Cats are natural hunters, possessing keen senses and lightning-fast reflexes that make them adept at catching small prey.
So when a mole shows up in a cat’s environment, it may seem like an obvious meal for our feline friends.
However, while cats will readily kill moles, they don’t always eat them. There are several possible reasons why cats don’t eat moles.
Moles Primarily Live Underground
Moles are adapted for a subterranean lifestyle, digging extensive tunnels and burrowing deep below the ground’s surface. They occasionally come above ground, but the vast majority of a mole’s life is spent navigating its underground labyrinths.
For cats, these underground tunnels are largely inaccessible. Cats rely heavily on their vision when hunting, so not being able to see the moles puts them at a disadvantage. A cat may be able to detect a mole’s presence through scent or vibrations in the dirt, but pinpointing the mole’s exact location is difficult.
While cats can dig and may attempt to unearth a mole, moles have the home turf advantage. They can quickly retreat further into their tunnel systems, disappearing from a cat’s reach. With moles spending over 90% of their time underground, most cats simply don’t have consistent access to hunt them as prey.
Key Takeaway: Moles spend most of their time underground, limiting cats’ access to them as prey.
Moles Have a Strong Musky Scent
Moles secrete a strong musky odor that may deter cats from viewing them as appetizing prey. This powerful scent serves several purposes for moles. It allows them to identify territorial boundaries, sends signals to potential mates, and helps repel predators both above and below ground.
For cats, this pungent smell means the mole is anything but enticing prey. In fact, many cats will recoil when they first encounter the odor produced by moles. This natural deterrent helps protect moles both when they are underground and if a cat manages to uncover one above ground. The mole’s overwhelming stench immediately triggers the cat’s senses that this is not a desirable meal.
Moles Don’t Provide Much Meat
Moles are small, weighing only around 3-5 ounces on average. For comparison, mice and rats average 2-8 ounces. When you consider that cats evolved hunting even larger prey like rabbits and small birds, a mole’s tiny size makes it unrewarding compared to other food sources.
In addition to being small, moles have a lean build comprised almost entirely of muscle mass without much fat. Their streamlined bodies allow them to swiftly maneuver underground. But for feline predators, the minimal fat and muscle on a mole means limited nutritional value. The meager amount of meat on a mole is likely not worth the energy expenditure required for a cat to catch it.
Key Takeaway: The small size and lean muscle mass of moles make them a low-value meal for cats.
Moles Can Transmit Diseases and Parasites
Spending their lives in close contact with soil, insects, and underground burrows means moles are prone to carrying diseases, bacteria, and parasites. Ringworm, rabies, tapeworms, fleas, and ticks are just some of the infectious agents moles may host.
While most cats have strong immune systems and are not severely impacted by consuming diseased prey, eating moles does pose some health risks. Parasites like tapeworms or ticks can be transferred to cats that ingest moles. And bacterial or fungal illnesses can potentially make a cat sick if the infection spreads internally.
To avoid these health hazards, many cats rely on their natural instincts and simply avoid eating moles altogether after killing them. Cats tend to be selective, often sampling prey before deciding to fully eat or reject it.
Domestic Cats are Well-Fed
Feral and wild cats hunt out of necessity, driven by constant hunger to catch whatever prey they can. So while these cats likely eat any moles they kill, the situation differs for well-fed domestic cats.
With a consistent food source from their human owners, domestic cats are not motivated by starvation to eat moles. Their primary drive in hunting moles stems from their predatory instincts, not nutritional needs. Killing the mole satisfies this natural impulse without requiring them to consume the prey afterwards.
In short, domestic cats don’t depend on hunting moles for survival. So once they’ve executed the catch, they feel no compulsion to actually eat the mole. Their hunger is already satisfied through regular feedings.
How Do Cats Hunt Moles?
While moles spend minimal time above ground, cats have some techniques that allow them to successfully hunt these elusive burrowers:
Sensitive Whiskers Detect Movements
Cats have whiskers extending from their face and legs that pick up subtle vibrations and air currents. These finely tuned sensory whiskers enable cats to detect moles moving close beneath the ground’s surface. The slightest movement sends signals to the cat, alerting them of the mole’s presence.
Powerful Sense of Smell Pinpoints Location
A cat’s keen sense of smell allows it to track moles traveling through underground tunnels. Cats can detect the mole’s natural musky odor and follow it to isolate the area where the mole will emerge above ground. This sophisticated olfactory ability gives cats an advantage in zeroing in on where the mole will surface.
Lightning-Fast Reflexes Enable Swift Capture
Once the mole emerges from its tunnel, the cat wastes no time in executing its attack. With quick-twitch muscle fibers and rapid reflexes, cats can instantly spring forward and snatch up a mole before it has a chance to retreat underground. These lightning-fast reactions are what make cats such adept hunters of small, fast prey like moles.
