4 Puzzling Cat Behaviors Explained

Cats using paw to eat
Top photo by Kārlis Dambrāns (cat is Charlie). Bottom right photo: kimba Howard
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This is Catsters’ version of four puzzling cat behaviors explained. The four selected are:

  1. Using paws to eat and drink
  2. Burying and covering food
  3. Pulling a stinky face
  4. The tail wiggle or quiver

Using paws to eat and drink

This is still somewhat of mystery but it is put down to various reason including: cats don’t like their whiskers touching the side of the bowl. The fix for this is to use shallow or wide bowls. Personally I doubt this is a viable reason. Cats do tuck their whiskers into their checks so they don’t have to stick out and I think you will see cats paw at food even with large or shallow bowls. However, a counter argument is that as cats don’t have good near sight they might rely on their whiskers to “see the food”, in which case the whiskers will be out and brush the side of the bowl. In order to avoid this the cat paws at the food. However, I have never seen a cat use his whiskers to check out food in a bowl. They use their noses instead.

Another possible factor is the position of the food bowl. Perhaps if the bowl is in a position where the cat feels a little vulnerable he may scoop at the food for security. Although once again there are many videos and images of cats scooping food out of bowls looking very confident and with the bowl in an apparently good position.

Another possible reason is to play with the food. This is plausible because wild cats and domestic cats frequently play with prey during the process of killing it and after it has been killed. This is just for fun. Pawing at food may be a version of this.

Pawing at water seems to be different and the reason may also be different. It may be a throwback to the wild cats when cats pawed at stream water to clear it or disturb it for some other reason when hunting for prey such as scooping out fish or amphibians. The fishing cat and flat-headed cat do this. My page on this subject.

When cat uses her paw to drink water as in the video below this appears to be simply a preference and nothing to do with bowl location or anything else except perhaps wild cat ancestor inheritance.

Burying and covering food

This reflects wild cat behavior, which is hard-wired in the domestic cat despite almost 10,000 years of domestication. Hiding food prevents the presence of predators and it also allows the cat to return to the food if it can’t be eaten at one sitting.

When domestic cats bury food, they don’t actually bury it, they paw at the area around the food bowl much like they do when burying feces.

This feline behavior may occur more often in multi-cat households. Although I doubt it because it is not actually burying food. It is a pretend behavior. The cat is doing it as if programmed which he or she is because it is built into their DNA.

Snow leopard Flehmen response
Snow leopard Flehmen response. The cat has his/her mouth open. Photo is a still from the video below.

Pulling a stinky face (see above)

This is is called the Flehmen Response. Some people think it is the cat showing signs of aloofness. At one time this genuinely was a mystery to many but thanks to the internet we know realize that it is the cat allowing air into the roof of their mouth where it has access to the Jacobson Organ, a highly sensitive piece of feline anatomy full of receptor cells which can detect odors other animals including humans can’t. Although you’ll see the same face being pulled by snakes, horses and buffalo for instance.

The strange tail wiggle or quiver

The tail is upright. The tail quivers. This is like spraying urine for marking but in this instance there is no spraying of urine. I have seen this very noticeably in my late lady cat who I rescued on the streets of London. She died some years ago but I remember that day as if it was yesterday. She was under a car outside my home. I glanced at her. She looked back. We made eye contact. I spoke to her gently and in a friendly way. She knew she had found someone to take her from the freezing weather. She was delighted. Her tail quivered vigorously. This is a sign of happiness. Some cat caretakers call it the ‘happy tail dance”. Some cats fluff their tail hair out at the same time.

Original article: 4 Puzzling Cat Behaviors Explained. My take on this subject is somewhat different.

10 thoughts on “4 Puzzling Cat Behaviors Explained”

  1. This is a late response but there is the knocking things off of shelves and table-tops behavior. I don’t presume any reason for that other than it’s fun.

      • I don’t remember him or any recent trolls actually because I’m having other problems, but thank you very much… I don’t need that kind of aggravation either. Also, when I manage to be on here talking about cats it’s a joy they can’t kill anyway, which I’m sure annoys them in return. You always have my back buddy, thanks.

          • Thanks. I hope the health care is better over there; it sucks here. It’s so costly, aggravating and ineffective I’d really, really not even have it.

  2. My 6 year old tomcat “Matata” always has this habit of putting a “STINKY FACE” and prowling around the house for any “Cat Intruders”.He is the version of a miniature panther or a wild cat, bizarrely fierce for a traditional Persian cat. A freak of the Persian cat breed.Another bizarre trait of him is that he just doesn’t know how to mate, something very natural in animals.

  3. My cat doesn’t do any of these behaviors, but I’ve lived with roommates whose cats did the scooping food from the bowl, and the pretend burying. One scooped, and the other buried.

    The cutest things that Mitzy does is stretch with her rear towards me, and flop down on her side, then her back for a belly rub. Yesterday, she laid on her back for a long time while I brushed her tummy. She even closed her eyes as if it was really enjoyable. If she’s in my lap, and I say “big stretch”, she’ll stretch out with her paws overhead, and sometimes close her eyes. I feel so trusted by this little creature, who was so timid from living on the street for 2 years.

    We’re very bonded. I’m so amazed at how animals can come around, even after having no loving touch, sometimes for years. The work that “Compassion Without Boundaries” does is truly miraculous. They have a Facebook page.

    • I agree about animals, esp cats. I have one who was on the street for 13 years. He exhibited defensive aggression, was very unhealthy but no one could bring him in. I’ve had him for a year, we’re finally determining he has IBD and his pred dosage and diet, but he has constantly, viciously fought with my other cats. I determined he has very bad eyesight too, which contributed to his weird behavior. He is SUCH a love bug with me though it’s ridiculous; and he can sleep in my bed again which is another love/hate situation because he purrs so loudly I can’t sleep. What’r ya gonna do?

  4. Sophie often used to do feather dancing with her tail fluffed out. She was quite enthusiastic, standing almost on tiptoes whilst treading up and down with her back feet, chirping away. Mainly she danced as a greeting or when I was about to serve her dinner, but sometimes she would do it on request when I asked her to “do dancing”.

    I’d always assumed the behaviour was an expression of happiness, but I do wonder if there was also a hint of territorialism to the dance, because she would sometimes do it when we had visitors. These dances were shorter and no chirrping, so it did occur to me that had she not been spayed at an early age that she might have gone on to become a sprayer as an adult.


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