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I see videos from time to time about cats befriending animals they would normally hunt. Like a mouse, or a bird.

For the life of me I can't figure out how a cat would overcome their instincts to ever do that. All the cats I have had or known eat a full meal and then go stalking birds or reptiles or rodents in the garden or outside.

Can any cat be convinced to befriend for example a bird? Under what circumstances can this happen?

If a cat befriends a bird in the house, will it still go hunting other birds (of the same or different species) outside?

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  • Even if it did happen somehow, a cat’s idea of “play” would likely be fatal to a smaller animal.
    – StephenS
    Mar 27 at 18:59

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From what I understand, there are different factors that influence a cats behavior towards smaller animals:

Hormones: If a (female) cat has given birth to a litter, her hormones are different than usual (just like in a human mother) to make her bond with her kittens. Especially the hormones for love and bonding (Oxytocin) are very high, which would allow a cat to bond with a bird or mouse as well.

Feeding: A well-fed cat has less incentive to hunt than a hungry cat. Most cats that were born in human care (especially indoor cats) don't even learn from their mothers that rodents and birds could be food. Some cats may have weaker hunting instincts and never start hunting small animals (others with stronger instincts certainly can start a habit of hunting, but most don't eat the prey after killing it if they haven't learned that as kittens).

Behavior of the prey: Hunting instincts are triggered by certain behaviors of the animal the cat observes. Those are mostly shuffling noises rodents make when moving around, high pitched noises rodents and birds make, and alternating sudden, jerky movements with remaining motionless. If an animal avoids those patterns (like a bird with a broken wing that freezes in fear), there's a chance that the cat doesn't perceive it as prey or a toy.

All things considered, cats befriending birds or mice is a very rare phenomenon, they are more likely to befriend dogs and rabbits (as demonstrated in this question). Inter species friendships seem to be more common in dogs and herbivores like bunnies, guinea pigs or goats.

Since I don't have personal experiences with a cat befriending a mouse or bird, I don't know if they still hunt other birds or mice.

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  • Most cats that were born in human care [...] don't even learn from their mothers that rodents and birds could be food. - we have three indoor cats who had never seen a mouse in their lives, neither their mothers. Yet when we secured the garden and they were allowed outside, they caught (and devoured) 5 mice and 1 bird in the first three days.
    – Haukinger
    Mar 28 at 16:44

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