Why does my cat do that?

26 Dec

Nigel. King of his domain.

Nigel. King of his domain.

Cats. They are odd creatures. Unlike dogs who have developed a working relationship with people over the centuries, cats… work for themselves. And yet we love them, and we bring them into our homes despite their tendency to lord over everyone. Dogs have owners. Cats have staff.

But have you ever wondered about why cats do some of the things they do?

Why, for example, do cats purr? Most people connect the gentle purr of a cat to contentment, and it’s true that cats do purr when they’re happy and relaxed. They purr when they nurse kittens. But they also purr when they’re afraid or stressed. So purring can communicate multiple different states of mind- maybe like a smile in a human? People smile when they’re happy, but many also smile when they’re nervous.

What is even more interesting than communication is that a cat’s purr can actually help to heal bones, both in cats themselves and in others who are exposed to the purring.

Mine. All mine. Only mine.

Mine. All mine. Only mine.

Why do they go crazy for catnip? According to Dr. Ruth MacPete, catnip contains an essential oil called Nepetalactone that cats find attractive and enticing. While some cats go wild from catnip and run about the house like a maniac, others drool or become sedate and docile. The occasional over-indulger may even become grumpy or mildly aggressive. The response doesn’t last long, though. Usually the effects wear off after 15 minutes or so.

Why do cats rub their faces against things? Cats do a lot of communicating through scent. They even have a specialized organ in the rooves of their mouths called the vomeronasal or Jacobson’s organ that allows them to better analyze scents. Urine-spraying is the type of scent-marking that we are most familiar with (and dislike the most!) but cats also communicate with scent glands in their faces. When they rub against walls, against table legs, against their cat trees, they are letting other cats know that they have been there. Cats also scent-mark each other by rubbing their faces against one another, and they like to scent-mark their humans as well. This is all a part of bonding- mixing scents, including one another in the group. Head bumping (or around our house, head “bonking”) is another favorite bonding behavior for scent-marking. A sign of true kitty love!

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.

Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.

Why do cats scratch furniture or scratching posts (even if they’re declawed)? Scratching serves multiple purposes for cats. In cats who have claws, it helps the cat to loosen and shed the outer layers of their claws, helping to keep them healthy. It also allows them to fully stretch their backs and shoulders. But the most important part of scratching behavior for a cat is communication. Cats who scratch repeatedly in one place are communicating both visually through their destruction, as well as through the scent glands in their feet. This is the likely reason why declawed cats continue to “scratch”– they are leaving their scent on the object to communicate with other cats.

Why do cats like to drink from the faucet? Many cats are very attracted to running water from the faucet. It makes sense- cats prefer their food and their water to be fresh. Water that sits for awhile in a bowl becomes stale and simply doesn’t taste as good. The motion of running water is also attractive to a lot of cats. If you think about how cats live in the wild, a source of moving water is less likely to be stagnant or contaminated than a standing body of water like a puddle or pond. And something else to think about if you cat prefers his water from the faucet instead of his bowl– small, deep bowls may be bothersome to cats because their whiskers hit the sides. A flat, wider bowl, or even better- a kitty fountain– will provide a more comfortable drinking option. Cats in general don’t tend to drink enough to keep themselves well-hydrated, so if running water encourages your cat to drink, go with it!

There is a wide array of other strange cat behaviors out there to be looked at. Which ones baffle you the most?

1 Comment

Posted by on December 26, 2013 in Behavior, Cats


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One response to “Why does my cat do that?

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