Information on cat behavior – 13 snippets

Here are thirteen snippets of information on cat behavior. They are transfers from a blog that I decided to delete. It’s about housekeeping! They were written some time ago and similar topics have since been written about. Unintentionally, the blog had been dormant for quite a while but I did not want to throw out these short posts.

Note to regular visitors: This page is about housekeeping. It is not meant to be anything new.

Cat Behavior Explained Minimally

If you want cat behavior explained you need look no further than the wildcats and ourselves. I’ll explain.

I’ll start with us. We should distinguish between the kind of cat behavior that we expect and or desire from the kind of cat behavior that our domestic cat will deliver, instinctively.

We should shed any notions about what we want from our cat because we cannot mold a cat into our image of what a cat should be. Of course we can train cats to a certain extent to do certain things but who has the time and inclination to do that? Cats are not that easy to train in any case. Some people will train their cats, but they are few and far between.

It is much better in the long run if we learn about cat behavior and let our cat behave naturally. A cat’s natural behavior is, after all, one of the reasons why we adopt a cat.

It is safe to say that many people who adopt a domestic cat have misplaced perceptions and expectations about cat behavior and keeping cats. If the beginning of the adoption process is poor because of that, there is a decent chance that the relationship will fail in the first six months.

I have a nice PDF file on 15 ways to avoid cat behavior problems that explains this concept more thoroughly, which I hope you will read.

Let us assume that we have the right expectations on cat behavior and, incidentally, the cost of keeping a cat. This can be upwards of about £15,000 over the cats’ lifetime, in the UK, and about the equivalent in dollars in the USA.

Although the domestic cat, either purebred or random bred, has been domesticated for getting on for 10,000 years (it is thought), he or she is still wild at heart. The wild cat ancestor is the Eurasian and African wild cats. These are similar in appearance to the tabby domestic cat.

There is very little difference in terms of fundamental ecology, behavior, reproduction, development etc. between domestic and wildcats. This applies to all of the 36 species of wild cat from the tiger downwards. For example, we should accept the fact that cats will scratch. This is normal cat behavior. It is for marking territory, leaving scent from glands on the paw pads, to slough off the outer shell of claws and to stretch. Claws are a vital part of the cat’s anatomy. They should be left alone and enjoyed.

Feeding is an interesting topic. Modern cat food often does not replace a raw food diet. Cats are well all know are flesh eaters – carnivores. Carbohydrate based foods – dry cat food – is not suitable one hundred percent of the time. Best cat food requires a holistic approach.

Cat aggression is a big subject. A cat acts instinctively. There is no malice. We should avoid anthropomorphizing our cat. Cats are cats. If our cat is aggressive it will be for a very good reason and we should usually look to ourselves for that reason. The cause will invariably be the environment under which the cat lives; and we create that environment. Or perhaps the cat might be in pain. We are responsible for our cat’s health. There are other more subtle reasons why a cat should be aggressive. We need not and should never punish our cat because that is a human concept. I know that last statement will provoke an outcry in some quarters but I will stick to it.

To recap, let us let our cat behave as naturally as possible within the limits of what we can manage. In order to do that we should understand our cat. This way our cat will be as content as we can make him or her.

Behavior of the Bengal Cat

I think people have a decent idea about the behavior of the Bengal cat. I have just read an email from a person who manages a local cat rescue organization. She says that they are getting more and more Bengal cats relinquished to their rescue centers. We are not talking about a flood of cats, but to hear that cat keepers are giving up their purebred Bengal cat makes one think.

Sun dog a famous, beautiful Bengal cattypical behavior!

One reason for relinquishing, given by a couple, was that their Bengal cat was “too much of a cat”. I can understand that. What they no doubt meant was that their domestic cat was a little too much like a wild cat. People forget that the Bengal is a wildcat hybrid. The wild cat element coming from the leopard cat. The leopard cat is the size of a domestic cat but is known to have an extremely independent character and unsuited to domestication.

OK, enough of that. Most Bengal cats have a small amount of wild cat in them, say 12%. But they are more active. They are more athletic and potentially more demanding on the human than the average moggie. This is where the “too much of a cat” idea comes from.

