Ten Strange Cat Behaviours and What they Mean
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Ten Strange Cat Behaviours and What they Mean

Cats
Food & Nutrition

Some of the things cat do seem rather strange, and at times downright weird. But from a cat's point of view they often make sense, and many of them can be traced back to when cats were wild animals in Africa. Here we take a look at ten strange cat behaviours and what they actually mean...

1. Sleeping curled up in a tight ball

Many mammals actually sleep this way. It is both a way of retaining heat, and a form of protection. It is also similar to the way a bird sleeps with its head under its wing. You will probably find that your cat does it rather less often during hot weather, when heat retention is not important. And perhaps your cat is one of those which always sleeps stretched out. Well, this probably goes to show that our cats feel safe and warm at home, and no longer need either protection or heat as they did in the wild. But for many cats, the behaviour remains.

2. Kneading your clothes or even your skin

This can be very off putting for owners. Your cat jumps up to sit on you, is obviously happy, then begins to knead with his paws, often purring loudly while he does so.

This behaviour traces back to kittenhood. Kittens knead their mother's belly to encourage milk production. When they get older they may still do it when they feel relaxed, or sometimes when they're stressed as a way of calming themselves. Some people think that kittens who are taken from their mothers when very young tend to do it more. This may be true, but many cats for whom this is not the case do it too, well on into adulthood.

3. Pawing at their litter

This behaviour definitely traces back to when cats lived in the desert. Cats often cover up smells within their own territory, and in the wild may dig holes to urinate or defecate. Some cats do this far too enthusiastically and send cat litter flying everywhere of course. But it all relates back to this same wild behaviour.

4. Head butting you

This is really a cat's way of saying hello and telling you he feels safe. Animal behaviourists call this behaviour 'bunting'. It is also a cat's way of sharing his facial pheromones with you. Some cats don't do it, but some – like my kitten – do it so hard that it's actually painful. It all depends on the individual cat.

5. Bringing you 'presents'

Isn't it just what you've always wanted – to be brought a dead mouse or vole as a gift! Your cat certainly thinks so. Behaviourists have a number of theories about this one. As a kitten, the cat's mother might have brought back dead prey, and he thinks this is what you do. Or you might pay him more attention when he offers you presents, so you could be encouraging this behaviour. Or your generous feline might share his prey to thank you for feeding him. So while this may be an unsavoury habit from our point of view, for a cat it is quite natural.

6. Chewing wool, plastic, and other strange things

Thankfully, not all cats do this, but a number of them do. If your cat does things like this, he may have a condition known as 'pica'. Cats can develop pica for medical reasons such as gastrointestinal disorders, or it can stem from anxiety. This particular behaviour is actually something to be concerned about. So if you have a cat who persistently eats non-food items, you should take her to your vet.

7. Loves sitting in boxes and other small spaces

Some cats want to sit in a small box or the bathroom sink, even when there re far more comfortable places such as his bed, or your bed, or the couch. Why do they do this? Well, small spaces make cats feel more safe and secure. In the wild, cats need to be stealthy to survive, so sleeping in the middle of a wide-open field makes them susceptible to larger predators. Hiding in a small den, on the other hand, makes it more difficult for predators to find them. So again, your cat is merely doing what comes naturally.

8. Crying at night

You want to sleep, and your cat is yowling away all night! There could be several reasons for this. it may be that she wants to hunt the insects and rodents in your home, and her cries or of elation or frustration, depending on her degree of success. You might be able to distract her from doing this by providing her with food puzzles to play with at night instead. However, if she is a very senior cat and starts to cry at night she may need reassurance, and if she continues doing it, you should probably take her to your vet to check that nothing else is wrong.

9. Hissing

Some cats never hiss, but some do it quite a lot. Cats may hiss to express anger, and also fear. It is a cat's way of telling you to back off, and it is sensible to do so, leaving your cat to calm down. If you don't do that, even the calmest cat may become more agitated and lash out at times.

10. Sleeping nearly all the time

Cats seem to be genetically programmed to sleep a lot, and many of them sleep sixteen hours a day or even more. But your cat may not be sleeping as much as you think. Cats which are apparently sleeping or often just snoozing or even just resting, conserving energy, as they would need to in the wild. But don't worry if your cat seems to sleep all the time, unless he has only begun to do so recently. If that is the case, it might be a good idea for your vet to check that nothing else is wrong.

There are many more apparently strange cat behaviours which have a quite simple explanations. These will be discussed at a later date...

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