A close-up photo capturing a curious cat, proudly holding a soft stuffed toy in its mouth, showcasing the feline's instinctual need for comfort and playfulness.

Have you ever noticed your cat trotting around the house with a stuffed animal in its mouth, almost like a hunting trophy? This peculiar behavior often makes cat owners wonder—why do cats carry toys or stuffed animals in their mouths?

In short, it comes down to a cat’s natural instincts. Cats have an innate drive to hunt, even when well-fed. Carrying stuffed prey allows them to simulate hunting. It also satisfies their nesting and collecting instincts.

Read on as we dive deeper into the wild world of feline play and instincts. We’ll cover why cats exhibit this behavior, what it means, and how to encourage play that taps into your cat’s natural urges in a healthy way.

It Taps Into Your Cat’s Prey Drive

Hunting is rewarding for cats

As predators, cats have a strong natural instinct to hunt. Stalking and capturing prey delivers mental stimulation and can release feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin in a cat’s brain, creating a rewarding experience.

This explains why many domestic cats still exhibit hunting behaviors like pouncing, chasing, and batting toy mice even when well-fed.

Playing allows symbolic hunting

While indoor cats don’t need to hunt to survive, activities resembling the hunt remain important for their wellbeing. According to the ASPCA, playing with toys allows cats a symbolic hunting experience that satisfies urges passed down from their predator ancestry.

Carrying around stuffed animals or other toys allows them to mimic capturing frightened prey to proudly showcase their hunting competence.

Carrying toys satisfies this drive

By picking up, chasing, pouncing on, batting, carrying, and presenting plush toys, your cat taps into millennia of predatory instincts rewarding her with feelings of fulfillment. This harmless symbolic hunting experience offers cats like yours an outlet for their prey drive.

Additionally, by bringing stuffed animals to you, your beloved feline companion may be attempting to teach you how to hunt or share something she finds valuable, much like a mother cat would do for her kittens with real prey.

Benefits of Carrying Cat Toys For Cats For Owners
Mental Stimulation
Stress Relief

So next time your cat drops a stuffed mouse at your feet, remember she’s just embracing her natural hunting heritage! Reward her efforts by initiating a fun game of chase or fetch.

It Stimulates Their Nesting Instinct

Cats want safe spaces for prizes

Just like squirrels hiding acorns for winter, cats have an instinct to create safe spots to store their “prizes.” According to studies, over 60% of domestic cats exhibit this toy-hiding behavior. When Fluffy carries around a favorite stuffed mouse or catnip fish, they are seeking out cozy nooks to store their treasures for later.

Under the bed, behind the couch, inside a closet—these sheltered spots appeal to a cat’s nesting impulse.

Carrying toys helps create nests

By transporting stuffed animals, feather wand attachments, and catnip-filled socks around the house, kitties scope out potential nesting sites. As hunters, cats love having “prey” on hand to revisit when the mood strikes.

Toting a beloved toy mouse in their mouth may stimulate memories of providing for their young. Just like mothers transporting kittens, carrying plush playthings triggers their domesticated nesting behaviors.

Hiding toys appeals to cats

Stashing stuffed critters taps into cats’ natural love of hiding and discovering. With their keen sense of smell, cats can ferret out old toys after weeks of being lost under furniture. Finding their hidden “kill” sparks satisfaction and entertains their curious spirits.

Additionally, tucking toys away provides cats with a sense of ownership and control over their environment—very important for sensitive felines. Basically, gathering plushes gives them the best of all worlds!

It Satisfies Their Collecting Urge

Cats want to gather valued objects

Cats have an innate desire to collect items they deem valuable, according to feline behaviorists. This collecting behavior likely stems from their hunting origins, when cats would gather and hoard their prey.

Today, even though food is readily available for domestic cats, the instinct remains to find, capture, and store treasured objects—which now include our shoes, hair ties, and their favorite stuffed mice.

Having piles of toys is rewarding

For reasons not fully understood, many cats seem to enjoy gathering stacks and piles of their favorite toys, according to the ASPCA (https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/common-cat-behavior-issues/meow-why-do-cats-collect-toys).

This likely provides them with a sense of accomplishment and fun as they ferry each new object to add to their hoard. It’s not uncommon to find mounds of 20 or 30 toys accumulated in a favorite corner spot. As experts at ASPCA say: “Who doesn’t love a good collection?”

Collecting makes cats feel secure

In addition to satisfying urgent urges, gathering items offers security and comfort for many cats according to animal behaviorists (https://felineengineering.com/blog/why-do-cats-collect-toys/). Having their own special piles of beloved toys nearby helps them feel safe and settled.

Kittens may find particular reassurance from this collecting habit as they adjust to their new environment. So rather than telling Kitty to stop stealing items for her stash, experts actually recommend providing an out-of-the way corner or closet area for her collections. This allows her to pursue this natural behavior while keeping the rest of the home from overflowing with her findings.

How to Encourage Healthy Play

Have a variety of toy types

Cats love variety when it comes to toys! Provide a mix of interactive toys like feather wands, treat-dispensing puzzles, crinkle balls, and more. This gives kitty the chance to pounce, chase, and practice their hunting skills.

Having different textures like soft plush, rubber, felt, and bell toys also keeps playtime exciting.

Experts recommend having 5-10 toys available and rotating them out weekly to prevent boredom. Try placing a few in their favorite napping spots so they always have something nearby to bat around. And don’t forget catnip! About 50-70% of cats enjoy this magical herb that triggers playful behavior.

Create hunting grounds at home

Since cats are natural hunters, create an enriched environment inside your home with places to explore and stalk prey. Try hiding toys around corners or under furniture to stimulate their detection skills. Placing a toy just out of reach on a cat tree challenges them to practice those vertical leaps.

You can also make homemade hunting grounds like a toilet paper roll maze filled with toys or balls to bat around. Get creative with cardboard boxes, tunnels made from paper bags, and more. Adding treats or catnip takes the fun to the next level!

Let your cat decide when to play

While playtime is important, be aware of your cat’s body language to avoid overstimulation. Signs they need a break include swishing tail, pinned back ears, big dilated pupils, and skin rippling on their back. If kitty loses interest or walks away, respect their wishes and try again later.

Cats generally take 10-30 naps a day and sleep over 70% of the time! So lots of quality zzz’s are key. Allow your fur baby to dictate play sessions based on their natural rhythms. This promotes positive experiences and prevents them from associating stuffed animals or toys with frustration.


Now you know why cats carry around stuffed animals—it lets them tap into their natural hunting, nesting, and collecting instincts, even when they’re perfectly content being house pets. While the behavior might seem silly or unnecessary to you, it has real rewards for our furry friends.

The best way to indulge your cat’s urges in a healthy way is to provide lots of toys for carrying and hiding. Rotate the selection so there’s always something new and intriguing for them to hunt. And be sure to give kitty plenty of solo playtime on their own terms.

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