Cats are weird animals. We love them, but they do so many things that we just don’t understand. They’re full of mischief and mysterious behaviors and we just never know what they’re going to get up to next. Luckily for us, scientists have come up with explanations for a number of strange cat behaviors that can help you decipher what’s really going on when your cat acts a certain way.
Having a cat can give you a lot of joy. Cats are great companions, and who doesn’t love the feeling of a cat purring while you pet it? Unlike dogs, they don’t live for our affection, or come every time we call. Sometimes they’re perfectly content to sit on our lap cuddling, and then suddenly they’re dashing around the room like crazy.
It’s worth it though – having a cat for a pet is an incredibly rewarding experience. You always have a buddy waiting for you at home, and owning a cat even has health benefits, such as decreasing stress and anxiety.
There’s a lot we don’t know about cats and their behavior, but we are getting closer to figuring out why they do a lot of the things they do. Here are some of cats’ weirdest behaviors explained, in order to give you some insight into your favorite furry friend.
Head-butting and rubbing
Cats are known to bump their face into your legs or forehead, but when your cat head-butts you, they’re not trying to start a fight. On the contrary, experts think that cats head-butt you as a way of saying hello. It’s a gesture that indicates that they trust you and feel safe with you. In addition, when they rub up against something, it transfers pheromones from their body, marking the object (or person) as trusted or safe. Experts have a name for this behavior: bunting. But don’t worry if your pet doesn’t do this – it doesn’t mean that they don’t trust you. Every cat is different, so some are more prone to this behavior than others.
Communicating with their eyes
You may notice your cat making a lot of gestures with their eyes, and it turns out that this is one of the ways that they can communicate. When a cat is staring at you, it most often means that it is just trying to get your attention. But if the stare is particularly intense, it could be an act of aggression, and it’s best not to stare back into its eyes. On the other hand, when cats look at you and then slowly blink, it means that they are showing affection. Some people even call this a “kitty kiss” and you can try performing it for your pet and see if they “kiss” you back.
Laying around on your belongings
You know how it feels when you’re trying to read a book or type up that important report, but your kitty comes along and lays down across whatever it is that you’re working on. No matter what you do, it simply won’t leave your things alone. Cats do this because they see that you are paying attention to your book or computer. They want attention too, so they come between you and the object receiving it. They also might want to rub their scent on your things, marking their territory.
Cats are smart, we all know that. They recognize their name and their owner’s voice, but unlike dogs, they don’t come when you call them. Part of this has to do with the fact that cats like to display affection when they want, not when you want. They know you’re calling them, but they won’t respond if they’re not interested in attention at the moment. But don’t worry, it’s not out of spite, and your kitty will come to you when it’s ready to play.
Kneading you with their paws
When kittens are born, one of their first instincts is to press on their mother’s mammary glands while drinking her milk, in order to stimulate her body to produce more. This kneading motion stays with cats even after they grow up and stop drinking from their mothers. Adult cats do this when they associate a soft surface (or your body) with the comforts of their mother. Many behaviorists think cats do this when they’re feeling happy and content, or to relieve stress.
Sniffing your face
Suddenly, your cat is sticking its nose into your face, sniffing your hair, your nose, and your breath. It can feel weird, but cats do this because all people have a unique scent. Your face is a good place for your cat to get a nice whiff of your special natural smell, looking for your familiar scent. It reassures them that you are, in fact, you, and not someone else who they don’t trust, allowing them to relax more.
Chewing on things
When cats chew on plastic and other things that are not food, it can be a sign of a condition called pica. While experts aren’t certain what leads to pica, they think can be caused by nutritional problems, or by stress and anxiety. Cats chew on objects that aren’t food as a way to deal with anxiety, but it can also be bad for your kitty’s digestive system. If a cat is frequently chewing on non-food items, you should take it to a veterinarian.
Chattering their teeth
You’ve probably heard your kitty chattering their teeth when they see birds outside the window, making a quick, intense sound. While experts aren’t sure why cats do this, they have some good guesses. Some experts think that cats make this sound out of frustration, because even though they want to catch it, they can’t reach the bird through the window. Others believe that it’s a natural instinct as cats warms up their muscles in preparation for chasing their prey.
