Issue 3: Nov 08

Dear Dr. Schelling,

We recently got our first cat. She's a bundle of joy and quite the mysterious and curious creature, and we shower her with affection. The other day, I was relaxing on the couch, when kitty spotted a catnip mouse
I had thrown in the corner of the room the day before. She had a great chase, and afterward she deposited the toy next to the couch.

What does this mean and how should I react?

- Confused but Captivated

Dear Confused,

First of all, be thankful it's only a catnip mouse!

Some "cat-ologists" (people who try in vain to understand cats) surmise that kitty is generously offering you the prey that she caught, as she might do if she had kittens. It's reasonable to conclude that our cats see how slow and clumsy we are, and figure we could use all the help we can get in order to procure a decent meal.

On the other hand (or other paw - we're going to use all four in this explanation), kitty's relationship with us is complex, not mother-to-kitten. For instance, she approximately plays the role of kitten when she comes to us for petting and kneads in appreciation. And she likely realizes that we have some magical powers when it comes to finding food; for example, we're adept at locating meals and snacks to put in the food bowl.

So what else might be going through kitty's mind when she drops off "prey" next to us? One possibility is that she's simply being friendly. Or showing off - what cat doesn't like praise and accolades?

What should you do when kitty trots in and gives you her gift? It may depend on her body language. If she's looking at you in a friendly way, start by congratulating her on a job well done, with words and with some strokes or forehead scratches - however she likes it. She may want a treat, which sort of consummates the hunt as well as shows your gratitude for her present. Some folks like to slide the treat along the ground or toss it in the air, so kitty can hunt it down and capture it. Will your cat go for this? It's hard to say until you try it a few times, perhaps varying your technique until you pique kitty's interest.

There's one more possible reason for kitty to place her toy beside you - especially if she's conveying in her stance and energy level that playtime's not over. Many cats like to play fetch: You toss the toy, kitty chases it down and returns it to you, and you repeat the sequence until kitty decides you're done. Note that there is another kind of fetch which is popular with cats: You throw the toy, kitty watches you retrieve it from under the couch, and the cycle continues. Either way, at least one of you gets some exercise.

-Dr. Schelling

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