Cats are graceful. Stealthy. They adapt to different environments and are excellent hunters. But you probably already know that; these animals love to hide, stalk, and pounce on toys or food, and even your feet.
Provided they have enough 'prey' and space, they start practicing their ninja moves really early, too.
After realizing just how cute kittens look when they're sharpening their instinctive skills, we at Bored Panda compiled a list of adorable sneak attack photos and talked to cat behavior experts Dr. Marci L. Koski and Natalie Cady Bishop to get a better understanding of the phenomenon.
Dr. Koski said kittens practicing their ambush moves is not only an incredibly adorable topic, but it also demonstrates how naturally predatory cats are. "Cats evolved to be highly stealthy because they are both predators (who often need to be able to get fairly close to their prey before attacking) and prey (who need to be able to move around in their environment without being preyed upon by a larger predator)," Dr. Koski explained.
Up until fairly recently, cats were primarily kept as pest controllers rather than companions. They had to provide for themselves and hunt their own food -- just like their cousins such as lions and tigers -- but a limited amount of prey meant that only the most successful hunters survived and reproduced, so our four-legged friends have largely descended from their hunting-savvy ancestors.
"They are highly flexible, which allows them to move low to the ground and through slim openings; they are also very quiet, making them even more difficult to detect. Cats demonstrate these instincts from a very early age - kittens will pounce on instincts, do the "butt wiggle" before they launch into an attack on a toy, or even silently stalk a littermate. These moves can be considered practice for when they must hunt their food on their own. And, even cats who are fed amply by their human guardians will hunt as well - it's not just about finding a meal; cats are programmed to hunt even when their stomachs are full. Hunting (and playing) is fun, keeps cats from getting bored, provides physical and mental stimulation, and relieves stress."
Natalie Cady Bishop agreed that it's extremely important for cat owners to know about their pet's natural instincts so they can adequately provide for them. "Many owners think that all cats need is a litter box, food and water, which is false. Cats need plenty of mental and physical stimulation," she said. "They need environmental resources in the form of perches and socially acceptable hiding places, as well as plenty of scratching devices. Many cats need two litter boxes (the general rule is to have the number of cats you have plus one) and for them to be in a common room of the house (not hidden in the garage, bathroom or closet)."
According to Dr. Koski, cats are not meant to sit around. "To be happy and healthy, they must get physical and mental exercise, which they get when they hunt and play. Think about what an outdoor cat might do during her day: take a walk around her home range, kill and eat prey, groom, nap in the sun. Cats evolved to interact with their environment and we've asked (or demanded?) that they adapt to an indoor living environment mostly devoid of the elements that they evolved with. In my opinion, boredom is one of the most frequent issues that can cause stress and behavior problems with cats, so ensuring that our cats have an enriched environment is incredibly important when it comes to the wellbeing of our kitties."
Dr. Koski said that allowing kitties to express their inner predatory beast is actually one of the best ways that people can help them. "Give them opportunities to play and hunt! When cats hunt, they go through the prey sequence: 1) staring, 2) stalking and chasing, 3) pouncing and grabbing, and 4) performing a kill bite. The only type of toy that can really satisfy all four steps of the prey sequence is an interactive wand toy - my favorite is "Da Bird" with various lures to keep the play session fun and exciting. Try to have 1-2 play sessions with your cat every day, lasting 10-15 minutes each."
It's important to know that your cat isn't done playing even if it stops after a couple of minutes. "They've just gone back to the first step in the prey sequence -- staring. So keep moving the wand toy and keep your cat engaged (even if it's just staring). You can give your kitty a short break or change lures to reengage them, but don't give up!"
"Play sessions will be more intense for younger cats, but even older kitties and special needs kitties love to play. Following a play session, give your cat a meal to initiate the hunt-eat-groom-sleep sequence, which is another thing that cats naturally do. You'll find your cat is more relaxed and content if you can stick to a routine schedule focused around play and meals."