Why Cats Play With Their Prey Before Eating It?

I woke up from Sunday’s afternoon siesta to very loud screaming. My wife an I ran out to see what’s happening. Mostly we were afraid one of the stray dogs we saw running around in the area was attacking the kittens we left laying around outside in the garden.
Instead, our neighbor’s wife and 2 girls were screaming at Bagheera, our black kitten. Apparently, he caught a small white songbird and was tossing it around. She was threatening to shoot the cat or stone it or throw hot oil on it because the cat was too cruel. Euh! never mind…
Anyway, our neighbor barged in (uninvited) to our garden to try to take the bird away from Bagheera (heh, good luck with that). Obviously the cat wouldn’t take it and disappeared into the near bushes, still holding the bird in his mouth. The neighbor argued that the bird can still be saved. Now, in my mind I was thinking: why would I want to do that? The cat caught his own food and did not do harm to anyone. The songbird did not fly away from my neighbor’s house. And that same neighbor tries daily to shoot birds and other small animals with his BBgun. Good thing he’s not a good shot.

Bagheera (the culprit) at 4 months


The question was asked again, why do cats play with their food? They seem to be enjoying the misery and pain they cause those small animals before killing them? I don’t believe animals to be cruel, only people can be that way. I knew cats will usually eat the prey after toying with it, so the killing was justified, but why the play?
Some googling shows the following:
from the discovery website:

while cats may seem cruel, capricious or malicious as they toy with a catch, their behavior isn’t indicative of an evil mind lurking within the cute, furry exterior. Cats, rather, wear down prey to avoid sustaining injuries. They’re motivated by self-preservation, just like most other animals, and they know what could happen if they aren’t careful. Mice and rats, for example, can deliver nasty bites that can cause injury or spread disease. Birds, for their part, are able to scratch and peck. So, what’s a cat to do? Rather than playing with their prey for amusement, cats tire out their victims to the point where they’re too worn down to fight back. And after that, the cats will feel better, and safer, about finishing them off, according to researcher Dennis C. Turner.

I can live with that. If you can’t stand the sight of a small animal being tossed out and played with, just spray the cat with some water and take away its food (that imho is animal cruelty).
Well, needless to say, Baghera and our 3 other little carnivores took turns at tiring out the bird. Then he went away and enjoyed his afternoon catch on his own while his siblings stayed inside and played catch mommy’s tail until Gigi couldn’t stand them any longer.
Fun Sunday afternoon.

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