Your cat might do a few things that make no sense to you or even seem a little strange. Maybe he tears around your house late at night, pouncing on beams of light through your window, attacking shadows or chasing his own tail. Perhaps your cat likes to bat at your broom when you're sweeping or ambush your ankles from underneath furniture, or maybe he suddenly gets feisty when you're showing him some affection. Has your cat gone completely bonkers?
Much of the time, when pet owners think their cat is acting crazy, they're looking at the cat from a human perspective. But from a cat's point of view, the behaviors are perfectly normal.
Often when cats act berserk, it's because they're reacting to stimuli that we humans cannot see, smell or hear. The senses of the cat allow them to experience things that we don't, and so they may see things like dust particles that we can't see, and when they swat at them, we think they're hallucinating.
If you have a cat, it's good to educate yourself about feline behavior. Knowing why your cat acts the way he does in various situations will help you determine the best way to respond to him under those circumstances. Understanding the "why" to certain behaviors can also help you better appreciate your kitty for the fascinating creature he is. Of course, sometimes, it's just plain interesting to know why your cat does what he does - even when it comes to seemingly ordinary behaviors like purring.
Here's a brief rundown on 20 of the more common misunderstood feline behaviors, with probable explanations from feline behavior experts for why a cat might do these things.
1 - Purring
Probably one of the most quintessential feline behaviors is purring. Cats purr for a number of reasons. Most often, they do so when they're feeling secure, happy and contented. Typically, that's when their humans are petting them.
However, cats might also purr when they're not so relaxed. Your cat might purr when he feels threatened or frightened, such as during a trip to the veterinarian or when confronted with aggressive dog.
There may be a release of endorphins when cats purr. Endorphins have an analgesic effect, making the cat feel calm and relaxed. Purring is self-soothing, so when cats are dying or sick they will sometimes purr.
Research suggests that purring is a form of self-healing. The frequency of the purr vibration is the same level that scientists believe is the optimal vibration to encourage healing of bone fractures. Studies show that purring's sound frequency runs somewhere between 25 and 150 Hertz - the same range of frequency that has been shown to increase bone density and promote muscle healing.
2 - Kneading on your chest
When your cat digs his claws into your stomach or legs and rhythmically pushes or pulls with his paws, this is called kneading. Cats knead when they feel comfortable and content. It's a holdover behavior from when kitten's were nursing. They would do the milk tread behavior with their paws to stimulate the flow of milk from the mother's teats. Even after they're grown up, adult cats might knead on a human's lap or blanket just as they did as infants.
3 - Suddenly hissing or scratching you while you're petting him
Feline aggression can be brought on when you pet your cat for a longer length of time than what he enjoys, sometimes what happens is the owner things, "Oh, my cat loves stroking so he will love being petted for 10 minutes rather than just a minutes", but that's not necessarily true. Your cat might hiss, bite or scratch to let you know he's had enough.
4- Puffing up his fur
When a cat puffs out his fur coat and tail, this is known as the hackles. Typically they do this to make themselves look larger in response to a treat. Along with puffing out his coat, the cat might also move his ears to their sideways position, hold back his whiskers, show his teeth and stiffen his legs to look as tall as possible. The cat is telling his opponent, "I'm much bigger than I appear, so be very intimidated by me. You better not mess with me because I'm tough." Usually the opponent is another cat. However, cats will also puff up their fur when faced with dogs, humans or any other perceived enemy.
5 - Biting himself
Some cats chew and scratch themselves all over their skin whenever they can physically reach. Some cats literally pull the fur right off their skin, to the point that they draw blood or give themselves ugly sores all over their bodies. Cats bite themselves in an attempt to relieve itching. They don't realize that biting or scratching at a spot on their body that itches will only give them a temporary relief.
If your cat bites himself, take him to the veterinarian to try to find out what is making him itch. Biting can be a sign that the cat has excessively dry skin or allergies, or that he is stressed.
6 - Dashing around the house late at night
If you've ever been awakened by your cat in the middle of the night from him zooming around, leaping into the air, galloping over furniture, and perhaps knocking down lamps or knickknacks, that can certainly be annoying. But it's normal feline behavior. Your cat in on the hunt, nighttime is a cat's preferred hunting time.
If your cat is home alone all day while you are at work, he'll be even more inclined to nighttime activity. He may sleep all day while you are away and decide the middle of night is prime playtime.
7- Immediately seeking you out when you head to the bathroom
When you walk over to the bathroom, your cat might respond by racing you to the door or by pawing under the bathroom door if you get there before he does. Cats do this because they have a captive audience when you are in the bathroom and they know it.
A lot of cats are drawn to the running water in the sink, as well. They know you will be turning on the water to wash your hands when you go in there. A closed door can be a further draw. Cats hate a closed door. They will shake and rattle that door until you open it for them.
8 - Licking you
If your kitty licks your hair, face or fingers, he is trying to groom you. In a colony, cats will often engage in allogrooming, meaning they lick each other on the head and face. This is a friendly gesture that strengthens bonds, similar to rubbing and scent-marking your associates. When your cat licks you, the motivation is the same. They are trying to strengthen your relationship, and they consider you part of the colony, so take it as a compliment!
In addition to showing acceptance and affection, your cat may also like your shampoo, hair spray or hand lotion. Cats are attracted to the smells and tastes of the products we use on our skin and hair.
9 - Feigning sleep
Feigning sleep, or closing their eyes but not actually resting, is a behavior most associated with chronic stress.
Cats will shut their eyes to feign sleep when they are scared or in an unfamiliar environment.
