Cat behavior

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Cat eating "Cat Grass"

Cat behavior generally refers to the behaviors and habits of domestic cats, including body language and communication. Cat behavior may vary among breeds and individual cats. Many common behaviors include hunting techniques and reactions to certain events as well as interactions with humans and other animals, such as dogs. Communication can vary greatly depending on a cat's temperament. In a family with multiple cats, social position can also affect behavior patterns with others. A cat's eating patterns can also vary depending on the owner's choice of food or eating times/quantities. In the case of a family having two or more cats, one cat may become dominant over the other cats. Usually the case being a female.[citation needed]


Body language

Cats rely strongly on body language to communicate. Rubbing against an object, licking, and purring (sometimes) show affection. Purring can also show extremes of any emotion, such as hurt or in pain. A cat in pain purrs to show to humans that it is ready to be helped. A kitten purrs roughly three weeks into its life. A cat's main way of communication through its body is its tail. They are usually flicking it around either quite relaxed or abruptly from side to side, showing their general brain activity, for example when a cat is basking its tail will be only moving slightly. If spoken to, the cat will start fluttering its tail, acknowledging the interaction.[citation needed]

Scent rubbing and spraying

This behavior is used primarily to claim ownership of something, each cat releases a different pheromone combination from scent glands found in the cheeks next to their mouths. They also have scent glands towards the base of the tail which is why when a cat rubs up against your leg to claim ownership they also rub their back end on you too. Cats scent with not only their mouths, but with their claws too when they scratch, again traces of cat pheromone is released from their paws and transferred into the object.[citation needed] whereas unlike male cats, female and neutered male cats usually do not spray. Neutered males may still spray after neutering, if neutered late. Female cats often spray while in heat, so males can find them. Spaying may cause female cats to spray through loss of female hormones, also making them act more like males, which is why some female cats start spraying after being spayed, but if they started spraying before being spayed, it is most likely caused by female hormones, and they may stop after getting spayed.


A cat kneading a soft blanket

Kneading is an activity common to all domestic cats whereby, when in a state of ease, they alternately push out and pull in their front paws, often alternating between right and left limbs. Some cats actually appear to "nurse" or suck on clothing or bedding during kneading. As with most domestic animals but especially cats and dogs they retain juvenile characteristics and memories. Kneading is something a kitten does to the nursing queen to help massage the mammary glands to produce more milk. As they are weaned they no longer need to do this and tend to do it when very content. This releases pleasurable endorphins for the cat, as it was once an instinctive thing to do.


Multiple theories exist that explain why cats knead. Kneading may have an origin going back to cats' wild ancestors who had to tread down grass or foliage to make a temporary nest in which to rest. Alternatively, the behavior may be a remnant of a newborn's kneading of the mother's teat to stimulate milk secretion. Since most of the preferred "domestic traits" are neotenous or juvenile traits that persist in the adult, kneading may be a relic juvenile behavior that is not lost in modern adult domestic cats.

Kneading is often a precursor to sleeping.

Many cats purr while kneading. They also purr mostly when newborn, when feeding, or when trying to feed on their mother's teat. The common association between the two behaviors may corroborate the evidence in favor of the origin of kneading as a remnant instinct. Some experts[who?] consider kneading to "stimulate" the cat and make it feel good, in the same manner as a human stretching.


The cat exerts firm downwards pressure with its paw, opening its toes to expose its claws, then closes its claws as it lifts its paw. The process takes place with alternate paws at intervals of one to two seconds. They may do this while sitting on their owner's lap, which may prove painful if the cat is large or strong or has sharp claws (as the claws tend to dig into one's lap). Though cats sit happily on a hard surface, they only knead a soft or pliant surface, although some cats reflexively "march" on hard surfaces instead of kneading them.


Cats, compared to many other mammals, have a unique courting style. The first step in courtship is the female coming into season, or "heat". Male cats can smell a female cat in heat miles away and therefore seek her out. Males fight mercilessly for the right to be the first to mate with the female. Often she mates with multiple males. It is therefore possible that even if a male cat loses first breeding rights, he can still be the father. This is also the reason that a litter of kittens can have multiple fathers.

