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Why do cats do what they do?

I am often asked to explain the rationale behind certain feline behaviors and my answer usually begins with, “Didn’t you know? Cat’s as a species have their own manual, and each cats’ manual is different from the next.” I think this breadth of non-conforming behaviors is just one of the reasons we find cats so endearing. And since dog deeds were examined last week, I thought it only appropriate to address the curious conducts of cats this week.

Why do cats bury their poop?

One of the major bonuses of cats is that they package up their poop in neat little parcels into a litter box or dispose of their bodily by-products in a self-dug hole outside. Is this a cats way of lending a paw or perhaps showing that it is a few steps ahead of dogs on the development scale? Not exactly. Cats instinctively seek to bury their droppings, and this is thought to be an evolutionary holdover from before felines were domesticated, when they had more dangerous predators to worry about. Burying their feces prevents detection by their enemies.

But wait, there’s another layer to it. They also do this to avoid challenging the dominant cat of the group. In feral cat colonies, subordinate cats cover their waste, while dominant ferals leave it conspicuously uncovered. In the wacky world of feline politics, feces act as flags that can dictate the boundaries of each cat’s domain. These flags are intended to be seen (and smelled) by other cats, and help mark individual territories. Most indoor cats bury their waste, possibly to display subordination to their humans. Sometimes in multi-cat households, however, the dominant cat will leave waste uncovered to indicate his status.

Why do cats knead their paws?

Kneading is the motion a kitten first makes instinctively when nursing from its mother, stimulating milk flow, and most cats continue this behavior as they move into adulthood. It is usually a sign of contentment and affection and is often accompanied by purring. Another reason for kneading in cats is thought to be territorial marking. Cats have scent glands in the pads of their feet to mark the boundaries of their territory, so as your cat kneads, it is leaving a personal eau de feline all over you and your living room furniture.

Why do cats “chatter” their teeth?

The rapid chattering of teeth and “chirping thing” that indoor cats sometimes do- especially when they see a bird they can’t possibly reach- is thought to be because they are anticipating a killing bite. The jaw will start moving by reflex – similar to a dog that begins drooling when it sees food (“so undignified” says the cat). Another theory is that chattering is a way that a cat can take out its frustration when they are unable to reach their prey… I guess only they will know for sure.


Why do cats hiss and spit when threatened?

Anyone who has ever witnessed a vocal match between two angry cats is abundantly aware of the blood curdling noises that these otherwise cute little kitties are able to create (and the decibels they are able to reach!). Besides the demonically drawn out “Meeerrrroooowww” that emanates from the very bottom of their toes, when a cat feels threatened, they always resort to the tried and true hiss. It turns out that when a cat pushes its ears down, bares its fangs, squints its eyes and hisses, it closely resembles another animal that is naturally feared and avoided by most predators: the snake. Cats, like many other animals, instinctively employ the art of mimicry in order to best defend themselves from attack, and many predators will back off from attacking snakes because they know many are venomous.

Why do cats purr?

Your cat purrs every time you pamper it with a petting – but how did this behavior come to be a signal of contentment? We have to rewind to kitten-hood to understand this behavior: kittens first start purring when their mom spoils them with a suckling feast. The purring signals to her that milk rations are successfully being delivered and mom purrs back to confirm the message has been received. This behavior continues on into adulthood and is a generally a sign of contentment. However, it should also be noted that a cat’s reaction to being sick or injured might be the same. Some scientists believe that when a cat purrs in reaction to suffering or illness, that the act releases endorphins, which are natural analgesics that ease suffering. In other words, a cat self-prescribes its own “feel-good” medication when stress strikes.

Why do cats rub up against you and head-butt?

Cats are packed full of pheromone-oozing scent glands that are primarily used to communicate with other cats on such hot topics as identity, availability and territorial ownership. Cats have scent glands along the tail, on each side of their head, on their lips, base of their tail, chin, near their genitals, and between their front paws. They use these glands to mark their territory, and when the cat rubs you, it is essentially marking you with its scent and claiming you as its own. That scent in turn communicates to any other animals in the vicinity that reads, “Owned by: Fluffy

Why to cats like to bring home dead things?

Many of us have experienced the amusement of being presented with a carcass on our front porch or in our shoe. It is even more amusing when our kitty looks up at us, expectantly (and insistently), waiting for us to get out our knife and fork. There are some theories on this behavior: 1) your cat is bringing you, the dominant group leader, a present in appreciation for all you do 2) your cat is showing you a sign of affection 3) your cat is bringing her prey home to eat, where it feels safe 4) your cat is simply trying to ensure you have a fresh food supply for yourself. While these seem logical reasons, one of the most accepted theories is that your cat realizes you are an incompetent mouser and is actually educating you- a sort of training exercise, so to speak. Cats teach their kittens how to hunt and catch prey in gradual steps, and when your kitty drops a corpse at your feet, it is actually your first lesson in Hunting 101.

Why do cats seek out the one person in the room that doesn’t like them?

When a cat enters a room full of people, what it actually sees, in a way, is a room full of other cats (except they’re all larger and louder). Before long, all of these “people-cats” begin to stare, offering up their “oohs and ahhs,” and it doesn’t take long for all this attention to create a kitty complex.

This is about the time that your cat will notice (and look for) the only person in the room who is not staring at it, which is generally the person who doesn’t like cats. And since the cat is feeling intimidated by all those stares, it will seeks out the safety of that nonchalant lap. The only person in the room not moving, not waving their hands, and not staring is… the cat-hater. And you guessed it- the frightened feline makes a beeline right for him or her. Tip: for people who don’t like cats, the next time you are in a room with one, pretend like you actually like it.

Why does a cat sometimes “sneer” when smelling something?

When a cat curls back its upper lip and looks like it’s sneering, it means that it has just discovered an interesting, usually intense odor and this maneuver allows it to smell the scent more deeply. This is called “flehming,” and the cat is drawing the odors into an organ, called the Jacobson’s organ, on the roof of its mouth.


Why do cats “sharpen” their claws?

While some people think a cat scratches to sharpen its claws, that is probably inaccurate. There are typically two reasons for scratching: the cat is marking its territory (remember those sweat glands between their paw pads?) and scratching leaves their scent on the clawed object. Another benefit of this behavior: it is “filing down” its nails and removing the outer layer. Your cat will try to satisfy this biological urge regularly and if its scratching post is convenient, it will leave your furniture alone. Tip: If you’re having trouble getting your cat to use the post, try rubbing catnip on it to make it more appealing.

Yes, cats do some of the darndest things, but as you can see, they are generally for good reasons. Although we may never know the full story, one thing I can be sure of, is just when we think we’ve figured them out, they will come up with a new way to perplex us… after all, it is a cats job to defy convention.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Deborah Shover #

    I was watching a site on these cats that talk to there owners. it was awesome. Maybe someone might that site. i know I should of wrote it down but I didnt. Would be grateful if someone might of watched it.

    March 3, 2017
  2. Thank you! Your feedback is appreciated and I’m glad you enjoy! 🙂

    February 2, 2012
  3. Anonymous #

    I am always amazed at the excellent information given on this site. So informative and I learn something new with each read. A perfect mix of knowledge and humor.

    January 19, 2012

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