Sticking their back end in your face
Sometimes, you want to cuddle your pet but then they turn around, lift their tail, and give you a full view of their back end. Cats lifting their tails and sticking their rear end in your face can certainly be disgusting, but it’s actually a display of trust and affection. When cats lift their tails, they are being friendly and opening up to you. So even though it may not be the most pleasant view, you can take this rear end presentation as a compliment!
Cats lie down on their backs and roll around on the ground for a number of reasons, however they do it only when they feel comfortable, because baring their belly is a sign of vulnerability. It can simply be a way to scratch their back and stretch their muscles, or it can be an attempt to play, to get your attention and engage you in a game. It can also be a way to mark their territory, because rolling around deposits their scent on the ground.
Crying at night
Cats are often awake and active at night. When they have excess energy while you sleep, they may run around the house and start wailing. These cries could have something to do with the cat trying to catch prey inside the house, or, if there are no insects or mice to be found, they might be cries of frustration. If these cat-calls bother you, you can try playing with your cat during the day to tire it out, so it’s less active at night.
Hiding in boxes and small spaces
Chances are, you’ve probably found your cat curled up in a box, sink, or other small space, even though there are plenty of larger comfy spots in the house. They do this because it makes them feel safe. In the wild, a cat would be in danger if it was exposed in an open field, so they developed an instinct to hide in small caves and holes. They’re not in any real danger in your house, but they feel more secure when they squeeze into a tight spot.
Sprinting around the house
Sometimes, you hear a strange noise, and suddenly your cat comes barreling into the room at top speed. Cats have a lot of energy, and since they don’t hunt, they need a way to release it. House cats get restless, since they don’t have space to run around, so they release this tension in a burst of activity, sprinting swiftly around the house. If your cat does this a lot, you can play with it more, so it has an opportunity to run and pounce and use up its energy.
Bringing you presents
It’s gross and shocking when your cat drops a lifeless mouse at your feet. But it’s likely that it comes from a good place. Mother cats bring their babies food, so your cat may have learned to do this from its mom, and if a cat brings you food, it’s probably accepting you as a member of its group. It’s also possible that your cat is bringing you a gift to thank you for taking care of it, but it could simply be looking for attention.
Sprawled out legs
When your cat lounges around the room with its legs sprawled wide open, it can look pretty silly. But all it means is that it feels relaxed, comfortable, and safe in the room with you. Your kitty trusts you and is resting cozily. When a cat exposes its tummy to you, it is a sign of vulnerability and means that there is no perceived threat. So you can feel good if your cat does this frequently, it mostly likely means it’s a content creature.
Burying their droppings
Cats instinctively cover up their droppings when they do their business in the litter box. They did this in the wild, so predators wouldn’t be able to find their scent and so the other cats wouldn’t kick them out of the group. When a cat doesn’t cover up its feces, it can be a sign of a problem. These include a cat’s distaste for the litter or box type, location or accessibility, stress or anxiety, or even an issue with the cat’s health.
Twitching their ears
Cats can communicate with their ears. When they start twitching their ears back and forth, it usually means that they are anxious or agitated and you might want to be careful around a cat in this state. When a cat’s ears are pointing forward on the other hand, it means the kitty is feeling good and content. Watch out when your cat points its ears backwards, or lays them flat against its head – this is a sign that the cat is irritated or feeling scared and defensive.
Attacking your feet
You’re minding your own business, sitting on the couch watching television, when suddenly a ball of fur pounces on your feet. This can be surprising, but your cat is not actually showing aggression. It is usually just trying to play, practicing its pounces and jumps. Most cats are playful, and when they get bored, they’re looking for a game. If you want your kitty to leave your feet alone, you can try to interest them in a toy or piece of string instead.
Sleeping all the time
When kittens sleep, they release growth hormones that are important for their development, so young cats sleep a lot, even more than adult. But don’t worry if your grown-up cat is asleep all the time too – cats instinctively doze off to save energy, a trait left over from when they had to expend lots of energy hunting for their next meal. They fall asleep easily if they’re bored or there is nothing for them to do, so if you want your cat to be awake more, try playing with it.
