Cats are cute fuzzy animals that we love to keep as pets. However, they are still wild animals at heart and are capable of vicious attacks on other animals, including chickens.
The natural predator of chickens is the hawk, but there is a huge market for keeping chickens in urban areas where hawks aren’t a problem. Cats do not generally pose much of a threat to adult hens, but when they eat too many birds (especially baby chicks) people often call animal control to come to remove the marauding feline.
Are cats a danger to chickens?
Cats are natural-born predators, but they will not usually hunt chickens. This is because chickens are too large to be eaten by cats in one meal.
While a cat is perfectly capable of killing and eating a chicken, there are several reasons why this rarely occurs.
1. Cats are not desperate for food. They are quite capable of catching mice and rats if they need to supplement their diet with protein.
2. Cats are actually more likely to hunt birds such as robins than chickens. There is less resistance when they catch small birds, meaning a greater chance that the cat will be able to eat its meal without interruption or prosecution by angry chicken keepers.
3. If a cat eats too many chickens, the smell of the feathers left on the ground is often enough for neighbors to suspect foul play and call animal control officers to investigate. This can result in the death of both the offending cat and any remaining chickens on the property.
4. If a cat gets used to eating chickens, it can become dependent on them as a food source. If the cat is then relocated to an area where it can’t find chickens, it will starve.
Chickens are easy prey for a farm cat to catch, but cats usually don’t think of them as food because they are so much work to eat! The exception is if the cat has access to a lot of baby chicks and can eat them without interruption. This behavior could be dangerous to your flock, so you should keep your cats indoors and fully fed at all times.
Can chickens defend themselves against cats?
Baby chicks and adult chickens can be eaten by a cat without the cat being harmed, but chickens actually have a surprisingly strong defense against predators.
Chickens will sometimes attack cats when they feel threatened and have been observed chasing cats up trees and then pecking at them until the cat leaves.
This doesn’t mean that it is safe to leave your yard unattended with a chicken coop full of hens while you are gone, but it does show that chickens are not defenseless when put in danger by an outside predator.
How do I protect my chickens from my cat?
The greatest danger is that the cat will kill too many chickens and attract unwanted attention from the authorities. When this happens, both cats and chickens can be taken away. It is best to keep all cats indoors, or at least out of the chicken coop. Chickens will sometimes attack a predator, but it is much safer for them if they don’t have to worry about being eaten!
Another option (which requires more work) is to train your cat not to hunt chickens by rewarding it for eating fake prey that resembles birds. It is important that the cats are never allowed outdoors or around baby chicks so they don’t develop a taste for them.
If you want to try this, you will need to purchase:
1. A used wool sweater/sweatshirt. Make sure it doesn’t have any holes in it. Cats seem to like the smell of wool and will pay attention when they smell this garment.
2. A make-shift bird toy that resembles a songbird. You can create your own by stuffing a small pillow with cotton balls and sewing some thin yarn around the edges to make wings (this is the most time-consuming part of the process, but don’t worry about making it perfect).
3. Some fake bird seed.
4. A plush toy that the cat likes to play with, such as a doll or stuffed animal. The cat will learn that when it catches the fake bird, it gets to play with the plush toy for a while!
5. 6-8 feet of a string with a small loop tied into one end for your cat to hold onto and one end to attach to the fake bird (this can be attached by sewing, hot glue, or tying). Using a string will make it easier for you to throw and play with the fake bird yourself, but too much string will interest your cat in the bird and not the reward.
6. A small throw rug or rubber mat for playing on. Most cats like to be able to pounce and roll after they catch their prey.
7. Lots of patience! Of course, most cats are more likely to run away from a cat toy than towards it, so you will need to practice often in order to get your cat used to this new game (my best tip is not to try this during mealtime or when your cat has had too much exercise). Just remember that the idea is to get your cat comfortable catching a fake bird, not a real one!
8. A clicker if you want to be more precise about the timing of the rewards (a clicker is a little plastic box that makes a “clicking” sound when it opens; you can learn how to use it as part of the training process).
9. Lots of treats – your cat won’t catch many birds on an empty stomach! Remember that cats have very sensitive digestive systems, so don’t give them cheap, fatty, or greasy treats. Chicken or turkey breast works well and isn’t hard on your cat’s stomach.
How to train your cat to Catch Birds Instead of Chickens
1. After you have assembled all of your materials and made sure that your cat is in a playful mood, attach the string to the fake bird and dangle it from a doorway or window.
The idea is to get the cat used to touching the bird without pulling it down! Click/praise your cat when it touches the bird and let it play with the plush toy for a few seconds until it drops it. Do this several times until your cat is comfortable with touching (but not pulling!) the bird.
2. Next time, hold up the string by itself so that it just barely brushes against your cat’s face. Click/praise and drop the string every few seconds. Your cat should soon learn that touching the string gets it a reward, so keep repeating this until your cat is comfortable with this step.
3. Start moving the string slightly when it brushes against your cat, clicking/praising when it touches it and drop it again after a few seconds. Your goal is to get your cat used to catching the bird on its own, not via getting brushed by the string! Keep repeating this step until your cat is comfortable with moving strings.
4. Move to the next step when your cat is comfortable with the previous step. Attach the string to your fake bird (just barely enough so it doesn’t fall all the way down) and hold up as you did previously.
This time, instead of moving the string to get your cat used to catching it, move the plush toy around while keeping it just barely off the ground.
You should be able to attract your cat’s attention with this, however don’t pull it down until they touch and grab it on their own! This step is probably going to take a lot of practice before your cat gets comfortable with pulling down a string by itself, so expect more than one attempt at this step.
5. Once your cat is comfortable pulling down the plush toy by itself, move on to the next step! Secure the string to your fake bird’s feet as you did previously, and raise it up a bit higher. Be sure that the bird doesn’t dangle too low so you won’t have to hold it for very long.
6. If your cat is comfortable with this step, you can move on to the final one! This step is going to be a lot of fun for you both! Secure your bird as high as possible and seat yourself with a sufficient distance from wherever you will be playing. Use a large blanket to ensure you have an unfettered play space as you will need it!
The next step is to create two funnels of paper with the exact same measurements – check out the above picture for easy guidelines on how to do this! Then, take some big sheets (one at a time!) and run your bird through them.
Watch their facial expressions as they struggle through the process – can you tell which one they prefer? Try another and see if that’s the one for them; if not then try again! Pick up your bird and give them a big cuddle after each paper run and then wrap it back up.