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Cat Behavior Explained: Understanding Your Cat's Body Language

cat behavior

Cat behavior is often a mystery for us mere humans. Luckily, research into the most common cat body language queues helps explain why cats act the way they do. Here is a list of the 10 most common cat behaviors explained.

  1. Meowing

Kittens meow when seeking their mother’s attention, whereas adult cats rarely meow except to communicate with humans. Cat’s meows vary in pitch, length, and volume. Usually longer more drawn out meows signal a request of a sort – weather it’s food, treats, or a plea to open the door for them. A very high pitch meow can often signal that you have accidentally hurt your kitty, by stepping on its tail, for example.

  1. Purring

Cat purring is one of the cat behaviors every cat owner wants to encourage. It usually means that your kitty is happy and content and you have probably noticed your cat purring while being petted. Purrs also help cats release endorphins and can be used by cats to self-soothe. An interesting fact – members of the cat family that purr do not roar and vice versa. Most big cats roar, whereas our domestic friends luckily stick to purring. Purring is not strictly a cat’s behavior, however, as other animals such as racoons can also purr.

  1. Kneading

Similar to purring, cat’s kneading is a sign of comfort and happiness. Kittens knead during feeding because it stimulates milk release. Adult cats often knead a soft object, like a blanket, mattress, or their owner’s lap showing us that they feel happy and relaxed. If your cat kneads you, it is a sign of love and enjoy!

  1. Hissing

Cat hissing should be interpreted as a warning. Weather your cat is scared or threatened, the hissing is meant to communicate that they are unhappy with the current situation. Some experts believe that cats developed the habit of hissing by imitating snakes. Because most species recognize and stay away from the snake’s signature hissing noise, cats may have used a similar sound for protection. It is quite common to hear your cat hiss when encountering a new animal or during a visit to the vet. Suppress your instinct to pet or punish them and give your kitty some space and time to relax.

  1. Growling

Just like hissing, growling usually signals fear or annoyance. In either case, follow the same tactic as with hissing and give your cat plenty of space. Growling is also a good boy language indicator for putting a stop to a cat play gone too far. For example, we always interrupted our two cats game whenever one of them growled. This helped prevent the situation from escalating. A small note here – sometimes your cat may make a soft growling noise when you catch her off guard. This is a normal cat behavior that signals surprise rather than fear and animosity.

  1. Nail Biting

Some cats spend quite a bit of time biting their nails. While this cat behavior may seem alarming, in most cases there is no need to worry. Cats often bite their nails as a part of their grooming routine. One of my cats bites his nails once every couple of days or so and this is something we just learned to live with. In some cases, however, nail biting may signal boredom or nervousness. If nail biting becomes excessive, make sure that your kitty has plenty of entertainment and watch out for other symptoms of stress.

  1. Napping Positions

Although there is a variety of cat sleeping positions, the two most distinct ones are curled into a bowl and belly up. When cats curl while sleeping, they are able to stay warm and keep all their organs safe and unexposed while taking a nap. If you have guests over or are watching TV, your kitty cat may opt for this more closed off sleeping position. The exact opposite is the belly up pose, which signals that your cat feels completely safe and comfortable around you and in their home. This is why they freely expose the most vulnerable part of their bodies – they fluffy bellies!

  1. Tail Shapes

A cat’s tail plays an important role in cat body language. A crooked tail pointed upwards shows that your cat is happy. You may have seen this typical cat tail shape when coming back home after being gone, for example. A fluffy tail often signals fear. This tail usually comes with an arched back and puffy fur and is part of your cat’s defensive position. You may have also noticed your cat’s tail moving left and right slowly. This is usually an indication that your cat is playful or hunting and is getting ready to pounce.

  1. Messy Eating Habits

Often cats drag their food out of the bowl and spread it all over the floor. Although this cat behavior creates a mess you later have to clean up, there is not a whole lot you can do to change the situation. Eating prey, after all, comes naturally to our four-legged friends and you cannot expect them to consume it neatly in a bowl. To keep things cleaner, use a mat and try switching to a wider, flatter bowl. A short side note here, one of my cats actually goes even further and tries to bury her leftover food. This is also a completely normal cat behavior, linked to hiding the smell of dead prey from potential predators. So much for having nice carpets around the house!

  1. Drinking from the Faucet

Does your cat rush in the kitchen at the sound of running water? At first this cat behavior seems bizarre, but there is a legitimate reason for it. In the wild, running water is cleaner and safer to drink than stagnant water. Our furry friends have only recently been domesticated (compared to dogs, for example), so searching for running water sources may be due to their evolutionary process. Another theory suggests that cats have trouble seeing water, whereas their perfect hearing allows them to easily locate running water. Finally, we tend to place cat water bowls right next to their food bowls. For our cats, this may signal that the water is not clean and that it could be contaminated by nasty food leftovers. Once I moved my cat’s water bowl away from her food, she started using the water bowl regularly.

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