Cat behaviors? How much do you really know about cat behavior? As a new (or even longtime) cat lover, you might feel puzzled or frustrated by some of the weird things cats do. And cat behavior might be on your mind, wondering what’s normal—and why cats do what they do.
I’ve worked with countless pet lovers with questions just like yours. After decades in the industry, studying feline behavior and also interviewing hundreds of veterinary professionals, I’ve learned a TON about cat behavior. And there’s some stuff I think all cat lovers should know!
Cat Talk in Cat Behavior
Meows most typically target humans because cats know we rely on verbal communication. They use meows as requests—or demands—for attention, for food, for a door to open up. The lower-pitched the meow, the more emphatic the demand!
Purrs express emotion, too, but don’t always show pleasure or happiness. Cats also purr to soothe themselves, and purrs speed up bone healing (so they may have a bit of pain control).
But body language figures most prominently in cat communication, and we can easily learn to understand what that tail talk, fluffed fur, or erect vs crouched posture means. Cats talk to us all the time, and because Kitty pays exquisite attention to such things, human body language also “talks back” to your cat!
Yes, we share similar sensory abilities with cats, but more than humans, sensory input RULES cat behavior in ways people can’t comprehend! People rely on vision for many things, and scent also impacts our world (stinky stuff vs. perfume). And for sure, all the cat talk caterwauling drives us batty. But consider this:
- Cats see much better low light than people, one reason they become more active during this time. They don’t focus well on near objects, but rely on motion, so when you play chase games, cats see better when you drag a feather horizontally across the field of vision. Fun fact: Cat eyes are BIG. If humans had the same eye-to-face ratio, our eyes would be 8 inches across!
- Cats can’t hear the same low tones as people do. We can detect sounds in the range of 20,000 cycles per second. But cats can hear much higher frequencies than people (think ultrasonic MOUSE SQUEAKS) and detect the range of 60,000 cycles per second. So if your cat STARES at the wall or tracks a “ghost” across the room, chances are she simply hears something you can’t. And deaf cats rely on other senses to make up for any deficit.
- People have about 5 to 20 million scent cells in our noses. Yes, we can smell stinky cat litter box, but just imagine how offensive a dirty box becomes to the cat. She has 67 million scent cells in her nose, and loves sniffing her world! Smells define safety to your cat, and she spreads her own calming odor onto you and safe objects by rub-rub-rubbing scent on your ankles or the door frame. She also scratches objects to leave both visual and smelly signs claiming her territory.
Do you have more than one cat? Or maybe a combo dog-cat home? One of the biggest cat behavior concerns I hear has to do with adopting a new pet into the resident cat’s home. People have visions of a single cat feeling lonely and needing a friend, especially after losing one of a bonded pair. But cats rarely accept new pets into their trusted circle right away. Think about how cats interact with their world through senses. For example, bonded cats sleep together, groom each other, and enjoy contact–and in the process, they share scent. That scent marks each other as safe, and part of the family. But a new animal smells strange, and in the cat world, that means DANGER!
In feral cat colonies, this means strange cats get chased away. That keeps the home territory safe. In the same way, a new kitty brought into your home could put the resident cat’s tail in a twist! One or the other could try to chase away the scary stranger, or hide and become an outcast. How sad…and frustrating for everyone! That’s why if one cat goes to vet clinic, and smells “funny” when he returns (all the stranger’s scent from the exam), the other cats might take time to recognize and welcome him home.
Yes, cats can accept new pets and become bonded together. But it takes time. I’m not talking about a few days, or even two weeks. It can sometimes take several weeks, or even months for cats to learn to tolerate each other. Slow, incremental introductions work the best to allow cats to adjust and accept strangers into their family group.
I love helping cat lovers understand feline behavior to build an even closer bond with their pet cats. That’s why I became a certified animal behavior consultant, and write books to offer insight and guidance. If you’re interested in learning more about cat behavior (whether you have one cat or many) you can get lots of information in my book ComPETability: Solving behavior problems in your multi-CAT household.
I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!
Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!