Why do cats behave the way they do?

The wild cat within
The wild cat within. Photo in public domain – words added.
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Why do cats behave the way they do? The simple, raw answer is that domestic cats have had around 4,000 years to adapt to living alongside humans. This is not long enough for changes in sensory or mental abilities to take place. Therefore the domestic cat still retains the same brain as the wild cat ancestor which as we know is an African wildcat, the Near Eastern wildcat.

This is why they behave as they do: in general their lives revolve around hunting. They have not broken free of their wild origins as solitary hunters. You could watch a African wildcat and that will tell you the basics or fundamentals of how domestic cats behave.

Of course this innate feline behavior has been softened by thousands of years of living with people which has made the cat more sociable but at heart there is the wildcat.

Experts say that the only change that has taken place in the domestic cat’s brain is a ‘new ability to form social attachments to people, while their senses remain completely unaltered’1.

How do cats perceive the world?

It is hard for us to understand or imagine how domestic cats perceive their world. It is different to ours even though it is physically the same. A cat’s world is not based on appearance. Smell is as important as sight to cats. Cats depend of other senses much more. Cats don’t see what we see. Their vision is different for a start. Their eyes have evolved to help in hunting i.e. in low light conditions.

Almost everything that Jackson Galaxy provides as advice to cat guardians on how to interact with their cats is based on getting into the head of the domestic cat. He understands how domestic cats perceive their world and provides advice on how to respect this. Jackson figures out ways to accommodate the desires and needs of domestic cats and human guardians. It is a fine balance and a compromise from both parties.

If you really want to get on with a domestic cat you have to respect the cat in him/her. I think the problems with ‘bad cat behavior’ start when cat owners interact with their cats and see them as if they were little humans.


Are humans on the right track to ensure that cat domestication can progress for the indeterminate future? I think not. There is constant conflict on cat domestication and many failures. There will need to be change. For starters, there should be no unwanted domestic cats, no feral cats and no need for the mass killing of healthy cats. This is a terrible failure. We need to address this issue as a priority.

1. Cat Senses – Dr John Bradshaw.

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4 thoughts on “Why do cats behave the way they do?”

  1. Okay, I will look up Bradshaw. I just thought that you might be interested in Arthur’s behavior tonight. He was asleep on the bed, and responded to me when I asked him if he was having a nightmare. He flicked his tail 3x. So I asked him again, “Arthur?” He hit his tail against the duvet cover again. Maybe he did not want me interrupting his dream, maybe he was just responding to me in his fragile sleep to let him be. Not sure.

    • Arthur is a beautiful fellow. This picture captures your account of his behaviour perfectly.

      “Human? why are my dreams any of your business?”

      Sweet dreams Arthur.

  2. Unwanted behaviours such as ‘pica’ (wool/fabric sucking) are thought to be the result of interruption to the natural, feline predation sequence. IE: A frustration of natural behaviour, probably caused by the way we feed our domestic companions. Treat feeders can go a little way to resolving this frustrated behaviour.

    I think frustration is a massive problem for many companion species. It is testament to their innate good nature, that they endure, what must be quite awful torment. Many humans are just blind to it. Some, wilfully.

    • Yes, good point about frustration. I hate to say it but there is a sort of quiet failure in cat domestication. It needs to be recognised.


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