13 (Strange) Cat Behaviors Explained

Admit it. Sometimes you wonder why your cat does some of the things s/he does. Some of those seemingly strange behaviors are perfectly normal, while others may be signs of medical issues. Read on to learn the difference and why Kitty does the things s/he does!

 

#1. Chattering

You've probably heard your cat emit a fast and intense teeth chattering - especially when s/he spots a bird, squirrel, or other prey animal while gazing out the window. Behaviorists speculate that this happens because cats are frustrated that they can't get outside to hunt the prey they're seeing. They also may be excited and/or slightly aggravated.

Others behaviorists say that this strange jaw movement may be your kitty’s natural instinct that allows his/her muscles to prepare for the act of killing prey. Either way, chattering is completely normal for your feline even if it does sound strange.

 

#2. Rubbing 

When your kitty rubs his/her head on you, s/he is doing more than just showing you affection and saying hello. She is actually doing something that behaviorist’s call “bunting.” When Kitty does this, pheromones are released from his/her head and deposited on you. Just as a cat would rub on furniture or doorways to scent-mark territory, Kitty rubs you to show ownership of you. 

 

#3. Bring You Kills

Does your cat bring you the fruits of his/her hunts? If so, hopefully you have indoor-only kitties and those hunts result in toys... If not, this particular behavior might be one you wish Kitty would keep to him/herself!

Behaviorists have a few hypotheses about why cats leave their owners “gifts.” Even though this habit may be perceived as a gross one, Kitty is acknowledging you as a member of his/her group and is sharing his hunting success with you. S/he could be thanking you for taking care of him, or perhaps you pay more attention to him when he generously brings you rodents, birds, or insects. (There's another hypothesis that cats bring us kills because they think we're just terrible hunters and want to help us learn to be better, like they would young kittens.)

If this is a behavior you would like to curb in your outdoor cat, try putting a bell on his collar so that it's more challenging to hunt. Don't count on this eliminating the behavior, entirely, though. Many cats become quite adept at moving silently despite being "belled."

 

#4. Eating Non-Food Items

Does your cat seem to enjoy chewing on non-edible items such as cloth, inedible plants, plastic, or metal? This could be a sign of condition called pica. Often the cause is unknown; however, some proposed reasons include mineral deficiencies, anemia, hyperthyroidism, genetics, boredom, and stress.

If your cat is showing symptoms of pica, it's time to have a full examination by a veterinarian in order to rule out any underlying problems. It's also important to pay attention to what Kitty is chewing on and the context of the chewing. That information may help you determine the cause of the pica and, therefore, the best course of action for dealing with it.

Treatment may include dietary adjustments, placing bitterants, such as Bitter Apple Spray on the chewed objects, providing multiple small meals throughout the day rather than one or two large meals, providing stimulation through games or social interaction, or removing the items from the environment. 

 

#5. Feline Kneading

Feline kneading has many different names, from "kneading bread" to "making biscuits" and so on. The behavior is much like massage: your cat presses his paws into you, and massages back and forth. Depending on how sharp Kitty's claws are, this can be a rather enjoyable feline behavior! Unfortunately, Kitty probably isn't doing it as training to be your massage therapist (or acupuncturist!). 

Your cat’s instinct to do this traces back to his/her earliest days of nursing. By pressing his paws on his mother’s mammary glands, it encouraged better milk production. When your cat does this as an adult he is either content, and showing that he is happy, or he is trying to alleviate stress and the habit is one to calm him down. Some cats also suck on the item they're kneading (if that's you or your clothing, you may get a little wet). Often, kneading accompanied by sucking (nursing) is found in cats that were weaned too early. No matter what the cause, though, take it as a compliment that you remind Kitty of his/her mom!

 

#6. If I Fits, I Sits

Cats' ability to fit themselves “comfortably” into tight spaces never ceases to amaze or entertain us. We're so entertained, we dedicate entire websites to them - with the tag line "if I fits, I sits." But why do they sit in those spots? There are plenty of comfy places they could rest instead, like, say, that expensive cat tree you got them. So why do they choose to curl up in boxes, bathroom sinks, small baskets, etc.?

It turns out, this behavior is instinctive - even big cats do it. Small spaces make your cat feel safe and secure. If Kitty was out in the wild, s/he wouldn't want to be unprotected in an open area because this would make him/her more susceptible to predators. Additionally, felines have a natural instinct to ambush their prey. By hiding in small spaces, they're able to watch and observe their surroundings without being disturbed or seen. (Obviously, the "unseen" part doesn't always apply with our house cats!)

#7. Cat Eyes

Have you ever felt like someone or something was staring you down? When you turned around, was it your cat? When your cat is staring you down s/he is probably just trying to get your attention. Usually, Kitty wants food, treats, pets or playtime. S/he might even be tellng you in cat-language that s/he loves you. You can tell the difference with the blinks. Have you ever noticed your kitty slowly blinking at you? Behaviorist call this act “kitty kisses.” These slow blinks are your feline’s way of showing affection and telling you that they like and trust you. If you blink slowly back at them, they most likely will continue to blow “kitty kisses” your way. (No, Kitty isn't plotting your demise!)