Bengal cats like water as well. This is typical of wild cat hybrids. This is because the leopard cat sometimes hunts near water, where there is suitable prey.

There were stories of Bengal cats peeing in water. This is also a throwback to wildcat behavior, probably to kill the smell of their urine for safety reasons. There are also plenty of pictures on the internet of Bengal cats drinking water from the tap (faucet in the USA). This looks great but please be careful as the water can go down into the lungs causing asphyxiation.

The Bengal cat is a curious cat and an entertaining cat. Bengal cat behavior includes plenty of vocalizations including strong meows.

A final word. There were fears early on in the cat fancy when the Bengal cat was first created (1970s) that the cat would be too wild and aggressive, not domestic enough. The breed standard set down tight controls on the character and behavior requesting that “Temperament must be unchallenging. Any sign of definite challenge shall disqualify….etc.”

Obviously breeders were careful to breed cats that met this criteria. You’ll find Bengal cats very domesticated if properly socialized by the breeder. But still some people will still find them too much of a handful.

This is an F3 Bengal cat, Daniel. It was my fault:

Submissive Cat Body Language

Submissive cat body language can be seem when a cat is fearful. The cat will crouch on the ground. The ears will be back. The cat attempts to look as small as possible.

This is in contrast to the nervous or fearful cat that becomes defensive. This cat will display a defensive threat posture. The cat shows “piloerection” (hair stands on end). The cat will arch his or her back and present themselves sideways on to look larger. The cat’s face will look fearful despite an attempt to look larger and more threatening as a defensive measure.

The ears are flattened and point backwards to protect them and in wildcats this action shows the ear spots which can be threatening to the aggressor.

Submissive body language can convert to defensive body language. A defensive cat might roll over and use his or her hind legs to fight the confident aggressor.

Abyssinian Cat Behavior

Copyright Helmi Flick

Abyssinian cat behavior is by and large the same as the behavior as other cat breeds and random bred cats. However they have one or two character traits that set them apart.

They are slender, muscular cats. This is a good configuration for an athletic cat. The Abyssinian is agile and inquisitive. They are sociable and affectionate towards their human companion.

Abyssinian cat behavior includes a talkative character although some individuals can be “almost silent” (1). The voice is described as “euphonic” by Gloria Stephens (2). Euphonic means a sweet voice, an agreeable sound.

This cat lets you know when he or she needs attention and is a loyal and loving cat companion.

Typical of cats she is inquisitive and a skilled climber. Perhaps in summary the Aby as the breed is called can be attention seeking but in a lovable companionable way.

(1) Dr Fogle – Encyclopedia of the Cat

(2) In her book Legacy of the Cat

Why do cats hiss?

The cat hiss is a simple evolutionary development along the principles as expounded by Charles Darwin. The cat not only hisses when under attack or threat but also spits sometimes and the cat’s tail thrashes from side to side, all reminiscent of the snake. You could go a step further. The tabby cat coat looks snake-like when the cat is curled up. For the wild cat, often tabby cats, the curled up position protects them from attack while sleeping.

Cats hiss to mimic the snake to give the impression to the attacker/aggressor that he or she is a snake and very dangerous. Over eons cats have learned to do this in recognition of the observation that other animals respect the snake. The snake hiss when threatened gives it time to get out.

Cats do learn by observation. It is how they learn from mother. You will see videos on the internet of cats that behave like people having observed their human companion (surrogate mother).

Why do cats like shoes?

Cats like shoes because they have a strong smell of us. Cats use their heightened sense of smell much more than we do. They recognise people by their body odor. Cats exchange scent with us and other cats by rubbing against then depositing their scent from scent glands situated around the body (side of the face and paws for example). Scent exchange is a form of greeting and it makes the cat feel more comfortable.

Cats love our body odor!

If we are good cat caretakers our cat will associate our smell with comfort and safety. Our smell will be reassuring to our cat. Our smell provides that comfort zone that we all seek, cat or human.

