’s a high chance it will bring you home trophies from its hunting expeditions from time to time. This goes with the territory of owning a Maine Coon.
Accept it will happen from time to time, never shout at your cat or punish it for bringing its hunting spoils in for you as – it is only trying to please. Learn to accept this natural cat behavior, it goes with the territory of cat-owning.
Finally, if you’d like to know more about the wonderful Maine Coon, please check out my Complete Guide.