Q: Our home is located on a quiet street, and we have a good-sized yard. Since the road is quiet, we do let our cat outdoors. Our cat is now 4 and quite the avid hunter. Last week, our daughter came in excited and nervous saying our cat had caught a small bunny and was killing and eating it. By the time we got to the scene, the cat had bit off the baby rabbit’s head and disemboweled the little thing. We don’t know if he ate the guts or whatever. We have rabbits and chipmunks all over the place. Should we be concerned? Our daughter is old enough to handle the stress of what she saw but what possible risks are there for our cat, who seems to be acting totally normally? Are there any specific precautions that we should be taking? Our cat has always hunted outside and brought other undiscernible things to our doorstep yet never seemed to suffer for his actions and who knows what else he may have eaten.
A: You are fortunate that your cat has never suffered any obvious ill consequences from the natural predatory behavior that he is exhibiting and fulfilling outdoors. There are so many possible negative things that could happen but luckily none have, as far as you know. The concern with cats catching and eating wildlife including rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels and more include possible exposure to rabies, various parasites such as giardia, fleas and, in rabbits, something called rabbit fever or tularemia. Except for rabies, most all of these possible issues can be treated if they were to develop. My other concerns would be if your cat were to chase an animal across the street and the risk of being hit by a vehicle or if the rodent caught by your cat had ingested a poison making it weaker and then your cat caught and ate it. Then the poison could be dangerous if not fatal to the cat. Birds caught by cats can also lead to exposure to things like salmonella.
So, should you be concerned? Well, past history suggests you don’t need to be but be sure to keep an eye out for any abnormal health behavior in your cat. While I have covered some of the many possible risks, wise precautions include making sure your cat is vaccinated for rabies and other appropriate feline diseases, takes preventive flea and tick medications, and has regular physical examinations at your veterinarian with fecal evaluation to rule out all intestinal parasites. You could prevent all of the possible negatives by keeping the cat indoors, but I expect your cat would not be happy and always try to sneak outdoors since his lifestyle has been established. The good thing is that at least the cat leaves his hunt on the doorstep and doesn’t bring it indoors. Hope this is helpful.
Dr. John de Jong owns and operates the Boston Mobile Veterinary Clinic. He can be reached at 781-899-9994.