One of the most popular pets on the planet, the domestic cat occupies a place close to the hearts of many. Cats are the undisputed stars of many an internet meme, and with good reason. Their behaviours can seem funny, confusing, or downright strange.
But what is it about cats that makes them so entertaining? So watchable? What gives cats that air of mystique so different from dogs? The clues lie in their common behaviours, which are sometimes tricky to decipher. We’re here to shed some light on 10 common cat behaviours, why they do it, and what they might be trying to tell you.
We’re all familiar with the throaty sound of a cat purring and associate that with cat happiness. But did you know that cats do not only purr when they are content, but also when they are stressed or fearful? It’s important to take that into context the next time you hear your cat purring. If they are purring on their own endlessly, they may be using it to soothe themselves from injury or perceived anxiety.
Cats can often be spotted kneading on blankets, on another cat in the household, or on their owners often accompanied by purring. Why do they do this?
It’s a behaviour that begins as kittens and it’s innate by nature. They do this to stimulate milk from their mother. As adults, they’re doing it as a comforting mechanism or self soothing. If they are relaxed, happy and kneading on your lap, it means they are relaxed around you too.
3. Staring intently, with an open mouth
Here’s a lesser know phenomenon. Have you ever spotted your cat staring intently at something, and they have their mouth ajar? It might look like they are panting, but they’re not. When a scent comes into their area that may be complex, or they want to register the scent intensely, they open their mouth which engages all of their olfactory sensors to the fullest. It’s technically known as “Flehmening”.
4. Plant and grass eating
If your cat is an indoor cat, the minute you let them out they might head straight for the grass and start eating. Some owners can’t keep plants indoors because of the nibbling that occurs, and that can be dangerous as there are many that are poisonous. Cats eat plants and grass for a laxative effect, or sometimes to soothe an upset stomach. The opposite can be true as it can often result in vomiting in short order!
One of the most affectionate things your cat will ever do to show you their love, is a good old-fashioned head-butt. Cats who are friendly and know each other will often greet each other this way. When your cat chooses to head-butt you, whether it be on your face, your hand or your legs as they wrap around you, it’s a sign that they want some attention and to be social.
Everyone is familiar with the ‘meow’ sounds a cat makes. But did you know that cats do not use vocal stylings amongst themselves to communicate? The only exception here is when there is aggression. Cats will most certainly be vocally clear to their opponent or intruder with some low growling to warn of an impending attack.
However, the more familiar meowing, chirping, howling and even whiny sounds that our cats make are purely what they have learned as a way to communicate with us humans. You may be able to tell when your cat is saying, “I want food” vs. “I want to go outside”. Cats make up their own language with their owners depending on results, that is, our behaviour giving them what they want!
7. Scent marking
Cats are extremely territorial, and they like to make their turf very clear to any and all felines in their vicinity. They do this by marking their territory, which is normally associated with spraying behaviours, but there is a more subtle one that all cats use including those that have been neutered. There are scent glands just under their upper lip, on their cheeks and chin. They then ‘bunt’ objects of their choosing around the home and outdoors indicating this is ‘theirs’ by leaving their own unique scent. Don’t be surprised when this includes you too!
8. Laying on top of things
When you are working at your computer, reading the newspaper, or have your attention on something else, have you ever noticed how your cat likes to try and redirect your attention back to themselves? They will often do this by just laying across whatever you are doing or reading. Making themselves rather obvious is the goal.
The real deal here is that objects that you have just handled are also more strongly scented with you, so it’s attractive to them. It just so happens that they love to do this while you’re still using these things too.
9. Hiding in tiny places
Cats love to jump into boxes, suitcases, hide in cupboards when the opportunity arises or even burrow into the duvet of an unmade bed. The reason for this is cats have an overwhelming desire to feel safe and secure. If they can’t find somewhere high up to be that is cosy (which is even better), then a little hiding spot will suffice even on ground level.
Be aware that if your cat hides a lot and doesn’t come out, there may be socialisation issues that need addressing. It can be a sign of fearfulness and anxiety.
10. Eyes dilated and staring, or slow blinking
The eyes of your cat can tell you a lot about their state of mind. If they are dilated and staring, fixed on something be on the lookout for a pounce, an attack (it could be you or prey), or even a bite. It’s a sign of a highly excited state for them.
When they are slowly, lazily blinking, this is non-verbal cat language that also indicates “I’m relaxed around you”. Take that as a compliment!
What’s really important for anyone around cats to understand is that cats may be a little more poker-faced when it comes to expressing their feelings when compared to canines.
If you take the time to get to know and recognise your cats most common behaviours and what they mean, it will help build a strong and trusting bond that is beneficial for both you and your pet.