Why Does a Cat Do That?By Ranger Rick Staff; Art by Jay Fosgitt
If you’re lucky enough to spend time with cats, you know that the way they act can be purr-fectly puzzling. We asked cat behavior expert Mikel Maria Delgado to answer Ranger Rick readers’ questions about what cats do . . . and why!
Why does my cat like to sit and sleep in boxes?
Pet cats are closely related to African wildcats. In the wild, there are plenty of animals that prey on these wildcats, especially young ones. So when it’s time to sleep or rest, wildcats often hide out to stay safe. Their tame cousins—including your cat—feel safest inside a box or another enclosed space, too. Also, in the wild, a cat on the hunt will hide until it is ready to pounce on a mouse or other prey. So wild instincts may tell your pet to hide in a box to wait for “prey,” even if that’s just a piece of string!
Lastly, cats like to be warm—warmer than people like to be. A box provides a nice, small space to get cozy in.
Why does my cat bite me when she’s playing or cuddling with me?
Cats have very sensitive bodies. We may want to pet them and cuddle them for hours. But for cats, that can be too much, and they’ll do what they can to make you stop. If your cat is getting irritated, she will probably show you some signs. She may change positions, make biting motions, stare at your hand, or swish her tail. If you pay attention to those cues, you’ll learn what your cat likes and dislikes, and you’ll learn when to stop the snuggles.
Your cat may also bite or scratch when you’re playing. That’s because cats play as a kind of “practice hunting.” Your cat may treat a plaything as prey. So it’s best not to use your hands to play (by “wrestling” with your cat or rubbing her belly, for example). Instead, use toys that keep you at a bit of a distance.
When kittens are nursing, they push on the soft, fuzzy area around their mother’s nipples to help her make more milk. So, when adult cats knead blankets or other soft things, they’re going back to a time when they felt safe and protected by their moms. When cats are in that relaxed, baby-like state, I say that they’re in the Mommy Zone.
Why does my cat drool?
If your cat starts drooling unexpectedly, you should visit the vet to make sure Kitty’s teeth and gums are healthy. If they are, there’s probably nothing to worry about. In some cats, drooling is like purring and kneading: another Mommy Zone behavior that means the cat is relaxed and happy.
My cat loves to scratch the furniture. How can I make her stop?
First of all, if your cat DOES scratch the furniture, don’t blame her! Scratching is a natural cat behavior. When cats scratch, they aren’t just sharpening their claws, as many people believe. They’re marking their territory. They’re also stretching their muscles, which feels good!
To avoid damage to furniture, get scratching posts that are made especially for cats. (An ideal post is at least three feet tall and sturdy.) Put the posts in places where your cat tends to scratch. For example, if the cat was scratching a sofa, put a post next to the sofa. Your cat will thank you—and so will your sofa!
Do cats really always land on their feet?
Cats DO have a reflex that helps them turn their bodies quickly to land on their feet. But that doesn’t mean they’re always safe from a falling injury. Surprisingly, cats are better at turning their bodies when they fall from higher heights, such as the top of a tall cabinet, than lower ones. That’s because they have more time to turn themselves around.
I adopted a cat that used to be a stray. Isn’t it mean to make him stay indoors?
There are many reasons to keep your cat indoors. Outdoor cats could get hit by cars or attacked by predators. And they kill birds and other wildlife. So, keeping your cat safe inside is the nicest thing you can do! Try to make your cat as comfortable as possible inside. Make sure he has cozy places to sleep, good places to scratch, and lots of playtime—especially with toys that remind him of the birds and mice he was used to hunting outside!
If you really want to give your cat some outdoor time, consider taking him for walks with a harness and leash or building an outdoor enclosure—also called a catio. (That’s right: a patio for cats!)
Does my cat love me?
That’s what everybody wants to know! Unfortunately, our cats can’t tell us in words how they feel about us. But we DO know that cat brains and human brains have a lot in common. So, it’s reasonable to think they’d have emotions like ours.
Still, just as with people, each cat is an individual. Different cats have different ways of showing how they feel. Maybe you have some friends who like to hug you and tell you how much they like you. And maybe you have other friends who don’t show their emotions as much. But they’re still your friends. In the same way, some cats like to be in your lap and snuggle. Other cats are more independent. But that doesn’t mean they don’t love their people!
WHAT CATS WANT
Space. Each cat needs space for a litter box—at least one box per cat—and places to eat and sleep that aren’t near the litter box. (Cats are picky, so litter boxes should be cleaned daily.) Cats also love to be up high, so consider getting your pet a climbing structure such as a cat tree.
Warmth. If you think your house is a comfortable temperature, your cat probably thinks it’s too cool. Cats need small, cozy places—such as boxes and cat beds—where their trapped body heat will keep them comfy.
Love. Pet cats are social creatures and need daily attention from their owners! Some like cuddles, some enjoy being brushed, and some prefer playing with their people.
Playtime. All cats need to exercise their muscles and brains by playing. Learn how to entertain your cat—and yourself!—with cat toys.