That is why our cat might lie against our shoes or inside them. For exactly the same reasons, our cat will lie on our bed, particularly that bit that we have slept on. Or on our clothes. You name it. If the item smells of us our cat might lie on it. They will smell the object first.

Why do cats like to be a pet?

Because life is easier as a pet. This is the reason why the wild cat was domesticated in the first place about 5 – 9,500 years ago (people aren’t sure when it first took place). When a cat is a pet he or she has formed a relationship with a person that is of mutual benefit – of benefit to both the cat and the person. It is one of those rare situations that we now take for granted as it is so ubiquitous.

We feed our cat. We keep our cat warm and safe. We maintain our cat’s health etc. The benefits for the cat in being our pet can be seen in the lifespan of a feral cat compared to a domestic cat. The former might live to 3 years of age while our “pet” will usually live for 15 years and more.

Life is better for our cat as a pet. That is why a cat likes to be a pet. It is also why lots of people keep a cat.

My cat that thinks he is a dog

People say this quite a lot on the internet when showing their videos of cats playing fetch. The truth is, though, that cats naturally play fetch. You through a ball and your cat will chase it and play with it. It is one small step from there for the cat to bring the ball back to you to throw it again. This sort of game is play hunting isn’t it?

The domestic cat will like to express his or her innate desire to hunt and has little chance to do that. Playing with your cat is a substitute.

I suspect that the smarter cats bring the ball back or the person trains them to do it sometimes.

The point I am making is that we need not call such behavior dog behavior. It is more commonly seen in dogs but cats do it too. So lets not say my cat thinks he is a dog. He is just being a smart, energetic cat.

Why does my cat throw up?

Cats are good at throwing up! They do it with far greater ease than we do. They feel no discomfort when throwing up in the usual course of events and when they are healthy. My large boy cat threw up occasionally when he first tried dried cat food. He wasn’t used to it. My old lady cat throws up sometimes when she has eaten grass. Eating grass is normal because it helps with oxygen circulation in the blood. But sometimes the grass irritates and causes sickness. There is nothing to worry about there.

However there comes a time when a cat throws up more than is usual and more regularly than is usual. That is when your cat is ill. It is up to you to gauge when that moment has arrived.

It is normally obvious because we know our cat’s routines and the food he or she likes and dislikes. We also know what food we have given her or him.

When vomiting is abnormal we should take our cat to the vet promptly. I have a page that provides more detail on this subject: Cat Vomiting. This might assist in diagnosis.

Why do cats bury their poop?

A cat burying her poop is a sign that she feels subordinate to you or other humans and/or other cats. Not all cats, domestic, feral or wild bury their poop.

Many wildcats will have toilet areas where their feces are left exposed. The odor is a signal as to territorial rights of the area. The toilet might be on a border of their territory or an important junction.

We often see domestic cats burying their poop, however. This is probably because they feel subordinate to us. We must not forget that we can be quite intimidating to our cat.

If our cat does not bury his or her poop it is probably a good thing as it might mean that he is relaxed and does not feel subordinate. That must be a good thing and is probably down to the person being non-threatening and/or the cat being confident.

Here is an earlier posting on the subject: Why does a cat bury its feces?

How large is a cat’s territory?

Of course the answer depends on what type of cat we are talking about and under what circumstances the cat lives. The wildcat ancestor of the domestic cat might have a territory of up to 175 acres. The full-time indoor cat will have a territory that is the size of the floor space of the house, a tiny fraction of what might be natural. Feral cats in a major city may have territories that are about a fifth of an acre.

Souk cats – Morocco – Photo by valley_girl tka

The provision of food is the biggest factor as to the size of the cat’s territory. Where food is scarce the cat will have to travel distances. This is how many wild cats live. The snow leopard can have vast home ranges of several hundred square kilometers for instance. Many wild cats travel long distances (e.g. 30 kilometers) when hunting, often at night.

Feral cats live near food sources such as restaurants and fishing ports. At these sites the population density of the cats is high and each individual cat’s territory very small. At one site 95 cats occupied 210 acres.