Sharp Claws Help Unearth Buried Moles
If a mole doesn’t fully surface from its tunnel system, cats rely on their sharp, curved claws to dig it up. Using their agile front paws, cats can swiftly excavate areas where they’ve detected a mole just below the surface, granting them access to the buried mole.
Do Cats Eat Other Small Prey?
While moles may not be a favored snack, cats certainly relish other small creatures that frequent their environments:
|Mice||– Frequent cat prey due to abundance around homes<br>- Provide more fat/meat than moles<br>- Can transmit diseases like salmonella|
|Voles||– Rodent prey often found in yards/fields<br>- Burrow underground like moles<br>- Cats easily detect due to vocalizations|
|Shrews||– Insectivores that cats readily catch<br>- Emit strong musk to repel predators<br>- Venomous saliva can irritate cats|
|Chipmunks||– Common target for outdoor and feral cats<br>- More meat than moles but still very small prey<br>- Quick and agile, but cats are faster|
Cats certainly enjoy hunting smaller animals like those listed above. Mice, voles, shrews, and chipmunks are all frequent targets for feline predators.
The abundance of these small mammals, coupled with their above-ground lifestyle, makes them far more convenient prey sources for cats than the elusive mole. Still, cats will take advantage of the opportunity to chase down a mole when the occasion arises.
Why Do Cats Hunt Moles?
Though moles may not be an ideal meal, cats are still drawn to hunt them for several reasons:
Prey Drive and Hunting Instincts
Stalking and hunting prey is deeply ingrained in cats’ primal nature. Most cats will seize any opportunity to indulge these instincts, even if they don’t plan to eat the animal afterwards. Chasing a mole simply satisfies cats’ innate need to express their natural predatory behaviors.
Boredom and Mental Stimulation
The task of locating moles and attempting to capture them provides exciting mental stimulation and entertainment for cats. Digging and prowling after underground prey alleviates boredom and gives cats an engaging cognitive workout.
Feral cats may view moles as a threat encroaching on their territory, especially if the moles raid their food supply. Killing moles serves to defend cats’ territory and resources.
Training Young Cats
Mother cats often use moles as a way to teach hunting skills to their kittens. Catching moles provides kittens with practice and confidence in executing attacks, even if the cats don’t ultimately eat the moles.
Do Other Animals Eat Moles?
Moles face threats from a variety of subsurface and aboveground predators seeking to make them into a meal:
- Weasels and stoats – Skilled underground hunters, they pursue moles through tunnel systems.
- Snakes – Certain snake species, like gopher snakes, readily eat moles.
- Fossorial owls – These specialized owls have long legs adapted for digging, enabling them to excavate and consume moles.
- Coyotes and foxes – Their keen sense of smell allows them to hunt moles venturing above ground.
- Hawks – Can spot moles from high vantage points and swoop down to grab them.
- Badgers – Use robust claws to dig and expose buried moles.
While moles have evolved impressive defenses against predators, starvation and attacks ultimately claim the lives of most wild moles within their first year. Only a small percentage survive to the end of their 2-4 year natural lifespan.
Are moles dangerous to cats?
Moles do not directly endanger cats, but they can transmit parasites like tapeworms and fleas to feline predators. Cats should generally avoid eating moles to prevent acquiring these parasites.
What scent do moles emit?
Moles secrete a strong musky odor from their skin. This serves as territorial scent marks and to repel predators. The pungent odor contains chemical compounds like butyric acid.
Where do moles live?
Moles live underground and construct extensive tunnel systems. They can inhabit areas like woodlands, prairies, gardens, and parks, anywhere the soil is conducive to tunneling. Some moles in mildly frozen northern areas even build underground nests.
What animals prey on moles?
Weasels, snakes, coyotes, foxes, cats, badgers, hawks, and owls are some of the main predators that hunt moles. Their digging abilities and keen senses allow them to catch moles, despite the moles’ largely underground existence.
How fast can a mole move?
Moles can tunnel through soil at a rate of 15 feet per hour. Above ground, moles run rather slowly, averaging only around 4-8 miles per hour at their top speed. Their short legs are adapted for digging rather than rapid movement.
While cats are certainly capable of hunting and killing moles, they generally opt not to eat them once caught. Moles’ underground habits, unappealing odor, small size, disease risks, and the adequate diets of domestic cats all contribute to their rejection as a feline food source. Yet cats continue seeking out moles to satisfy their predatory drive, provide mental enrichment, hone their kittens’ skills, and defend their territory.
Moles have evolved a semi-fossorial lifestyle that affords them some protection from surface predators like cats. But a number of skilled subsurface hunters, along with cunning aboveground mammals and birds, still manage to prey on moles with surprising frequency, keeping their populations constantly in check.
Ultimately, cats and moles participate in a sly game of stealth and cunning, interacting as hunter and hunted in a perpetual contest between two resourceful species.