Cat Behavior 101

By PetMD Editorial on Jul. 24, 2008

Ever wonder why cats behave like they do? Bust the myths and find out why.

Did you know cats played a large role in ancient Egyptian society? They even became deities; Mafdet (goddess of justice) and Bast (goddess of war). While these creatures aren't placed on such a high pedestal today, there is still an aura of mystery and a particular presence cat carry. Even their behavior is quite dissimilar to that other favorite domestic pet, the dog. With a little understanding of the feline "way," you’ll discover their behavior isn't so strange after all.


For instance, you might not have known that feral (wild) cats have their own territories and are responsible for their own food, water and safety. This autonomy and feeling of self-preservation is also seen in domesticated cats to a certain degree. Some people may even call cats aloof or unfriendly because of this.


However, for all the times you find your cat alone doing "cat things" (perhaps plotting to kill that evil dust bunny lurking in the corner), there are plenty of occasions when your cat is quite social.


Let's take a cat's sense of affection, for example. Cats know when their owner is coming home and are often found waiting patiently by the front door when the owner arrives. Most cats also love to jump on laps and be cuddled and stroked, while others are content to sit nearby their human companion. And some cats are even high-tech, loving to help with any computer work — though this usually consists on sitting on the keyboard or walking across it.


What of their territorial instinct? Yes, we all know how cats will spray an area in order to "mark" it. (This is obviously a no-no anywhere in your home, and we're not condoning this.) But did you know cats rub their heads against objects and humans alike? Similar to lifting a leg and spraying, rubbing their scent on things is another way of marking property.


Now, if you happen to have someone over who's not into cats — I know it sounds crazy, but there are those kinds of people around — you might suggest that they allow themselves to be rubbed by the cat. Brushing the cat away will only annoy it, and make your guest a kitty foe.


What of their laziness? Cats are often labeled "lazy" because they like to sleep for about sixteen hours a day. But they are almost never completely asleep during that time. Make a sudden noise or movement, and you’ll find your cat alert and with its eyes open, watching you. Big cats in the wild sleep the same way. The cat is a natural hunter that needs to conserve energy for quick, intense movements in order to catch prey.


How about ankle-level attacks? If you’ve ever found yourself walking through a room (especially past a table), and suddenly — pow! your ankle has been captured, don't worry, your cat is not angry or even maladjusted, it is merely playing with you. In fact, you may notice that there wasn't much nail in that swipe, your cat isn't out to hurt you. Cats are just playful creatures that love to hone their hunting skills, and you have just become a passing target. Lucky you. Thankfully, you can avoid any future assaults by distracting kitty with some feathers or other "chase and catch" type toys. Play with your cat for a little while. Your cat will absolutely love you for it. And more importantly, you'll have fever "love" scratches.


So, we've busted some myths. Strange cat behavior isn’t that strange after all. It is merely natural instincts coming through. And just because we don't put cats on pedestals anymore doesn't mean they don't like it up there. Indeed, you'll find that the higher the pedestal, the happier your cat will be. Just make sure your cat has something to play with up there — or watch out!


Image: d. FUKA / via Flickr

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