Escalation of Feline Predation Along a Gradient From Avoidance Through “Play” to Killing

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In this article, we show that feline predation involves a continuous gradient of activation between defense and attack and that predatory “play” results from an interaction of the two. Benzodiazepines (oxazepam, diazepam) escalated attack toward killing, so that cats that had avoided mice prior to the drug now played with them, cats that had originally played now killed, and cats that killed mice now did so with less preliminary contact. In such shifts, no sharp demarcation between play and predation was evident. Lateral hypothalamic lesions disrupted the escalation of attack. During recovery, attack was escalated once again along the gradient toward killing, but in the absence of both defense and play. A similar result was obtained in intact killers and nonkillers by the application of mild tail pinch. These results suggest that play with prey is a misnomer for predatory behavior that fails to escalate along the gradient between defense and attack. Movement notation analysis revealed that playful movements are adaptive in that they protect the cat from injury.

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