Occasionally, cats will compulsively press their heads against a wall or other hard object for no apparent reason. This strange behavior can be accompanied by vocal sounds that the cat does not usually make. If your pet is doing this, you should be aware that it is not a normal behavior and should be checked out by a vet. It is often a sign of damage to the nervous system from trauma, a tumor, poisoning, or other cause.
There’s something so satisfying about hearing your cat purr while you’re petting them. But purring is not simple, and scientists know less about it than any other cat noise. Yes, sometimes it means that the cat is happy and satisfied, but it can have a lot of other meanings as well. Cats purr as a form of communication, but also as a way to calm themselves down when they’re feeling anxious and stressed. The vibration from the purr soothes them, and it can even calm their owners too.
Following you to the bathroom
It can be pretty weird when you go to the bathroom and your cat runs in right next to you. Scientists don’t have an answer for why cats do this, but they do have guesses. Some experts think that your cat might feel vulnerable without you, so it follows you to feel safe. Others say that cats are simply curious animals, who just want to know what’s going on. Or perhaps they know that while you’re in the bathroom you’ll be their captive audience, and they want your attention.
Moving their tail back and forth
Unlike dogs, cats do not wag their tails when they’re happy and feeling good. Most often, if a cat is swishing its tail back and forth, it means that it is not a happy kitty and would prefer to be left alone. It means that your cat is annoyed, and it would be best not to bother it. However, if a cat is twitching its tail, it usually means that it is very interested in something and paying close attention.
Most people know that if a cat is hissing at them, it’s best to move away. Yes, cats do hiss when they’re angry, but they also hiss when they are feeling afraid or agitated. In addition, if a cat feels threatened by you or another person or animal, it will usually hiss as well. What should you do if your cat starts to hiss? Don’t get too close, and let it calm down; it will most likely be back to its normal self in a few minutes.
Knocking things off the table
You’re sitting peacefully, minding your own business, when suddenly your cat shoots out a paw and knocks your glass of water off the table, watching it fall to the ground. There are also many YouTube videos of cats doing exactly this, over and over. Scientists say this behavior is simply a way that cats practice hunting. In the wild, cats toy with their prey, so batting things is good practice for the hunt. Cats are also naturally curious animals, and easily bored, so they could just be trying to get your attention or start a game.
Doing their business outside the litter box
It’s pretty gross when your cat starts leaving its droppings outside the litter box, but it can also be a sign of a problem. Perhaps your cat doesn’t like the litter box, the litter itself, or its location. Try changing the litter box if this is the case. It can also be a sign of a medical problem – cats know to do their business in the litter box, so if they are not, it could be a sign of a health problem.
Crazy for catnip
Catnip doesn’t look like anything special – it’s a leafy plant, related to mint. So why do some cats go absolutely nuts when they smell it? Catnip contains nepetalactone, an oil that stimulates sensors in the cat’s nose. This reaction gives around 70% of cats a feeling of extreme joy, and hallucinogenic experiences. They may run around, roll, salivate, and make noises while under the effects of catnip, which lasts about ten minutes. Interestingly, big cats such as lions and tigers have also been shown to be affected by catnip.
Biting their nails
When people bite their nails, it’s usually a sign of anxiety, or just a bad habit. With cats, it can often be for the same reason. If your kitty is nibbling on its nails, it could be a sign that it’s nervous or even just bored. It can also be an effort to groom itself thoroughly. But if a cat is excessively chewing at its nails, it might be time for a checkup – sometimes, nail biting can be a sign of a parasite or infection.
Sleeping on your chest
It can be very comforting when your cat falls asleep on your chest. And in fact, it’s comforting for your cat as well – that’s often why they do it. Cats like the warmth of your body while they sleep, and they might be more comfortable on your warm chest than anywhere else. It gives them a sense of security – your kitty feels safer sleeping close to you, and it probably likes the smell of you and the movement of your breath as well.
You never want your cat to bite you, but when it does, there are a number of reasons. It may bite because it is angry or stressed and is trying to communicate this to you, it might be afraid and trying to defend itself, or maybe it’s really just trying to play with you. In the wild, biting is an acceptable way for cats to express themselves, so it makes sense that they continue the habit. If your cat does bite you, just tell it “no” firmly, and walk away.
