Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 favorite, back by popular demand. It was originally posted on March 7, 2013. Enjoy!
Any cat owner can tell you their pet’s behavior often doesn’t seem to make sense. Most of us go through pet ownership accepting our cat’s quirks but never really knowing what our cat’s behavior really means. If you’re not a cat person, trying to figure out what’s really going through a cat’s head probably just gives you a headache.
So here’s a little insight into the mind of the common housecat:
Does your cat like to head-butt you? The technical term for this behavior is “bunting.” While the way cats rub their heads and faces against their owners seems like a display of affection, it gets confusing when you realize they’re just as likely to rub their faces on household objects and furniture.
You may have heard that cats do this to “mark their territory” with their scent, and that’s definitely part of the answer. But cats will also rub against each other to indicate their friendly intentions — so when your cat headbutts you or demands to be scratched behind the ears, it’s not just a move to mark you as his property.
Sometimes, you cat seems to turn on you. While some cats have a higher tolerance for petting than others, many cats will get excited by the attention and bite or scratch you while you pet them. Cats aren’t doing this to be mean, or trick you into a fight — a gentle (or not-so-gentle) nip is your cat’s way of letting you know she’s had enough for now.
The repetitive physical contact can become uncomfortable for the cat over time, sometimes even building up static electricity. If you have a cat who often lashes out during petting, there’s a few things you can do.
First, let the cat come to you when she wants to be petted. Keep an eye out for signs that your cat is getting overwhelmed during petting: her ears might flatten, her tail might start twitching, or she might show other signs of tension. You can even build up your cat’s tolerance for petting by offering treats when you snuggle. Some cats who don’t tolerate being stroked on the back may appreciate scratches on the chin and behind the ears.
Does your cat eat plants? Or chew on random inedible objects? The good news is that eating grass is totally normal for cats — but excessive consumption can give your cat an upset stomach and work as a laxative. Cats may eat grass on purpose to provide fiber and help clear hairballs from the stomach, so unless your cat is regularly eating enough grass to the point of vomiting, you probably shouldn’t worry. Just make sure your plant-eating cat doesn’t have access to any common decorative or houseplants that could be toxic.
Unfortunately, for some cats, this behavior extends to inedible objects like plastic bags or electrical cords. This behavior, called “pica,” can be potentially dangerous and should be stopped by keeping dangerous objects out of the cat’s reach or treating the objects with a substance that tastes bad to cats. What you shouldn’t do is yell at or try to punish your cat when you catch him in the act — this only teaches him to chew on objects when you aren’t around.
Some cats like to show their affection by “kneading” you with their paws. As kittens, they use this same motion to help release milk from the mother cat’s breasts when feeding. So when your cat does this while being petted, it’s her way of showing love and affection for her human “mom.”
If your cat seems to urinate everywhere but the litterbox, the first thing you need to do is make a trip to the vet. This is not normal cat behavior and indicates emotional stress or a medical issue. Your cat may have a bacterial infection or an obstruction in the urinary tract — in which case he’s not using the litterbox because he’s come to associate using the “bathroom” with pain. It’s also possible that liver or kidney disease is causing your cat to urinate more frequently than normal, resulting in incontinence.
If your vet eliminates any medical reasons for your cat’s inappropriate urination, then it’s time to look at possible emotional causes for the behavior. Cats are stressed out by many of the same things as humans: if you’ve recently brought a new cat into the home, travel frequently for work, argue frequently with your spouse, have a new baby, or have been remodeling your home, that may be the reason you cat isn’t using the litterbox. Sometimes, existing urinary disease can be exacerbated by stressful living conditions.
Finally, if there’s one thing cats do that drives everyone nuts, it’s the way they love to tear furniture to shreds. Cats aren’t just scratching furniture for fun — they need to regularly scratch to keep their claws sharp and healthy. While many people respond to cat scratching by declawing their cats, animal welfare organizations like the ASPCA discourage the practice. In fact, in some areas, declawing surgery is illegal because it actually involves amputating part of the cat’s toes.
Looking for a more humane solution? Providing scratching post is an obvious place to start, although it may take your cat some time to get used to it. Discourage your cat from scratching furniture by moving desirable objects, covering up your furniture, or even placing double-sided tape or sandpaper on the floor where the cat normally stands while scratching.
If you simply can’t get your cat to stop scratching, you can trim his nails periodically or put plastic caps over the claws to keep them from damaging household objects.
Photo credit: Kevin Dooley via Flickr
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