What would a cat eat in the wild?

Cat carrying a mouse - his natural diet

Did you know? Mice are not the only choice in the diet of a wild cat!
Photo: Loz Flowers, CC 2.0

When was the last time you saw a common domestic cat living in the wild? Did you have an opportunity to observe what his food was? Feral colonies do not count, because their food choice is highly influenced by people.

However, even if true wild cats are rarely seen, learning about their diet gives us extremely valuable information because this is what our cats should eat. Okay, similar stuff is what our household cats must eat. So, what would a wild cat eat, again?

A wild cat’s diet consists of…

The most common foods for wild cats are

  • small rodents, such as mice, shrews, rats, and even rabbits or hares;
  • small birds, such as sparrows or robins; and
  • insects and reptiles, such as spiders, grasshoppers, lizards, and snakes.

The latter, even though small, must still be considered an essential part of a wild cat’s diet, as they provide nutrients not present in any other food types and they are easier to catch, which means they can sometimes be consumed in large quantities.

In addition, cats are reported to feed on squirrels, weasels, bats, moles, and other larger animals, but this happens infrequently. However, the above list gives us an approximate picture of what a wild cat would eat.

But the diet of a wild cat depends on…

In general, cats prey on any animal that is smaller than themselves and, in certain situations, some that are even slighlty larger.

Studies, however, show that a cat’s hunting success decreases gradually as the size of his prey increases. This can be explained by three things: first, larger animals are harder to tackle; second, larger animals tend to be more intelligent, and thus they will be able to avoid the cats better; and third, cats are more cautious when attacking larger prey, and thus retreat earlier.

In addtion, not all cats eat everything, as the diet of a wild cat depends on a variety of factors:

  • Prey availability. For example, if a region is rich in rabbits, such as Australia or New Zealand, the diet would consist mainly of rabbits. In Europe and North America, though, the main part of a cat’s diet consists mainly of mice and rats. In addition, cats attacking squirrels has been observed more often in the United States, as grey North American squirrels aremore attractive to cats than red European ones.
  • Seasonal changes. For example, plenty of easier to catch juvenile rabbits are available in thespring, while in winter birds are extremely vulnerable and many rodents hibernate.
  • Skills of an individual cat. Some cats may specialize in one sort of prey, such as birds. Catching a bird requires a lot of skill, and, in order to maintain this skill, a cat might choose to hunt birds as often as possible.
  • Social structure in which cats live. Cats live in different social structures, such as individual animals and colonies, where cats provide each other with food. Sometimes this may have an impact on the choice of prey. For example, while exceedingly rare, a group of cats may besiege a pack of rabbits in order to hunt down as many as possible.
  • The sex of the cat. Some studies show that female cats are more likely to attack larger prey, such as rabbits, than males. This is explained by the time availability of females, who must frequently care for kittens; therefore, they choose to go for larger prey, because it gives more food and less time is spent gathering it.

The diet of a wild cat teaches us what a house cat should eat

If we talk about nutrition, it’s not only important what a cat eats, but also how they eat.

Cats usually consume the whole prey, including the muscle meat, organs, bones, and feathers. Only small parts, if any, are left after the meal; thus, if someone converts a cat to a raw diet, feeding it meat exclusively will do more damage than sticking to a well-balanced dry food. You can read more about the comparison of raw and dry cat foods here.

Also, as you may have noticed, the diet of cats does not include plant products, such as grain, fruits, or vegetables. The only grain that wild cats have been reported to eat is grain found in the stomach of rodents they have caught. However, in such a case, the grains are already in a predigested state, and nutritionists still have no evidence that it provides a significant nutritional benefit to a cat.

So, here’s a task for you. Go to the nearest pet store and take a look at the ingredients listed on the label. How many of them contain grain? Why do you think this is, even though the diet of a wild cat includes no grain?

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