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wildpotato's avatar

Does the cat torture the mouse?

Asked by wildpotato (14903points) September 2nd, 2009

It seems to depend on how we think of animal consciousness. The arguments tend to go:

1) No. Animals are essentially motiveless, and their intentionality is not such that we can say that they do anything but run an instinct-program that manifests itself to the cat as fulfillment of a pleasure-pain opposition. The people who believe this would say that the cat is ‘torturing’ the mouse because it pleases the cat, and it pleases the cat because it’s important to the cat’s survival that it practice its hunting skills, or is important to its kittens that it keep the mouse alive that they might practice their hunting skills.

2) Yes. Animals have a certain level of psychological complexity, and they are intentional in a way that is similar to human intentionality. They have motives, and make plans, and engage in something similar to human decision-making, just on a lower level. The pleasure-pain opposition they experience is founded on more than mere instinct, and reflects their conscious moods and decisions. People who believe this would say that the cat is torturing (sans quote marks because this conforms to the human definition of torture) the mouse because it pleases the cat, period.

That was just to get the juices flowing – what do you think?

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33 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

Torture is a loaded, anthropomorphic word. You paint a dichotomy that may not be as stark as you make it seem. A cat can have intention, eg not be a machine, and yet not torture, even though it is pleasurable to the cat and hurts the mouse. There are always shades of meaning.

Piper_Brianmind's avatar

The cat believes it is “playing” with the mouse, to my understanding. Especially if it’s a housecat who has absolutely no interest in hunting, due to having a guaranteed meal waiting back home.

gailcalled's avatar

Milo here: I have batted around this summer and then offed #25 mice as of yesterday. I did leave them for Gail as gifts and ate only one. I think it is the law of nature red in tooth and claw. And it means she doesn’t have to use Havaharts and then drop the mice off miles away from family and friends.

tinyfaery's avatar

A domesticated house cat is not hungry, so the idea of the kill and eat doesn’t really apply. From my observations, I think the cat is interested in “prey” but doesn’t really know what to do with it. So the cat “plays”, wondering what to do. The biggest prey my cats have are bugs and those get e’t right away.

gailcalled's avatar

Milo loves his evening moth or ant, as long as they are alive. He is pretty dexterous.

Fernspider's avatar

I think that it is instinct without understanding. I don’t think the cat is “thinking” about it. In fact, I doubt that cat actually even comprehends that the mouse has “feelings” or is in pain.

Suppose that is the reason why a cat/kitten with play with a toy in the same manner it plays with a real mouse.

I don’t think that that the cat is acting out torture in a malicious sadist sense at all.

BBSDTfamily's avatar

If you’ve ever watched a cat catch a mouse, they do play with it for a while usually before killing it. My dog does the same things with large grasshoppers but kills squirrels instantly when he catches them.

PerryDolia's avatar

The cat toys with the mouse, teases the mouse, plays with the mouse, but has no capability to see the situation from the mouse’s point of view.

The cat has no concept of torture or sympathy for the mouse. The cat only sees the situation from its own point of view.

Buttonstc's avatar

I agree that the cat sees the mouse as a toy and plays with it instinctively much the way a cat who hasn’t been taught better goes for human hands and feet (and even it’s own tail)

But there have been filmed instances in barnyard areas where the Mama cat stuns the mouse and brings it back to the kittens when they are old enough to learn hunting skills.

I’ve also seen this in wildlife films with a Mother Cheetah and her cubs. Normally they administer the neck bite swiftly but when it’s time to teach the youngsters she stuns it and brings it back.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

The cat the doesn’t do this with malice or cruel intent. It’s the nature of being a cat to hunt.
I think the cat might play with the mouse more if the cat isn’t hungry.

gailcalled's avatar

I have noticed that Milo will bat the mouse around as long as he (mouse) is moving. When the mouse freezes, Milo looks stunned and insecure. They will often have a staring contest for as long as 30”. If the mouse makes a sudden movement, Milo often jumps back and looks alarmed. No giant brains at work in this situation, I would wager.

YARNLADY's avatar

The word “torture” is a human construct. Animals have an instinct to kill their prey, and when they are domesticated to the extent that a cat is, that instinct is reduced to it’s “childish” nature, of play.

AtSeDaEsEpPoAoSnA's avatar

I would love to be a cat for a day…

AstroChuck's avatar

I’m just glad I have no mice in my house for my cats to kill.

