There are a number of stimuli which initiate cat reflexes. A reflex action is one which is performed without conscious thought in response to a stimulus. I have widened the discussion to a dozen cat reflexes. You might argue that some are not true reflexes. If so please tell me in a comment!
I have had to rely on my memory and first-hand experience to write this article despite the fact that I have many reference books on domestic cats.
It is unsurprising that the domestic cat has excellent and well developed reflex actions as they are such good survivors. The one that we classically think about, or at least I do, is the self-righting mechanism which allows a cat to twist and turn from an unbalanced position to a legs first position when falling to allow the cat to land on his feet. A lot has been written about this adroit, specialist reflex.
Incidentally, Apple devised a system for their smart phones based on the cat self-righting so they impacted the ground in a way that caused the minimum of damage.
An extension of that particular reflex action occurs when a domestic cat falls from a height. The first thing they do is to twist using the self-righting mechanism and then the cat fans out his legs as if he were a flying squirrel which provides an air brake to his fall and limits the terminal velocity to one which can be managed by the cat on landing by which I mean the impact is survivable.
Ready For Action
Another feline reflex which I often observe with my cat occurs when he his suddenly surprised by a noise. He will drop down onto his haunches in a taught, ready-for-action position. As his legs are flexed and not straight he can leap into action very quickly. This is a reflex action.
Another reflex action is when a domestic cat pushes his whiskers forward. This occurs when a cat has caught prey, particularly at night, when he can ‘feel’ the prey with his whiskers because they are so sensitive. It may also occur when you play with your cat and put a cat tease in front of your cat’s face. You might see his whiskers suddenly move forward as if to check out the cat tease which he sees as a prey item. It is the same reflex. The whiskers are being used to assess what’s in front of him.
Ear Positions and Movement
We see many cat reflex behaviors when confronted with, for example, another cat in a fight over territory. These reflex actions concern the cat’s ears. The ears take up different positions depending upon the state of play in the confrontation. You can read about the positions by clicking on this link.
Another reflex action occurs when a cat is snoozing. The ears twist instinctively towards noise stimulation indicating that the cat is ever ready to take action despite snoozing.
I would argue that the well-known feline “slow blink” is also a reflex action. It is in response to their owner’s friendly words and actions towards them. It is considered to be a sign that your cat loves you. To my mind it is a signal which indicates that the cat is relaxed and content and, yes, happy in your company and responding nicely to your presence and the environment that you have created.
Another feline reflex concerns the cat’s tail. When a cat is unsure of what to do and his mind is in balance between two courses of action she may wag her tail. This is a symptom of a cat who is uncertain about what to do next. It may occur when a cat is about to try and hunt on an open lawn where there is no cover. The cat wants to attack the prey but is unsure because there is no cover. The cat is in two minds and her tail wags from left to right. Why does she do this? The answer is that it is a reflection of the movement of a cat’s tail when she is using it to balance while walking along a narrow trail such as the top of a fence or a narrow branch. The word “balance” refers to the need to physically balance when walking and a balancing act between two possible decisions when thinking.
Another reflex action that I notice in my cat is when he is lying on my lap and I stroke him and say nice things to him. One of his paws will go into a clasping action as if to grip my leg. It doesn’t hurt me although the claws are slightly out. It almost invariably happens. It is probably a minor version of the well-known kneading action of the domestic cat when she is on your lap before settling down.
This kneading behavior is also a reflex action and a vestigial form of behavior from the time the cat was a kitten at her mother’s breast, kneading her breast to stimulate the flow of milk.
It could be argued that the nose-to-nose greeting by domestic cats who are friendly with each other and with you is a form of reflex action. It happens unconsciously and naturally. It is a sign of friendship and greeting.
Along the lines of greetings, the cat’s tail-up position is also a friendly signal to the other cat. People are quite familiar with the feline tail-up position.
Reflex Body Language
At the other end of the spectrum, when a cat meets a hostile intruder, she will take up the defensive body language position which is broadside on, hairs erect, legs stiff and torso arched upwards, all of which are designed to present the largest possible profile to the hostile intruder.
I would suggest that another reflex action by domestic cat is when she places her paw on your face when you are holding your cat and when your head is quite close to the head of your cat. Cats instinctively like to keep a little bit of distance between their face on your face which is why this reflex clicks in.
I’m sure that I’ve missed one or two cat reflexes. It is difficult to know where to stop and start because some behaviors are perhaps not true cat reflexes but forms of anatomy and behavior.
If you have any ideas and thoughts which can add this article they would be most welcome in the comment.
The article was written entirely out of my memory without any reference to books.