Sometimes, cats starts sneaking around the house, slyly running around corners and slinking between furniture. They’re not in the wild and there’s nothing to hunt, so it can be a bit strange to see them do this. But the reason is in their genetic code – cats are naturally sly and sneaky animals, so they practice this behavior regularly. In addition, cats sometimes use their sneaky tactics to get what they want, whether it’s scraps of food or even attention.
If your cat starts grazing on grass, it may look weird, but it’s nothing to worry about. In fact, it might actually be healthy for your four-legged friend. Cats cannot digest grass, so it causes them to vomit, clearing out their digestive tract, which can make them feel better if they are having digestion problems. In addition, the juices in grass contain folic acid, which is a vitamin that cats need to be healthy. So if your cat is chewing on grass, just make sure that it’s non-toxic.
Pawing at their water
Even though common belief states that cats hate water, it’s not entirely true. Some cats love water, and if these kitties are pawing at their water bowl, they may just be engaging in a little play time. Other cats, however, prefer to drink fresh moving water, and when they splash around in their water dish, they may be trying to aerate it, to give it the effect of a bubbling spring or water fresh from the tap.
When cats meow, they’re not just making noise for fun – they’re trying to communicate with you! So pay attention, they might be trying to tell you something important. A cute little meow usually means “hello” or is an attempt to ask for attention. If a cat walks up to you meowing in this way, you might want to pet it, rub its back and head, and you will be thanked with the love a very happy kitty.
A cat that is meowing loudly is usually asking for something. Often, a loud meow means a cat is hungry and wants to be fed. Another reason a cat might meow in this way is if it is stuck somewhere, or wants to be let in or out (if it’s an outdoors cat). Occasionally, cats will even make this sound when they are lonely or sick, so if you can not find another explanation for a cat that meows continuously, you might want to have its health checked.
Standing on their hind legs
Cats look silly standing on their hind legs, but this behavior has an evolutionary explanation. When confronted by a predator in the wild, cats would stand on their back legs to make themselves look bigger, warding off the threat. If your cat stands on its hind legs and seems to be acting defensive, you may want to stand back. It’s not always bad news when cats stand on their back legs though – sometimes, they do this simply to reach for a treat.
We’ve all heard horror stories of people coming home to find their couch completely torn apart by a scratching cat. Many cat owners buy their pets scratching posts so this doesn’t happen. But why do cats do this? Scratching is a normal behavior with several causes – it removes the uncomfortable dead layer of their claws, it deposits their scent and marks their territory, and it feels good for them to stretch their bodies and claws. If your cat is destroying your possessions though, consider getting it a scratching toy instead.
Stretching a lot
You may notice your cat stretching more than you do. They do this after periods of inactivity, just like you, to get their blood flowing again and increase their blood pressure, push out toxins and other unhealthy substances in muscles, and just because it feels good. Cats sleep a lot, so it makes sense that they’ll need to stretch a lot too. And if they do, it also means that they trust you, and feel safe and comfortable.
Always landing on their feet
Cats are famous for their ability to land on all fours when they fall. They have extra vertebrae in their spine, which creates a flexible backbone, letting them twist their body while they’re falling. They also have an incredible sense of balance, light bodies and bones, and thick fur to help slow their fall. Incredibly, cats are born with this behavior ingrained in their genetic code, and they learn to right themselves while they fall at the young age of six to seven weeks!
Lifting their rear end while you scratch them
If you’re petting a cat and it suddenly raises it’s back end high in the air, it can be surprising. But when a cat does this, it’s actually a positive reaction to the attention it’s receiving. Usually, when a cat raises its rear end, it means that you’ve hit just the right spot on its back, and that it’s enjoying your massage. It’s quite a compliment when a cat does this, and it means that you’ve made a friend.
Sleeping in a tight ball
Curling up in a tight ball to sleep is a good way for a cat to keep warm if it’s cold out. It is also the safest position for a cat in slumber because it protects the animal’s belly and organs. In the wild, this was the only way a cat could stay safe and warm, so even though you may provide your pet with a soft cushion, many cats still have the instinct to curl up at night.