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How Do Cats Catch Mice at Night? The Interesting Answer!

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

Cat and mouse in the garden

Cat owners that have been presented with prey by their feline friends will know that early morning is the time they are most likely to leave gifts. This is because cats are naturally well-equipped to hunt at night. They have an excellent sense of smell that first enables them to determine the location of mice and other rodents. They don’t have true night vision, but cats only need around one-sixth of the amount of light as humans to be able to see, and they can still see well enough to identify and chase mice.

While domestic cats do not really need to hunt for their food, with most being given bowls of food every day, the hunting instinct is still present. And because cats know they can see at night and this is the time when most rodents are active, this is why owners end up with one or more dead prey items on the doorstep in the morning.

Night Vision

Although cats don’t have true night vision, they are able to see well in very low-light conditions. They have corneas and pupils that are approximately 50% larger than humans. These allow more available light in and enable cats to see in lower light conditions than humans and a lot of other animals.

Cat eyes also have a tapetum. This reflective tissue diverts light back into the retina, providing more light to the photoreceptors. This tissue is also what causes the reflection of light that can make it appear as though your cat’s eyes are lit up at night.

They also have different types of photoreceptors, which are responsible for converting light into images. Cats have more rods, whereas humans have more cones. Cones make it easier to see and discern between different colors. Rods enable better peripheral vision as well as better detection of movement and improved vision at night.

Finally, the pupils of a cat’s eyes can dilate from the thin black line that we typically see in the daytime and when the cat is in a relaxed state, to large black saucers. The dilated pupils enable more light to enter the eye.

cat hunting prey from the bushes at night
Image Credit: Paul W Thompson, Shutterstock

Sense of Smell

A cat’s vision is just one of their senses, and one way in which they are able to catch mice at night. During the early stages of predation, they rely primarily on their sense of smell. Cats have a highly tuned sense of smell that enables them to roughly locate mice that they can’t see. This is how cats can tell if mice are hiding in long grass or even in the walls of your home.

Why Cats Like Catching Mice

Cats are predators and, in the wild, they would hunt for their food. They are naturally carnivores, which means that their entire diet consists of meat. Mice make ideal prey for cats because they are small enough to be easily caught and killed, and while a single mouse may not be a full meal, a skilled cat can catch and kill several mice in a single night.

Domestic cats still have an innate desire to hunt, and even if they aren’t starving, their heightened motion-sensing vision means that they are attracted to the quick, darting movement of skittish mice. Once they see the movement, instinct drives them to catch the prey.

cat with dead mouse
Image Credit: B_kowsky, Pixabay

Will Mice Stay Away If You Have Cats?

Having cats can prevent mice from entering your home, although it isn’t a definite deterrent. Cats emit a chemical in their saliva that mice are wary of. Some mice may still enter the house, and if your cat isn’t inclined to catch rodents, the mice that do get in will quickly multiply and leave you with a potential infestation.

How Do I Stop My Cat from Bringing in Live Mice?

Cats bringing home dead prey can be a nuisance, but dead mice are a lot easier to deal with than live mice. Although there is no guaranteed method of preventing a cat from bringing in live prey, there are some steps that owners can take that might yield positive results.

Ensure your cat is well fed, although if it is bringing home live prey, it is unlikely that they are hunting to eat. Provide plenty of playtime with your feline friend. It might seem counterproductive but providing toy mice means that your cat can play with them and it may control their desire to hunt. Buy a collar with a bell. Some owners claim that bells are ineffective as cats can learn to control the motion of a single bell so that it is virtually silent, so get a collar with two bells. If all else fails, you can lock the cat door at night to prevent your cat from going out. Ensure they have water and a litter tray.

Should you Let your Cat Hunt and Eat Mice?

Because chasing mice is natural, it is easy to dismiss the activity as being natural and fine. However, mice and other rodents can carry diseases and if your cat is bringing home live rodents, it can lead to them nesting and reproducing in your home, which means that it can be the start of an infestation. Ideally, you should try and stop your cat from bringing home gifts by using the methods above.

cat hunting mice in the wild
Image Credit: Kathryn19, Pixabay


In the wild, cats routinely hunt and eat mice as well as other rodents. They are incredibly effective mice hunters thanks to their combination of a heightened sense of smell and vision that has developed to aid in the endeavor. While cats are unable to see in total darkness, this is very rare, and our feline friends are able to see in very low levels of light, while also being better equipped to spot movement and to see this movement even at the very edge of their vision.

Featured Image Credit: 165106, Pixabay

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