Housecats might feign sleep after a move to a new home or if strangers are present. They will shut their eyes tight and feign sleep to avoid handling or eye contact. So it is primarily a stress response to anxiety and fear.
10 - Thumping his tail back and forth
Cats usually flick and whip their tails when they are upset, overstimulated or aroused. A cat might slowly swish his tail back and forth when he is becoming overstimulated from too much petting, or when he is focused on a prey animal or toy mouse and is preparing to pounce. If the tail is rapidly whipping back and forth, that's a sign of aggression or fear. It's the cat's way of telling you, "Back off!" or "Stop touching me!" If you continue to pet him or approach him anyway, the cat might swat or bite you.
People often assume when a cat swishes his tail, it means the same thing as when a dog wags his tail, but that is a big mistake. Dogs and cats speak different languages. A dog wagging a tail generally indicates a happy, pleased dog, whereas a cat whipping his tail quickly back and forth indicates he is agitated. When cats feel happy and secure, they carry their tails high with a little curve at the top.
11 - Ambushing your ankles
I your cat leaps from doors or furniture to scratch and bite your ankles, he is playing predatory games. This behavior is especially common in cats who are home alone all day and have no outlet to burn up excess energy.
Many cats have strong predatory needs and don't get to unleash these indoors, so they get bored. they start hiding under your armoire and reaching out and biting your ankles when you walk by.
Cats will also attack brooms, mops, feather dusters, the clean clothes you're pulling out of the dryer or just about anything that is moving - especially if it has prey-like features (feathers, strings, etc...).
12 - Arching his back when you stroke his fur
Some cats, when you stroke them from their head all the way down to their back and tail in one fluid movement, will arch up their backs to meet your hand. They do this because the petting feels good and the cat is signaling for you to continue doing it. This behavior can also be and instinctual reaction. It's a throwback to when the mom cat would groom them.
13 - Meowing at you when you talk on the phone
In a lot of households, as soon as the phone rings, the owner starts chatting and within seconds the person's cat is on her lap, meowing and hoping for some attention. That's because the cat has learned to associate talking with some kind of reward.
It is common for people to talk to their cats while they are paying attention and being affectionate with them. Often people feed their cats treats as they talk. The cats then associate the sound of their favorite people's voices with good things, and they rush over when they hear their people talking into the phone. If you start petting the cat when he comes over to you while you're on the phone, this further reinforces the behavior.
14 - Leaving his feces uncovered in the litterbox
If your cat doesn't cover his feces, he's not trying to insult you. In most cases, he's marking territory. This behavior is most often seen in multi-cat households, rather than in homes with just one cat. It is a way of showing dominance to the other cats. Non-dominant cats will instinctively bury their poop to not challenge the top cat, but if there are two cats not burying, that means we are having a turf war.
Cats might also leave their feces uncovered because they do not like the litter that is being offered, or the litterbox might be located in an area where the cat doesn't feel safe. In those cases the cat may be more interested in doing her business and leaving as quickly as possible.
15 - Rolling over
When your cat walks up to you, lies down right in your path and then rolls over onto his back, that's his way of asking you to come over and sit by him. This is a gesture to pull you in and try to get some attention.
16 - Dropping a dead animal in your lap
Your cat might suddenly leap up and plop a dead animal (typically a mouse or bird he just captures) right next to you. You might be horrified, but try to feel honored. This is a gift. Your cat is sharing one of his prized possessions. It's his way of displaying his accomplishment.
17 - Bonking his forehead on you
If your cat wants attention, he might come up to you and bunt his forehead against you. Typically you'll be on your cat's level when it happens, and he walks by and bumps his head against yours. That's usually an indication that the cat wants to be close to you. Cats often will also combine that with some kind of murmur - which almost sounds like a pigeon cooing - and they might touch your nose with their nose, and it's very intimate. Along with purring, kneading you or licking your neck and fingers, the head bonk is another way your cat shows you he loves you.
It can also be a form of olfactory communications. Cats have scent glands on their faces and along their bodies that deposit pheromones when they rub their face or body up against something. They are probably communicating with us that we are affiliates, meaning we are part of the colony or that they simply like us. Cats rub on each other in an effort to strengthen bonds and avert aggression, so it is probably the same with us.
18 - Playing in the toilet
Some cats reach into the toilet, moving their legs in a grooming motion to practice going fishing. Other kitties play in toilets simply because they're intrigued by the water. Some cats are fascinated by the light that reflects off the water and the little whirlpool that forms when the toilet is flushed.
19 - Grooming himself after you've petted him
After you finish petting your cat, he might start licking himself like crazy. If he does this, don't take it personally. It's not that your cat wants to "groom over" your scent. Chances are, he's just trying to get a taste of what you left behind on his fur. As mentioned earlier, many cats like to lick hand and body lotion and are attracted to the alcohol in these products. They also like salt, so if the person was eating chips or was sweaty and deposited a salty taste on the cat, he might want to lick that.
20 - Pacing and yowling
Your cat might sit in front of an open window or pace back and forth down a hallway and yowl. There can be many causes. Pacing and yowling can be signs of frustration or separation anxiety, but the most common cause of these behaviors are hyperthyroidism and high blood pressure.
If you've got an intact female, she might be wailing for a mate; if yours is a male cat, he might actually smell a female in heat and be calling out to her. It could also be that your cat is smelling or hearing another cat outdoors and becoming distressed or upset because he can't go out and confront the intruder feline. The only way you can know for sure what's causing the yowling is to look at the context within which the cat is doing it.
Rebecca Sweat - Cats USA