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Common Cat Behaviors Explained

Cats are especially expressive creatures, and they’re constantly telling you exactly how they’re feeling – all you have to do is learn to “speak cat”! Here are 10 common cat behaviors interpreted, so that you can understand their needs and personality better:

 

  • Sniffing your face: Cats rely heavily on their strong sense of smell to give them information about food, prey, and their general surroundings. When a cat sniffs your face, they’re simply trying to commit your scent to memory. It helps them build trust and familiarity, so let your cat sniff away!
  • Rubbing cheeks on everything: When a cat rubs their cheeks against your hand, the doorway, furniture, or other objects around the house they are essentially marking their territory. Cats have scent glands around their mouth, chin, and cheeks that leave behind their unique scent when rubbed. This behavior is known as “bunting.”
  • Slow blink: You may have noticed your cat studying you from afar, with a relaxed gaze and a slow-motion blink. When your cat slow-blinks, they’re telling you they are comfortable in your presence and enjoy your company. You can return the gesture by slowing shutting your eyes and opening them.
  • Head-butts: When it comes to showing affection, our feline friends don’t hold back. Some cats like to butt their heads against your hand or face to ask for attention or head scratches. This is a friendly and loving gesture between cat and human, and means your cat is in the mood to be social.
  • Kneading: Also known as “making biscuits,” cats sometimes make a kneading gesture with their front paws. This behavior has its roots in kittens’ activity when nursing, and it can be comforting and calming to cats of any age. It used to be believed that this behavior was a sign the cat was weaned from their mother too soon, but there is little evidence to support this.
  • Surprise “gifts”: Cats are known for their excellent hunting abilities, and although housecats no longer need these skills to feed themselves, their instinct to hunt is still strong. It’s not uncommon for cats to bring their humans the remains of a dead (or live!) rodent or bird. If your cat does this, it’s because they are trying to mother you or teach you to hunt.
  • Purring: A cat’s purr is recognized as a sign of contentment, but cats actually purr for a few different reasons. For instance, cats sometimes purr to calm themselves down when sick, stressed, or injured. Purring releases endorphins that can reduce pain, and the small vibrations can even help with healing.
  • Chattering: Chattering is a funny sound cats commonly make when watching a bird through the window. Cats chatter to mimic the chirps and chatters that birds make, or that their prey would make. Some people believe that chattering indicates their frustration at not being able to hunt or catch the bird they are watching. Or, it could be a sign of eager excitement.
  • Lying belly up: A cat is at their most vulnerable state when lying with an upturned belly and legs spread out. Lying belly up means your cat is comfortable, relaxed, and trusting. When they lie in this position, they are saying, “I feel safe around you.” Flopping down and rolling over at your feet might also be an invitation for petting or snuggles.
  • Tail curved around you: Cats aren’t always so If your cat snuggles up to you and wraps their tail around you, he or she is giving you a hug!

 

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Litter Box Problems

If your cat has resorted to using the bathroom in places other than their litter box it’s important to know that they are not doing it to upset you. This feline behavior is often a sign of a behavioral or medical issue so learning how to understand your cat is important.

Anxiety is a common culprit of this behavior and it’s up to you to figure out what is stressing your cat out. Have you moved recently, had house guests, or moved the litter box to a different spot? Whatever the case may be, it could be as simple as resolving the source of the anxiety.

Medically, it could signal a vast number of problems such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, kidney, liver, or urinary tract problem. If you’re not understanding your cat and there is no clear explanation for your cat’s abnormal litter box behavior, a trip to the vet may be needed.

Estrus

Cats in heat or estrus display very clear behavioral signs that include but are not limited to rolling around, rubbing against any and everything, restlessness, excessive vocalization, and demandingly affectionate. It can be an extremely tiring and uncomfortable time for your female cat but there are steps you can take to help keep her calm and collected.

One method you can try is offering her a warm towel to sit or lay on. This will help relax and soothe her anxiety. Distraction can also be helpful so playing with your cat or giving her a new toy could give her some relief. You can also try products such as Feliway or lavender oil which has a calming effect and can offer your cat some much-needed rest and relaxation.

If estrus in hard on your cat, having her spayed is the best option. Not only will it keep your cat be more comfortable but it will also extend her natural lifespan.

Spraying/Marking Territory

This is often an instinctive urge that many pets have from their non-domesticated side. Our pets, especially cats, mark territory to stake their claim on their home and their family. While we often think of marking territory as urinating, marking territory can also come in the form of rubbing their fur against your leg or a piece of furniture or even scratching.

Scratching

When it comes to scratching, there can be many underlying reasons, and not because they are trying to get themselves into trouble! Cats often scratch furniture and other things for several reasons, including to groom their claws, as well as to mark their territory.

Itching

However, when we look at itching, it is typically an abnormal feline behavior that needs attention. Itching involves obsessively licking or scratching at their own fur, which can be caused by skin irritation, parasites, or other health conditions.