Body postures

A cat’s posture communicates its emotions. It's best to observe cats' natural behavior when they're by themselves, with humans, and with other animals.[1] Their postures can be friendly or aggressive, depending upon the situation. Some of the most basic and familiar cat postures include the following:[2]

Vocal calls


Unlike dogs, panting is an uncommon occurrence in cats. However, some cats can pant when stressed, such as a car ride. Most commonly, cats pant in response to environmental changes, such as anxiety, fear, excitement, or heat. However, if panting is excessive or the cat appears in distress, it becomes important to identify the underlying cause, as panting may be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as a nasal blockage, heartworm disease, head trauma, or drug poisoning. Other problems, such as fatigue, weight loss, poor appetite, excessive drinking, vomiting, or diarrhea, may also be present. If the panting appears to be in response to heat or fear, the owner should remove the stimulation and continue to observe his or her pet. If panting continues, the owner should consult a veterinarian.[4] In many cases, feline panting, especially if accompanied by other symptoms, such as coughing or shallow breathing (dyspnea), is considered to be abnormal, and treated as a medical emergency.[5]

Righting reflex

The righting reflex is the ability for cats to land on their feet with little or no injury. They can do this more easily than other animals due to their flexible spine and floating collar bone. Cats also use vision and/or their vestibular apparatus to help tell which way to turn. They then can stretch themselves out and relax their muscles. Cats do not always land unharmed. They can break bones or die from excessive falls.[6]

Food eating patterns

Cat eating toad

Cats are obligate carnivores, and can survive without vegetation. Felines in the wild usually hunt smaller mammals regularly throughout the day to keep themselves nourished. Domestic cats, however, are used to a relaxed lifestyle and, therefore, eat even smaller amounts, but more regularly. Many cats find and chew small quantities of long grass but this is not for its nutritional value, it is a purely mechanical function. The eating of grass triggers a regurgitation reflex to help expel indigestible matter, like hairballs and the bones of prey. Despite not usually eating plants, if given watermelon they will eat it, probably due to some nutrients.[citation needed]


Cats can be sociable. Here, two cats were sleeping together before they were awoken for this picture.
A Persian kitten play fighting with its owner. When separated from mother and siblings, a kitten may engage in active play fighting with humans. Play fighting may involve playful scratching, but the scratch is generally not serious.

Kittens are naturally afraid of people at first, but if handled and well-cared for in the first 16 weeks, they develop trust in the humans who care for them. To decrease the odds of a cat being unsocial or hostile towards humans, kittens should be socialized at an early age.

It is a challenge to socialize an adult . Socialized adult feral cats tend to trust only those people they have learned over time can be trusted, and can be very fearful around strangers.

Cats can be extremely friendly companions. The strength of the cat–human bond is mainly correlated with how much consideration is given to the cat's feelings by their human companion. The formula for a successful relationship thus has much in common with human-to-human relationships.

Some people regard cats as sneaky, shy, or aloof animals. Cats have an inherent distrust for predator species such as humans, and often seek to minimize any contact with people they do not perceive as trustworthy. Feline shyness and aggression around people with cat social skills is often a result of lack of socialization, abuse or neglect. Cats relate to humans differently than more social animals, enjoying some time on their own each day as well as time with humans.

Cats have a strong "escape" instinct. Attempts to corner, capture or herd a cat can thus provoke powerful fear-based escape behavior. Socialization greatly reduces the number of humans that a cat respond to in this way. Socialization is a process of learning that many humans can be trusted.

There is a widespread belief that relationships between dogs and cats are problematic. However, both species can develop amicable relationships by reading each other's body language correctly. The animals can better read each other's language when they first encounter each other at a young age, due to the fact that they are learning to communicate simultaneously. The order of adoption may also cause significant differences in their relationship. Sometimes, the dog may be simply looking to play with the cat while the cat may feel threatened by this approach and lash out with its claws, causing painful injury. Such an incident may cause an irreversible animosity between the cat and dog.

See also


  1. ^ "The Indoor Cat Initiative". The Ohio State University, College of Veterinary Medicine. Retrieved 22 December 2011. 
  2. ^ An Ethogram for Behavioural Studies of the Domestic Cat. UFAW Animal Welfare Research Report No 8. UK Cat Behaviour Working Group, 1995. 
  3. ^ "Reading Your Cat". Animal Planet. Retrieved 22 December 2011. 
  4. ^ Spielman, Dr. Bari. "Panting in Cats: Is It Normal?". Retrieved 2010-01-07. 
  5. ^ "Cat Panting Explained". The Cat Health Guide. Retrieved 2011-07-02. 
  6. ^ Adams, Cecil (1996-07-19). "Do cats always land unharmed on their feet, no matter how far they fall?". The Straight Dope. Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2007-11-07.