Do You Have a Pack Rat Cat?

Ever wonder why your cat hoards and hides objects or brings you treasures? We asked experts to shed some light on this stealthy behavior.

By Peggy Scott | Posted: Thu Mar 1 00:00:00 PST 2001

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Cat With PacifierThe term "cat burglar" refers to a robber who can enter, swipe goods and leave a building or room without being detected. Sound familiar?

Across the land, cats stealthily help themselves to treasures great and small (OK, mostly small) and build impressive stashes. Normally mild-mannered kitties commit these crimes for reasons as wide-ranging as the types of property your pack rat cat appropriates.

What a cat does with its prize is as telling as what it takes, says Kay Cox, Ph.D., an animal psychologist and behaviorist. Also known as "The Pet Counselor," Cox is heard on KTAR 620 AM in Phoenix, Ariz., and has appeared on talk shows throughout the United States. "If your cat carries something and shows it to you, he or she is gifting," Cox says, adding she had a cat that would jump on and swat the dishcloth and present it to her as a prize. But if a cat hides things, it could mean something different. "Female cats can go through false pregnancies and the items are like kittens," Cox says. Hormone-driven female cats collect items as though they are their kittens.

Male cats taken from their mother too early could perform nesting behavior, or even dominance in which they take an item that smells like you, demanding you retrieve it, Cox says.

A Dr. Doolittle-type who has a special rapport with animals, Cox advises pet owners to pay attention to their pets' feelings. "People didn't used to think animals had feelings," Cox says. "Now they know better."

Bringing home prey even an article of clothing or trash could be how well-fed house cats stay in touch with their wild side or try to teach us how to hunt, says Katherine Houpt, VMD, Ph.D., a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and a certified applied animal behaviorist in charge of the Animal Behavior Clinic at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y. There hasn't been a lot of research on caching and pack rat behavior because most owners don't see it as a problem, Houpt says.

Common complaints among owners who seek her help for their cats are destruction of property and biting. She classifies pack rat behavior as fodder for cocktail party conversation. However, about once a year a client complains their cat is bringing home real prey. Keep your cat indoors to avoid these unpleasant surprises, she says.

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Reader Comments

CatChannel Editor    Irvine, CA

3/11/2013 11:45:11 AM

Nancy -- Your mother cat is behaving naturally, but it appears that she feels her kittens are threatened. Have you or anyone in your family been attempting to pet the kittens? This is a time for everyone in the house to give the mother and her kittens space. When the kittens turn 6 weeks to 2 months old, you can begin interacting with them.

Also, please spay the mother cat after she has finished nursing. It is wonderful to see a litter of kittens, but so many cats are homeless that it is the most responsible thing to your cat and others to spay and neuter your cats. It is a life-saving procedure!

nancy    Odessa, MO

3/10/2013 11:18:43 AM

why does a mother cat continually move her kittens? She moves them all the time, they are about 4 weeks old. Is it safe for the kittens and will she still feed them properly?

janet    bethlehem, PA

12/8/2011 4:30:47 AM

good article, thank you

Charlotte    Ringgold, GA

9/16/2010 3:18:13 PM

I have several cats in past years that were pack rats to some extent. The worst one used to steal cigarette butts out of the ash tray and hide them under the bed!

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