Biting

Biting is obviously a more serious feline behavior. Biting can be a dangerous matter and is often caused by the animal feeling a need to prove dominance, or even feeling defensive of its territory. In any case, if the biting becomes increasingly worse, it may be a good idea to take your cat to a professional trainer for advice on how to deal with the situation.

Water Intake

Have you noticed your cat drinking more water than usual? If so, it may not be a cause for concern. Many cats simply enjoy drinking water or like many pets, they eat or drink mainly when you are around so it’s more noticeable. They type of food you feed your cat could also be the answer since cats that eat dry food often drink more water to make up for the lack of hydration within dry cat food.

If you’re still concerned, however, trust your instincts. You know your cat better than anyone so if the drinking is definitely excessive, make an appointment at your vet as it may be a symptom of kidney disease, diabetes, or hyperthyroidism (among other medical conditions).

Excessive Peeing

Is your cat peeing normal amounts frequently or small amounts frequently? That is the question! We know it may not seem like a big deal as to the amount your cat is peeing but it really is- it could help determine why your cat is peeing so much.

Increased urination of normal amounts typically points to a urinary issue such as inflammation or a blockage while oliguria or excessive peeing in small amounts could indicate an obstruction such as bladder stones or an infection. In any case, if age, medication, or hormones is not a factor, it should be considered an emergency situation.

Hiding

Whether we want to believe it or not, our pets can also feel stressed or anxiety from time to time. In cats, it may cause them to hide more frequently than normal.

True, it may be normal for your cat to hide and have some time to itself throughout the day, but if you notice that your cat is simply not coming out from their place under the bed or other hiding areas, it may be a cause for concern. Evaluate recent lifestyle changes that may be contributing to your cat’s behavior.

Begging

Most of the time, begging isn’t a cause for concern. Begging usually comes with the territory and they can be quite relentless! If you set boundaries, stick to a feeding schedule, and ignore the begging (even negative attention can reinforce your cat’s behavior…also, don’t give in!), you can successfully reduce or even stop the begging. It’s hard to believe but it’s possible!

You should note, however, if the begging has reached a concerning level. While an increased appetite is common in older cats, households with multiple cats, and active cats, it could also be a symptom of a medical issue. Take a trip to the vet to rule out problems like parasites, diabetes, or cancer.

Choking

We have good news and bad news regarding choking in cats. The good news is that it’s actually pretty rare for cats to choke. The bad news is that if your cat is truly choking, there isn’t a lot you can do besides getting her to the vet as quickly as possible.

In the circumstance that your cat becomes unconscious, you may be able to open the mouth to see if you can locate the source of the blockage. Items such as food, toys, string, and of course, hairballs could all cause your cat to choke. If the culprit is a string, we recommend going to the vet and not attempting to pull it out as you could cause severe damage.

Hissing

Cat owners are definitely no strangers to hissing, and if your cat is hissing at you, it is time to back off. Hissing is a good indicator of impending aggression to follow, but it also signifies that the cat is feeling bothered or even frightened. If you notice your cat is hissing and being more aggressive than normal, there may be something that is affecting their daily routine or environment that is making them feel defensive or frightened and may need to be looked into as well.

Over Grooming

Over grooming can come in many forms and severities, and can also be caused by a bevy of factors as well. In some cases, over grooming is a behavioral issue, also known as psychogenic alopecia. This basically means that over grooming is a stress reliever for your cat, and if not treated and stopped can lead to severe hair loss and other irritation to their skin.

On the other hand, over grooming can also be a sign of a medical problem that is on the rise. Either way, it is best to schedule an appointment with your vet if you notice over grooming becoming more of an issue for your feline.

Rolling/Kneading

Sometimes, the behaviors that your cats are exhibiting are simply because they want some love and attention! This is the case for rolling onto their back or rolling over at your feet. Your cat is simply trying to tell you that they want your attention after a long day and that they need to be petted, cuddled, or simply talked to.

Kneading can also fit the bill but in some circumstances; the kneading behavior is also instinctual. Kittens all the way through to adult cats will knead their paws throughout their lifetime, and it starts at the very beginning when they are nursing. It can also be contributed to their need to mark territory, as the pads on their paws have scent glands in them as well.

Chewing

Chewing is a tricky cat behavior to deal with, and can also cause a heap of problems for you and your family when it becomes destructive. Chewing is often a cat habit that can be linked with boredom. Felines are highly intelligent creatures, and often need stimulation throughout their day. To keep them from chewing on items that aren’t theirs, make sure to get them interactive and stimulating toys and things to chew on that will keep them busy when everyone is out.

Depression

This is definitely a stranger cat behavior, especially since it can also include other behaviors that we have already talked about on this list. Cats can exhibit signs of depression, but it is not the same type of emotional symptoms that we see with humans.

If your cat is feeling depressed, they will often show symptoms like loss of appetite, avoiding or hiding a lot, more lethargic than normal, and other abnormal behaviors, such as hissing more than usual.

Cat Body Language And Vocalization

Among the cat behavior problems that we’ve talked about here already, one of the most prevalent that you will notice as a cat owner is a vocalization. It is so important to listen to your cat when they are trying to talk to you, as there can be critical differentiations to the sounds.