Cartoonist Jim Davis, creator of “Garfield,” once said, “Way down deep, we’re all motivated by the same urges. Cats have the courage to live by them.” That may explain why cats act the way they do and are often seen as very independent. Perhaps our cats are trying to teach us a valuable lesson by acting in ways that they were born to act. This doesn’t mean our furry feline friends can’t learn to behave in ways that benefit the entire family. So, if your cat is exhibiting excessive grooming habits, destructive kneading or scratching, or is disruptive at night, there’s hope. In general, early interventions with behavior training, veterinary oversight, or a cat behavior specialist, can help turn around cat behavior issues.
Normal Cat Behavior
Cats, like people, have unique personalities and characteristics. Therefore, there is no definitive list of “normal” cat behavior. While there are many common feline behaviors, keep in mind that each cat is special and may act in ways that are slightly different due to their personality, environment or mood. For example, the most common cat behaviors include purring, grooming, kneading and climbing. But each cat will engage in these activities differently. Pay attention to your cat’s behavior and determine what is “normal” for your cat so you can be aware of unusual behavior that may require a trip to the vet.
Most people consider purring to be a universal sign that a cat is happy and content. For the most part, cats will purr when they are comfortable and happy. Cats often purr when being pet, enjoying the sunshine or sitting on your laptop computer as you try to work. Purring, however, can also be a sign of stress due to unfamiliar situations or surroundings. It can also be when your cat is sick or injured. When a cat purrs, the vibrating cords in the larynx create vibrations across the cat’s entire body that can be soothing in a stressful situation. If your cat is purring excessively or in situations where purring is not common, it could be a sign of illness or injury. Thoroughly examine your cat or take them to a veterinarian especially if the cat is not eating, drinking or otherwise acting “normal.”
Cats also typically spend a great deal of time grooming. For some cats, grooming can take up to 50 percent of their time. Grooming helps cats stay tidy, but their saliva also helps insulate their bodies and keep them warm. So, you may see your cat grooming more in cold weather. Each cat will have different grooming habits and patterns, so pay attention to your cat’s beauty regime. If grooming is excessive (overall or in a certain area) or causes loss of fur, you should bring your cat to the veterinarian for an examination.
Damage from Your Cat’s Kneading
Another common cat behavior is kneading. Cats are known to push their front paws in and out in a motion that resembles a baker kneading dough. In this case, however, the “dough” is a pillow, carpet, furniture or a person’s chest or head. Experts are not certain why cats behave this way. Some believe it is residual behavior from nursing as a kitten, or simply a way to show contentment. Other experts point out that cats have glands in the pads of their paws, so perhaps this behavior is a way to mark their territory. If kneading is causing damage, make sure to keep your cat’s nails trimmed. If your cat is kneading you and causing pain, simply distract the cat by petting, playing with the paws or giving a treat. Avoid scolding or punishing the cat for kneading because the behavior is instinctual.
Climbing on Everything
Cats generally like high places and are excellent climbers. This behavior is genetic since cats are natural predators. A higher vantage point gives them a better view of their surroundings. Another practical reason for seeking a comfy ledge is to hide. Which can allow them to take advantage of the warmer air or settle down for a nice catnap without being disturbed. Interestingly, in a household of cats, the dominant cat usually occupies the highest perch. There are many types of cat perches that you can buy or make on your own, but make sure that the perch is safe and can hold the weight of your cat. If your cat enjoys climbing on high shelves or above the refrigerator and cabinets, make sure the area is clear of items that could hurt or trap your cat. And beware of falling objects.
Destructive Cat Scratching
Other cat behavior includes burying and scratching which is another instinct in all cats. Some cats will paw at the area around their food dish to mimic burying, as well as covering their tracks after using the litter box. Cats will naturally scratch to keep nails clean and to mark territory. Or course, cats may want to scratch furniture or walls, so make sure to provide more acceptable options like a scratching post. Cats prefer to scratch textures that are appealing, so you can discourage a cat from scratching certain areas by applying double-sided tape or aluminum foil. With a bit of patience, you can direct your cat to scratch acceptable objects and minimize unwanted scratches in the household.