Darwin's avatar

I’m just glad I have cats (and dogs) in my house to kill or chase off any mice who try to sneak in through the dryer vent.

I am sooooooo allergic to mice it isn’t funny.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Darwin Oh, no, the dryer vent? I had a new vent put on mine that works quite well. I actually had the little buggers eat their way under the garage door, and I had that replaced too.

gailcalled's avatar

Milo: I just brought in mouse #26. Gail stepped on it, to my joy. No waterboarding involved, however.

Darwin's avatar

@YARNLADY – They have eaten through the previous vent covers and the vent hose, too. But I would rather they come into the laundry where I can find them by my sneezing, than have them go into the garage to chew on belts and hoses.

So far they have made no inroads on the garage door. It is metal and has either stymied them or they have been lured away to the easy pickings represented by the dryer vent.

Adagio's avatar

@tinyfaery I have a domesticated 12-year-old female cat, well fed and healthy and more than inclined to hunt: mice, rats, baby rabbits even these always arrive at the house in a decapitated form, not sure why, has she already eaten the head perhaps?. She spends a bit of time inside during the day, especially in the winter, but is always outside at night. I live in a semi-rural situation by the way.

I don’t think cats torture mice, probably just some other instinct at work.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

@Adagio A twelve year old cat that still brings home the big game? That’s an impressive feline.

Buttonstc's avatar


I seem to recall you mentioning several cats in your household or is my memory

Or do your kitties just refuse to hunt anything larger than a moth?

Adagio's avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic Impressive feline, I’ll pass that comment on…..

Darwin's avatar

@Buttonstc – Actually, all the cats do is alert me to the presence of the mice by staring fixedly at the dryer once some have moved in. Unfortunately, that is all they do.

When he was younger, Shorty, our “Dachs-weiler,” used to catch them, kill them, and leave them in the middle of the kitchen floor (once he got an adult Norwegian rat). Our Shar-Pei used to do a good job killing them, but she passed away several years ago. Now our American Bulldog has taken up the torch. She likes to carry them around in her mouth for hours, suffocating them. However, she is too big to get into the space where the mice hang out.

gailcalled's avatar

@Adagio : I live in a rural area populated now by foxes, raccoons, skunks, ‘possums, several bears, at least one bobcat, owls, nocturnal raptors, coyotes and coy dogs. Milo is allowed out during the day, but I make sure he is in by dusk. Better to eat than be eaten, I say.

Last night he chased mouse #27 around the family room. The mouse disappeared some where. So the head and tail count is still 26 for the summer.

@Darwin: Don’t the mice get fluffed and folded in your dryer?

Darwin's avatar

Maybe, but they seem to like it.

Buttonstc's avatar


Coy dogs?

Are they shy or coquetish?

gailcalled's avatar

@Buttonstc,.Sadly neither. Vicious animals who are the result of interbreeding between the Coyotes and wild dogs/

I just caught mouse #27 in a Havahart. I took it and Milo outside. Mouse was released under Milo’s nose, who sat there like a lima bean until mouse took off. Then Milo languidly batted the grass briefly, before his third snack and nap of the day.

I did see a woodchuck crossing the road today. I almost ran it over.

gciochina's avatar

Depends on the observer. If you’re the cat, you are merely playing with your meal. Do you torture the beans when you chase them around the plate with the fork? No. Looking from the mouse’s point of view, this is torture in every sense. You are humiliated, you are beeing hurt slowly and methodically, and worst of all to no point whatsoever.

Adagio's avatar

@gailcalled Better to eat than be eaten, yes yes I agree! Sounds as though Milo has one considerate and devoted servant in his employ but then our feline friends deserve a measure of devotion don’t they

mascarraaa's avatar

i think they just think their playing with each other :)

Buttonstc's avatar

Do you mean that the mouse thinks they are playing together?

Not hardly likely. I think the mouse is terrified. As a matter of fact, I think that the mouse I found the first time a young inexperienced cat I had years got through with him most likely died of a heart attack from being chased and played with. There was very little blood so I think he just keeper over from fright.

Doubtless the cat enjoyed the playtime. But the mouse? Eh…not so much.

Seriously doubt he was under the illusion that they were merrily romping through the Eleysian fields.

Buttonstc's avatar

Edit: keeled over from fright.

This iPhone and its dang predictive corrections thinks it’s a frickin mind reader already. Grrrrr

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

They aren’t torturing them, just tenderizing them.

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