The domestic cat is very adaptable. He or she has to be. The provision of food, safety and warmth compensates for a much reduced territory. My black boy cat has a territory of about an acre. That suites him. My old lady cat goes no further than 30 feet from the back door.

Cat Sounds Meaning

I have a video that gives some help on the meaning of cat sounds:

I also have a page on cat sounds that includes sounds that you can download.

Cat sounds are work in progress. What I mean is that we don’t really know the meaning of the finer variations of the cat sounds that we are familiar with. We know that the meow directed at us is often a request or demand. We know the purr often means contentment but not always.

The wildcats make a lot different sounds to the domestic cats but there is a bit of an overlap. The tiger roar is special for instance.

This is another page on cat sounds that might help.

Cat behavior kneading

I think most people by now know what is going on when a cat kneads us or a cushion or some bedding etc. The cat is behaving as a kitten even if they are adult. They are kneading their mother’s nipple to stimulate the flow of milk (colostrum). We keep our cats in a kind of pseudo-kittenhood because we feed and care for them so overwhelmingly.

When on your lap the cat will sometimes instinctively knead your legs as if kneading mother’s breast. It is cute so don’t, whatever you do, push your cat off. Grin and bear it knowing what it really means. Kneading cat behavior is a reflection of your close relationship with your cat. You are mother cat whether you are a man or a women.

A sort of minor form of kneading might take place when you cuddle your cat. She may grip you with her claws very gently. Accept that two. It is nice even the claws go into you! It is part of being a good cat guardian.

Facebook Discussion


Information on cat behavior – 13 snippets — 11 Comments

  1. Last month my dear friend and room mate passed away , leaving behind her beloved Siamese kitty ,Whisky, who Linda raised on a bottle . Whisky is now almost 8 years old. Whisky has never been friendly towards anyone and has been known to attack and bite!!! After Linda’s passing I was concerned for her . She had allowed myself and Linda’s daughter to pet her a very few rare times , but had taken to hiding and staying in her Mamma’s room . I was just thinking of posting here and asking for some tips to help her. Linda’s TWIN sister finally came home yesterday from the nursing/rehab she had been in due to her illness . Well as soon as Lori got settled and things quieted down , we heard Whisky calling. She came out of hiding , jumped up on the table , smelled all over Lori , rubbed all over her and settled into her arms!!!! Hooray!!!! Lori and I are quite relieved, and Whisky is back to her ol’ Siamese self!!! Lori and I had already agreed that Whisky was going to stay here and have a home regardless ,but now that she has “adopted” Linda’s twin ,we are all much happier! I wanted to share this ,because I , for one believe that because they were twins they shared the same chemical make up ,being the same scent that Whisky responds to as her “Mama’s”. Am I wrong? Regardless, just happy she is a happier and more contented kitty now.

    • THis is a really nice story, Jan. I think I’ll make it an article because it shows us how important scent is to cats – the twin sister has the same scent – and also voice and appearance. Cats recognise all these and made a instant connection with her sister.

      Here is the photo brightened up a bit:

  2. Gigi kneads when she wants food – I just made the obvious connection now – duh – that it makes total sense because when she kneaded as a kitten it brought food and now when she wants to get my attention and ask for food she does the same. Does that make me her mum? 🙂

    • You are her mum, Marc! Most definitely!

      When I first got Monty and he and I would happily play together on the floor there were times he seemed to be looking for something. I said to Jeff, “I think he’s looking for a nipple. The last time he was so content, warm and happy was with his kitty mom and there was a nipple with milk for him. He’s looking for my nipples.” To which my husband responded, “Your teat days are over, cat!”

    • Defo – definitely. She is kneading you to bring on the milk. You had better start producing it 😉

      This is very cute and loving. Gigi sees you completely as mother cat. Very typical.

      What upsets me is that some cat owners push their cat off their lap when the cat kneads their legs. This is obviously the wrong thing to do. It is an opportunity to bond and become closer not to push the cat away and become distanced.

  3. Following evolutionary behavioral trends as est. by Darwin, et al., I think it is befitting to include this tidbit on the page:

    Inbreeding would certainly be a high risk, I suppose…

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