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Why does my cat…?

Our cats can flip from loving to aggressive, fascinated to disinterested in the blink of an eye. But are they really the inscrutable, alien creatures that popular media portrays them as? Or can we learn to get inside their heads? In this blog, we’re going to look at five “weird” behaviours cats have, and explain why they happen!

Stand guard by the windows or catflap?

This is actually quite straightforward - cats are very territorial, and typically have two “tiers” of territory - an inner core where they’re safe and can relax (often the house), and an outer “hunting zone”. If there are lots of cats in an area, then their hunting zones will often overlap, but most cats prefer their core to be either theirs alone, or shared only with cats they know fairly well. Guarding of windows and doors - and, in more severe cases, urinating or defecating there - often occurs because they’re worried that another cat is trying to invade their territory. They’re therefore watching over potential entrances into their safe “core” area. The behaviour will often lessen over time as they become accustomed to the new cat who’s moved into the area and hammer out some boundaries - although if they’re getting stressed, using pheromone products like Feliway can really help matters.

Scratch on my sofa, not their nice scratching post?

It’s a common myth that cats only scratch to sharpen their claws - while that is indeed one reason, they also do it to mark their territory (see above!), as their paws contain scent glands, By scratching, they’re saying “I’m here!” to other cats - or possibly “Keep off - mine”! Of course, the sofa is somewhere you sit, bringing in the smells of the outside world - so they regularly need to “top up” their visual and scent-based “signature” on it.

Love hiding in small boxes?

In the wild, cats are ambush predators - they don’t chase down their prey like wolves do, instead they hide somewhere that they can pounce out of to catch their prey unawares. However, they’re also aware that they’re actually quite small predators and that there are bigger and nastier creatures out there, that they want to hide from. A box satisfies both requirements - small and cosy and hidden from bigger predators, and a suitable site to ambush smaller and tastier creatures!

Ask for their tummies to be tickled, then bite me?

Although there are several reasons why a cat might roll onto their backs, asking for a tummy tickle isn’t usually one of them. Cats are moderately social animals - feral cats will gather in large and complex colonies - but only on their own terms. For a dog, rolling on their back is a submission sign (and rubbing their tummy reassures them that you still care for them). For a cat, it’s an armed welcome - “yes, I’m here and I like you, but I still have all my weapons available if you do anything silly”. That’s because, as you’ve probably found out, if you step over what they consider to be acceptable behaviour, they have four sets of claws and some sharp teeth to discourage unwanted liberties!

That’s not to say that ALL cats dislike having their tummies rubbed - some can learn to “speak human” in that they realise you’re not attacking them and come to enjoy it. But if you don’t know the cat well - wait until they come up to you with their back arched and tail high and butt at you before stroking!

Lick me?

As we saw above, cats can have complex social lives, with friendships, enemies, and “non-aggression treaties” between unfriendly neighbours! Licking, however, is usually a sign of trust and friendship - it’s an attempt to form a social bond by mutual grooming, as a mother does to her kittens, or siblings in the same colony often will. If they’re licking just you, you can probably feel honoured!

However, if your cat is licking everything and everyone around, this can also be a sign of severe stress - they may be trying to form alliances, or excessive licking may be a displacement behaviour. In that case, you’ll need to try and work out what’s upsetting them, and how to manage it.

Always remember where they come from...

As we’ve seen above, many of these “weird” behaviours are perfectly natural IF you can look at the situation through a cat’s eyes. Cats evolved as small solitary night hunters, but have learned to live in colonies. Almost all of their hard-wired behaviour comes from these features of their basic biology. However… all cats are individuals, so treat them as such!

Need more help? Give us a ring and talk to one of our vets or nurses; some odd behaviour may suggest a medical problem that needs veterinary attention, or be so severe that help from a feline behaviourist is needed. Either way, our staff can help you decide what’s going on and if any further investigations are needed!