Cats are also prone to curling up into a tight ball to sleep which provides warmth and security. A similar behavior is referred to as “loafing around” when cats curl their paws under to form a shape that looks like a little loaf of bread. This is done not only to look cute, but to regulate body heat and conserve warmth. Some cat behavior is simply the result of curiosity. While it may seem that cats are trying to type on the computer or enjoy pushing objects off a table or shelf, this behavior is common in many cats simply as a form of play. Also, cats probably enjoy watching the humans reacting to their mischievous antics. Again, pay attention to how your cat plays and take note if your cat’s behavior changes because there could be a medical reason for the change.
Cat Temperament and Behavior
All cat lovers want to develop a strong bond with their cats. But like people, some cats will naturally be more sociable than others. Cats are certainly capable of forming strong social bonds with humans and other cats, but not all cats will act the same. Kittens will learn social behavior from their mother which includes how to control their bite and retract their claws. Normal play will involve the use of teeth and claws even as adults. Ideally, kittens will learn social skills from other cats, including how to interact with humans. Kittens learn by observing, imitating and experimenting so it is important not to remove a kitten from the litter too soon because they won’t be fully socialized.
Other behavior that kittens learn include hunting (real and mock), night-time play, meowing and other vocalizations. Cats are hunters by instinct, and domestic cats will often engage in behavior that is part hunting and part play. Outdoor cats may hone their real hunting skills while indoor cats will enjoy mock hunting with toys.
Modifying Your Cat’s Night Time Behavior
Historically, wild big cats are nocturnal which can result in domestic cats displaying tremendous energy at night. It is not surprising to be awakened in the middle of the night by your cat running madly around the house including your sleeping, lazy body. While this may be amusing at first, it is behavior that you can easily modify by playing with the cat before bedtime. You can also get another cat but that could result in two cats running around the house madly. With some patience, however, you should be able to modify your cat’s schedule to allow you a good night’s sleep.
Kittens learn to meow to communicate with their mother. As they grow older, cats will learn to vocalize by howling, hissing, and growling to communicate with other cats. Most cats meow to communicate with humans and obviously some cats will be more talkative than others. There are various reasons why a cat will meow such as hunger, loneliness or simply a way to say hello. Excessive meowing can indicate pain or injury, so always determine why a cat is meowing. Avoid punishing a cat from meowing because in most cases, the cat is trying to communicate to you.
How to Socialize Your Cat
While most cats are loving and easily become a member of the family, some cats will require more time to feel completely comfortable in your home. Some cats are naturally shy, while other may have a history of trauma. So remember to be patient when introducing yourself to a new cat and follow these tips to properly socialize your cat:
- be patient and compassionate
- start with small places so your cat can become familiar to a small space at first
- keep things quiet and use a soft voice because cats have very sensitive hearing
- comfort your cat with food
- let the cat approach you and set the pace of socialization.
It’s important not to get discouraged or give up. Also, don’t blame yourself or the cat. Some cats will need more work than others, and some cats will always be shy and avoid a lot of interaction with humans.
Aggressive Cat Behavior
Of course, it is important to be aware of signs of aggression. An aggressive cat can be dangerous in the household and cause painful scratches or bites that can lead to infection or disease. Cats will act aggressively towards humans when they are afraid or believe they are in danger. There are common behaviors that signal aggression including a stiff, straight-legged upright stance; stiffened rear legs with head lowered; direct stare as well as growling or hissing.
Cats will often act aggressively when they are injured or require medical attention. If a cat is acting aggressively, you should bring the cat to a pet care professional to determine if there is a medical cause for the aggression. If there is no medical condition, then you should consider ways to further socialize your cat. While each cat will have a different personality and temperament, cat behavior specialists and cat behavior training can assist you and your cat in behavior changes.
Cats are often admired for being independent which means that some cats will prefer not to be pet, carried, or have too much interaction with people. Like people, cats can be in the mood to be playful or they might want to be alone. Recognize and respect the differences in the unique personalities of each cat and remember that cats will have different moods. Cats are wonderful pets and valuable additions to the family. Make sure you and your cat are happy by being patient and allowing your cat to behave as naturally as possible. With a little patience and some help from the tips described, you can ensure your cat is well behaved and happy in your home.