Humans began interacting with cats approximately 10,000 years ago, capitalizing on their exceptional hunting skills to control rats and mice in food storage. Domestic cats have a number of genetic similarities to their wildcat ancestors, who look like tabby cats, and still exist in Europe, southwest Asia, and Africa. Your beloved cat may show many characteristics of their wild relatives. Our Airway Animal Clinic team answers 10 of the most common cat behavior questions.

#1: Why does my cat bring me their prey?

Cats are members of the Felidae family, who are carnivores with a strong predator instinct. Mother cats regularly bring prey home to their kittens, and when your cat does the same for you, they are acknowledging you as a family member and showing you they care. A bell on your cat’s collar can help protect birds. Also, remember to keep your cat safe from external and internal parasites with prevention medications.

#2: Why does my cat sleep so much?

Although your cat may eat regular, timely meals, they sleep an average of 15 hours per day to recharge for a potential hunting spree. Cats have excellent night vision and are nocturnal by nature, but can adjust their sleeping pattern to their owner. Excessive night restlessness and vocalization may be a sign of illness, such as hyperthyroidism or cognitive dysfunction. 

#3: Why does my cat make noises when looking out the window?

Your cat’s chattering noises are a response to seeing prey, and the excitement of a potential hunt. A cat holding their mouth open may be smelling and tasting the world with oral receptors (i.e., “Flehman” response), but prolonged open-mouthed breathing can be a sign of asthma or respiratory distress.

#4: Why does my cat rub their head on me and point their tail in my face?

Cats rub their head on you to show affection, and to secrete pheromones from cheek glands to signify ownership. Head bumping (i.e., bunting) and staring at you and slowly blinking are other affectionate gestures. The ultimate sign of trust is your cat pointing their upraised tail at you, confirming you are a companion and not a threat.

#5: Does kneading or purring mean my cat is happy?

Kneading or purring are kitten habits that carry over into your cat as an adult, and can be a sign of contentment, or a self-soothing mechanism under stress. Kneading is part of the nursing routine, and kittens find their mother during their first days of life through purring. Purring also has a physiological endorphin-secreting function that provides a built-in healing mechanism.  

#6: Why does my cat drink from the water faucet?

In the wild, running water is usually safer to drink than stagnant water, which is why many cats prefer faucets or water fountains. Excessive water drinking can also be a sign of illness, such as kidney disease or diabetes.

#7: Why do cats lick themselves?

Cats tend to be clean and hygienic, and their rough tongue is a natural grooming tool. Cleanliness reduces a cat’s scent, and helps them avoid predators and hunt more successfully. One of the first illness signs in a cat may be an unkempt coat because of decreased grooming.

#8: Why does my cat knock over objects and scratch the furniture?

Cats are naturally curious, and may knock over objects to see what happens. They also may knock over and watch the falling object to practice hunting, and to mimic playing with their prey. Scratching reflects your cat’s innate need to remove the dead layer on their claws, stretch their body, and deposit scent from paw glands to mark territory. The best way to save your furniture is to provide a tall scratching post that allows your cat a complete stretch, and plenty of toys to keep them active.

#9: Why do cats use a litter box?

Wild cats, who bury their waste to prevent detection by other animals, are drawn to soft surfaces. Young kittens will automatically use litter boxes without training. If your cat starts missing the litter box, ensure the box is cleaned regularly and placed in a quiet location, and that you provide enough litter boxes for multiple cats. Cats may also avoid the litter box because of stress, bladder inflammation, a urinary tract infection, colitis, or pain.

#10: Why do cats land on their feet?

Cats have an “aerial righting reflex,” which includes a highly tuned vestibular balancing apparatus, extreme flexibility, no collarbone to inhibit movement, angled legs to reduce impact, and, with the exception of overweight cats, a low body-to-weight ratio that slows them down. Cats developed this reflex from occasionally falling out of trees during their wild predator days.

If you have questions about your cat’s odd behaviors, or are concerned they may be associated with an illness, call our office. We are here to help, and would be happy to check them out.