On the other hand, if your cat is staring at another cat, things might be about to get intense. Often, when one cat stares at another, it's a way of showing dominance. If the staring contest doesn't establish who rules the roost, more physical action may be taken. If you can safely distract them from their "who's the big kitty" contest with treats or catnip, that might be for the best.

 

#8. Kitty Litter Fail

Urinating or defecating outside the litter box, known as inappropriate elimination, is the most common behavioral complaint of cat owners. Understanding the underlying causes of this condition—and how to treat them appropriately—can help ease the frustration and rebuild the bond between cat lovers and their feline friends.

Inappropriate elimination can be caused by medical or behavioral issues.

Medical causes commonly include:

  • Bladder and urinary tract conditions, such as cystitis, infection, bladder stones or urethral obstruction (inappropriate urination)
  • Colitis, constipation or anal sac disease (inappropriate defecation)
  • Pain or discomfort, including arthritis or other conditions affecting the nerves, muscles or joints

 

Behavioral causes commonly include:

  • Stress or anxiety due to other pets or changes in the household (moving, the birth of a child, visitors, etc.)
  • Box, litter, location and maintenance preferences
  • The first step in finding a cause for inappropriate elimination is to see a veterinarian.
  • While many cat owners believe their feline friends are “misbehaving” when they urinate or defecate outside the litter box, more often than not, the cat is simply trying to avoid a painful trip to the litter box. 

 

#9. 2 a.m Zoomies

Don’t you just love when you’re fast asleep, and you’re jolted awake by the sound of your cat barreling down the hallway - or across your bed? While this isn't conducive to you getting a good night's sleep, it's usually not a cause for alarm.

Most house cats have an enormous amount of energy that builds up during the day and needs to be released - through "zoomies." This, combined with their nocturnal hunting instincts, may wreak havoc on your sleep. To cut down on this late night activity (that could, actually, happen anytime), we recommend regularly exercising your cat during the day in order to avoid random sprints through the house in the middle of the night. You can also try feeding Kitty right before you go to bed or give him/her food puzzles to stay occupied while you sleep. In general, the zooomies aren't a cause for alarm. However, if Kitty is distressed by them or they start suddenly in a normally laid-back cat, it's definitely worth making an appointment with your vet to get everything checked out.

 

#10. Singing the Songs of Their People

Maybe it's not the running around that's the problem. Instead, does Fluffy think the best time to tell you ALL about his/her day - or the entire history of cat-kind - is the middle of the night?

Vocalizing, unlike the zoomies, is somewhat more difficult to deal with. Of course, some cats are more vocal than others, with some kitties being content to only talk to you on special occasions and other kitties intent on singing the songs of their people every night. There are a number of different reasons your cat may be vocal in the middle of the night, from loneliness to hunger to illness. If Kitty abruptly starts "singing" or if your excessively vocal cat is a senior, there may be a medical reason for it. We recommend that you book an appointment with your vet if this is the case.

 

#11. Rolling Around

When cats roll around on their backs, they're vulnerable to attack, so only comfortable, secure cats do this.  If Fluffy is doing this in front of you, take it as a compliment.  Your kitty feels safe around you, and you have earned his/her trust. In fact, Fluffy may be trying to get you to play with him/her - so get out a favorite toy and have some fun! (It's even more flattering if Kitty sleeps on his/her back around you.) Of course, the other alternative is that you put down some catnip (or Kitty has a stash!), and it's time to roll in the 'nip.


 

#12. Oh, You’re Using That?

Magazines, laptops, books, warm clean clothes... you name it - Kitty loves to lay on it at the exact time you need it. Why? That's simple. Despite some widespread misconceptions, Kitty does, actually, like you (most of the time). And s/he knows that whatever you’re paying attention to is the place to be for attention of his own. Take a break from what you're doing and pay attention to Kitty. That's what s/he really wants.

Of course, Kitty's also leaving his/her scent on your belongings as a way to further cement his claim to ownership of you. (See #2, above, for the first part of this one.)

 

#13. Knock It Off!

Does your cat like to knock things off tables, bookshelves and counters? Maybe it looks like Kitty is just randomly batting things off the table to calmly watch them fall to the floor for no reason. There is a reason, though, and, while this behavior can be frustrating (not to mention upsetting for your breakables), it isn't insurmountable.

You know what they say about cats and curiosity, and, since they explore the world with their paws, batting and pawing at objects helps them learn about them. There's even a theory that Kitty likes to knock objects off tables because it simulates his/her prey drive. Of course, it's also possible that Kitty just wants your attention - after all, what better way to get it than by knocking things over? Whatever the reason for the behavior, you may want to curb it - or at least put away your breakables.

For cats that are bored, the best remedy is to make sure there are toys and/or puzzle feeders to keep Kitty occupied and rotate them out periodically so they stay fresh. For cats that want your attention, while it can be frustrating for you, the best thing to do is to ignore the behavior and not reward Kitty with attention (even if it's negative) while s/he is knocking things off tables and shelves. When Kitty gets bored, you can then give him the attention he craves!

 

If you have questions or your cat needs to see a veterinarian, give us a call or fill out our online form.

 

This blog post originally appeared on The Drake Center and has been modified for re-posting.

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