Understanding cat behavior is not always straightforward. So here are some thoughts on cat behavior and what it means.
Cats can make wonderful companions for their human owners, and have been for thousands of years. They are a favored family pet and display a variety of behaviors and emotions. Owning and interacting with a cat is said to reduce levels of stress and lower high blood pressure. With all the joys and rewards that cat ownership can bring, cat owners may still not fully understand cat behavior. You may find yourself asking, “Why does my cat do that?” Despite humans keeping cats for so long, we still don’t fully understand all their quirks. However, there are things that we haven’t figured out. Read on to learn the answers and other facts about cat behavior.
How individual cats behave is determined by several factors, which includes the cat’s relationship with their owner and other cats or pets in the house. Contrary to popular belief, cats and dogs can get along well, especially if both animals are introduced to each other when they’re young. A cat’s individual personality also has a lot to do with how they behave. But nearly all cats display the same behaviors in one way or another. In fact, if you observe big cats at the zoo, you’ll find very similar behaviors and mannerisms in these cats as you would your cat at home.
Vocalization is one-way cats communicate. ‘Meow’ can mean several different things, depending on the sound of the call. A loud call may mean a demand for food or attention. Shorter, loud calls may be heard on the ride to the vet’s office, or in other times of fear. Cats are also known for ‘chirping’ or ‘chattering’ when they see something exciting or interesting, which could be birds outside. This may be accompanied by rapid tail movements. While your cat may have behavior problems, this behavior is not one of them. While panting is common in dogs, it is very rare in cats, and usually only occurs during times of stress, high temperatures, or fatigue. If your cat is panting and it’s not the result of one of these things, a visit to the vet is to rule out medical problems, which can be serious. In these cases, other unusual cat behavior may also be present, including increased fatigue, injury, or signs of illness or pain.
A scratching post is a common investment by cat owners and is usually a useful one. While cats scratch to sharpen their claws, this cat behavior is also another way of communicating. They also scratch while playing or to relieve frustration. Scratching may be a way for cats to mark their territory and to distribute their scent. Cats are also spreading their scent and marking their territory by rubbing the sides of their faces against objects or people. Face-rubbing is also a friendly gesture.
Cats are strictly carnivores, yet many owners will see their cats trying to eat grass or houseplants. Cats will eat grass to help them regurgitate things like hairballs that they can’t digest otherwise. While a cat owner should make sure whatever plants in the house are safe to cats, there are options to buy cat grass that is safe for cats to eat and may spare your houseplants!
Another way cats communicate is through body language. In fact, body language may say more about what your cat is thinking and feeling than a regular ‘meow!’ When threatened or wanting to appear larger, cats will arch their backs and puff out their tails. A cat with his ears flat and back is angry and wants to be left alone. A tail pointed straight up in the air is a signal that your feline is in a good mood. Cats lick their owners to convey affection. If you own more than one cat, one may groom the other, which is also a way of showing affection. When your cat lies down and slowly opens and closes his eyes, it means he’s very relaxed.
When it comes to catnip, not all cats react the same way. Some cats love it, while others (and young kittens) have no reaction or may not like it at all. Catnip contains an essential oil called nepetalactone, and this is the ingredient that most cats love. Catnip is commonly available dried and is even included with some toys and scratching posts. Catnip can also be bought as the plant itself and can be planted as part of your garden, though it may attract other cats. Some cats will sniff, rub, and roll on catnip when given some. Other cats prefer to eat it. Some cats become hyperactive and overly excited. The effects of catnip are temporary, and cats may have different reaction depending on if the catnip is dried or fresh. While cats react to it as though it’s a drug, too much catnip isn’t dangerous for your cat.
Cats are famous for their purring, but there are no proven reasons that say exactly why. Even big cats like tigers and cheetahs will purr. Purring is usually a positive sign and a method of communication. Cats purr while they eat, or are being petted. Also, some female cats will purr while they give birth. While cats have also been known to purr when in pain or frightened, purring is a good thing and may help affirm the bond between cat and owner. The jury is still out on exactly how cats purr.
Marching or Kneading
When about to lie down and nap on something soft, cats are often observed ‘marching’ or ‘kneading’ the surface. It may look like your cat is marching in place with their front legs. When marching or kneading, cats will spread out their toes and claws. This can be painful when doing this in the owner’s lap, but your cat is not trying to hurt you when they do this. Kittens are believed to do this while nursing on their mother and it is possible the behavior has carried on into adulthood. Purring also accompanies this action as well, and most cats will take a nap after doing this.
Understanding your cat’s behavior can help you as a cat owner better communicate with your feline friend. A better understanding can also help you correct unwanted behaviors or help strengthen your bond with your cat. So the next time someone asks you about cat behavior or why your cat does what he does, you’ll have some of the answers!