On a list of ultimate predators, cats and snakes would surely be near the top. From the largest lions and anacondas down to pygmy rattlesnakes and the tiny rusty-spotted cat, all are efficient hunters and masters of the kill.
But, what happens when these two carnivores encounter each other? Can cats kill snakes?
In this article we’ll cover the following:
In certain respects, cats and snakes are very much alike. They both strike at the speed of lightning and, with few exceptions, are solitary hunters.
Snakes and cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat meat to survive and both derive little nutrition for plants.
In the wild, cats and snakes occupy similar ecological niches. The largest, such as adult tigers and lions, pythons and cobras, are apex predators at the top of the food chain.
Smaller cats and snakes may avoid larger predators, but are still the stuff of nightmares for smaller prey species. And, while cats are warm-blooded and can live in colder climates than snakes, they overlap in much of their range.
In many ways, cats are built to take on snakes. The snake’s main advantage is the speed at which it strikes, which is largely nullified by the cat’s natural abilities.
In one experiment, scientists clocked snakes lunging forward at about half a foot in only 70 milliseconds. That’s faster than the blink of a human eye which takes about 200 milliseconds.
A cat’s reaction time, meaning the time it takes after a stimulus to make an observable motion, has been measured between 50-70 milliseconds which might just be fast enough to avoid a hit by a snake.
In addition to an amazing reaction time, cats see at a rate of 100 frames per second, compared to a human’s paltry 15-20 fps.
Frame rate measures how fast a brain processes images. Computers and televisions today refresh far faster than our brain can process, so we don’t see that it’s actually a series of still images we’re looking at.
That’s why older monitors have flickering or choppy images. They had lower frame rates so our eyes could see the changes happening.
The point of this is that a snake’s strike is in slow motion to a cat’s eyes. Check out the following video which gives a good approximation about how cats see the world:
Now we know that cats have the right tools for the job to take on a snake. But what happens when they meet, would they actually fight?
In the following video, we can see the results of just such an encounter:
There are a number of reasons a cat and snake could be in conflict if they met. If sufficiently larger than the snake, the cat may consider the snake a prey item and might try to kill it for food.
Alternatively, predators that are relatively evenly matched, or occupy the same niche, will often attack each other out of competition for the limited resources in the environment.
Finally, cats will often attack and kill smaller animals indiscriminately, or for play. Ducks may be good examples of this. Outdoor house cats are thought to kill large numbers of native species, in particular, songbirds.
While it’s without question that cats will, on occasion, kill and even eat snakes, encounters with snakes don’t always end well for the cat. Many snakes are venomous, and their venom can make a cat critically ill or even kill them.
Furthermore, large constrictor snakes have been known to kill and eat house cats. Even jaguars sometimes fall prey to the largest anacondas, though the snake in the following vintage video isn’t so lucky:
As cats are predators, it’s certainly possible for them to kill snakes. In fact, cats in the wild will hunt and kill some species of snakes for food.
However, encounters with certain types of snake can be dangerous or life-threatening for domestic cats. In particular, there are many species of venomous snakes that can severely sicken or kill a cat. The same thing holds true with spiders as well.
Additionally, constrictors such as pythons and boas can kill and eat cats. Even non-venomous, small snakes can injure a cat with its bite.
If you really want to let your cat explore its snake-hunting instinct, try out this plush cartoon snake toy for cats. There’s also the Cosmic Catnip Cat Toy that will be great fun for your catnip-loving feline buddy.
If you have any questions or would like to share a story about your cat and snakes, please tell us in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!
Phil’s lifelong love of animals began as a young boy growing up with three pet dogs. As a teenager and young adult, Phil spent six years working as a veterinary technician, later earning a B.S. in Animal Science. After college, Phil continued working as a vet tech part-time while caring for a private collection of mountain lions used in wildlife educational programs. During this time, Phil volunteered at the Dallas Zoo and was eventually offered a position as a zookeeper in the zoo’s naturalistic Wilds of Africa area. Phil became the primary keeper for a black leopard named “Grady” and a caracal named “Tut” in the predator/prey exhibit.