Wouldn’t you love to know what your cat is thinking?
You can sit and watch your cat for hours but you never know just what is going on behind those big dreamy eyes. Your cat squints at you, fluttering his eyelids until they almost close. He switches his tail. Is he angry or just excited? We may not know, but we can make some pretty good assumptions about what cats are thinking based upon the full context of their behavioral signing and events that normally follow.
Still, cats are very independent and often hard to understand. Ask most people to describe a cat and most likely you’ll hear words like mysterious, stand-offish, composed, regal, and, of course, independent.
Cats give the impression that they do not need us. They have a quiet composure and dignity that dogs rarely display. And they are rarely obedient like dogs — we usually can’t teach them to fetch the paper or play dead. When they learn, they often learn things on their own.
And boy are they quirky! There are several feline behaviors that range from cute to downright maddening.
Here are a few of the most common quirky cat behaviors, and how to deal with them.
The Midnight Crazies
It’s 1 a.m. and you’re jolted awake by the sound of a trash can lid hitting the floor. You shuffle into your kitchen and there’s your cat perched on the kitchen counter — you swear she’s grinning at you. She lets out a howl, leaps to the floor, runs sideways, leaps into the air, and pounces on nothing with all her might. Your cat has been gripped by the “midnight crazies.”
The “midnight crazies” is a popular name for a cat’s behavior when she plays and roughhouses in short spurts in the middle of the night. The cat may entertain herself with wild activity or jump on your bed and paw at your feet, elbows, hair, and face to get you to join in.
What motivates a cat to such boisterous and disruptive behavior? One theory is that the cat is simply practicing hunting methods, fighting maneuvers, and escape techniques.
“Cats in the wild are active at times when rodents come out, typically after dark,” says Sandy Myers, an animal behavior consultant with Narnia Pet Behavior Clinic in Naperville, Ill. “A cat naturally wants to spend her evenings hunting and playing predator games, even if she is a well-fed house pet.”
Another theory is that house cats become active at night simply because they aren’t getting enough play and exercise during the day.
“Many house cats spend the days alone and indoors while their owners are at work,” says Dr. Barbara Simpson, a board certified veterinary behaviorist with the Veterinary Behavior Clinic at Southern Pines, N.C. “When the owner comes home in the evening, the cat wants to play and will be very active.”
Late-night activity is especially common in young cats with a lot of energy to spare, and in new kittens who simply do not know any better. “The kitten may have never lived with a human family before and not know that she is expected to sleep through the night,” Myers says. “She may also feel a little unsure of her new human family and be uncomfortable about living in unfamiliar surroundings.”
Butt sniffing is a very natural, instinctive, and basic form of cat-to-cat communication. The cat butt sniff is similar to a human handshake. It’s a way for cats to say “hi” to each other. But the same interaction to us humans can seem rude and aggressive, especially when it manifests in an interested cat excitedly sniffing your personal areas. This aspect of cat behavior makes many owners annoyed, grossed out, and uncomfortable.
If you have a cat that is a persistent and even fervent crotch sniffer, please note that this can be very annoying to guests. While it’s natural for other cats and to other cats, the same rules do not apply to humans.
Cats instinctively sniff to seek information about other cats and environments. Scent-based communication is the primary way that cats understand one another. The cat-to-cat butt sniff can tell a cat information about the age and sex of the other cat, if the cat is in heat, what their overall health is like, what the cat is eating, and even provide some clues about a cat’s emotional state. This sniff can help a cat determine if this will be a friendly encounter… or not.
Cats use their sense of smell to help them understand and assess their environment so much, so that it makes sense for them to seek the same information from humans with a butt or crotch sniff, even if we hate it.
If you have the sniffing cat, you can encourage the behavior you want to see and discourage the things you don’t want your cat to do. The common perception is that it’s impossible to train a cat, but with humane but firm commands, your cat can learn that this kind of interaction is not OK in the cat-human relationship. Cats can generally detect most human smells from 3 to 4 feet away but every cat is different and some cats want the up-close and personal “news.”
What else can you do? Stay consistent and clear with your communication. Let your cat know the correct behavior when meeting someone by rewarding the behavior you want to see. In the case of an aggressive crouch sniffer, the best option may be keeping them in a different room of the house when guests are over.
Consider this family scene: It’s your birthday and you sit on the couch, your cat perched at your feet, surrounded by family and friends. Every person is bearing a colorfully-wrapped birthday gift for you. You open each one in turn, show it around, and the assembled throng emits the anticipate ooh’s and ah’s. You thank everyone for their kind offerings. Suddenly your kitty leaves the room and heads for the patio, only to return moments later with a dead lizard that he proudly deposits on your lap.
A fun-filled activity for a birthday party? Probably not. A damper on your appetite for cake and ice cream? That’s more like it. But before you fault your kitty, before you scream, or jump on a chair, or punish your cat, keep in mind that this is normal behavior; your cat has brought you a gift of his own.
Hunting is an entirely natural behavior for cats, even when they are well fed at home. Most cat owners can live with that — even when our ankles become the prey. But what do you do when your sweet, gentle, purring ball of fur deposits a dead carcass at your feet?
Try to keep in mind that it’s a trophy he is giving to you — whether it takes place in a birthday party setting or in the middle of the night. He’s proud of his hunting prowess and wants to share his victories with you. He considers your home a safe and secure den, worthy of being his lair.
Your cat evolved from wild cats, a long line of hunters and predators, and is designed for stalking, hunting and killing. So far, no amount of evolution or domestication has taken the fun out of hunting. Cats enjoy the whole process, stalking patiently and carefully, until they are close enough to pounce.
Laying on Everything
If you own a cat, this must have happened to you: You are sitting at the kitchen table, sipping your coffee and reading the newspaper. Very soon the printed page has turned into a furry, purring kitty — and you are not able to read any more.
Or you are sitting at your desk working on your computer. And before long you can’t find the mouse — or the keyboard — or whatever it is you are using. Instead your sleepy feline is curled up and all tucked in right on the subject of your interest, and you’re not able to continue your project.
Or, you are getting ready for work and you pull out your black suit to wear that day and lay it on the bed. You go back into the closet for a matching shirt, and when you come out your crafty cat is kneading the clothing into shape for a nice nap — and you are not able to wear that piece anymore.
Put a piece of paper in the middle of a football stadium and soon a cat will come and lie on it. Cats like to lie on things — pieces of paper, folded towels, clothing, whatever.
There are several possible reasons for this. For one thing, cats like to be near us. They know that if they plop themselves right under our noses, so to speak, they will get attention, and usually good attention. Cats have a need for warmth and security, and this fills their need. They also want to leave their scent on anything that belongs to us because it makes them feel more secure.
Cats also like small spaces, and that might explain why they will pick a small defined area like a folded towel or skirt on a larger area like the bed. It might be just instinct — or it might be that need for warmth that draws them to an added certain texture of material.
Whatever the reason, it’s just another fascinating aspect of your cat’s behavior for you to observe. So when your kitty is suddenly lying on your newspaper right under your nose, take advantage of this compliment and pay her some attention. The quirkiness of cats is just one of the reasons we love them and find them so fascinating.
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