Anyone who has ever owned a cat that has access to the outdoors has witnessed the rather gruesome scene when their feline friend snares prey during an outdoor "hunting" excursion. (This is frequently followed by said feline friend bringing their catch indoors, to parade it around the house like a trophy for all to admire.) Mice are frequent victims, as are birds, rats, squirrels and (you may want to cover your eyes for this one) even the occasional rabbit. One of the things cats tend to do when they catch their prey is to do what seems like toying with the poor trapped creature. They'll cuff it with their paws, toss it in the air, and in general look like they're having a grand old time torturing the animal. In all, they can seem rather pitiless in their torment. But is something else at work?
It turns out that, while cats may seem cruel, capricious or malicious as they toy with a catch, their behavior isn't indicative of an evil mind lurking within the cute, furry exterior. Cats, rather, wear down prey to avoid sustaining injuries. They're motivated by self-preservation, just like most other animals, and they know what could happen if they aren't careful. Mice and rats, for example, can deliver nasty bites that can cause injury or spread disease. Birds, for their part, are able to scratch and peck. So, what's a cat to do? Rather than playing with their prey for amusement, cats tire out their victims to the point where they're too worn down to fight back. And after that, the cats will feel better, and safer, about finishing them off, according to researcher Dennis C. Turner. So while it might look like a display of cruelty, a cat playing with its prey is just an (admittedly harsh) example of animal instinct in action.
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