Why Do Cats Do That? Common Cat Behaviors Explained

By Amanda Eliis Dec 8, 2016
Why Do Cats Do That? Common Cat Behaviors Explained

A cat’s eccentric behaviors, strange activities, and unusual habits all have a purpose — of sorts. The same things we love about our pets often leave us mystified, wondering why they do the things that they do. Here are some explanations for the most common cat behaviors we often cannot seem to understand.


Knead Their Paws

This massage-like stimulation of a cat’s paws against your body or another object is both a sign of contentment and a natural instinctive behavior. This pattern begins when cats are kittens, as a way of stimulating milk to flow from their mother’s mammary glands. Kneading continues through adulthood as a method of alleviating stress.



Bring Back Dead (Or Live) Animals

Cats are instinctive hunters and learned as kittens that mothers are supposed to bring home prey to feed them. Once a cat is an adult, hunting becomes second nature, and they may bring you prey to thank you for taking care of them or because they are trying to provide you with food they know you could not otherwise have gotten yourself — like a mother does for her kittens.



Claw Furniture and Other Objects

In the wild, sharpened claws are essential for catching and eating prey. Cats were born with the instinct to claw objects in order to strengthen their claw muscles and sharpen and exfoliate the old nail to help the new nail grow stronger. Scratching posts and other toys that encourage cats to claw can help save your furniture from destruction.


Enjoy and Seek Out Small Spaces

Cats habitually like the feeling of being safe and warm. They enjoy napping in confined places because they are protected from any dangers that being out in the open would otherwise expose them to. They are stealthy by nature and for wild cats, hiding from predators is essential to survival. 



Climb Trees and Other High Up Places

Similar to hiding in small spaces, cats climb trees and other perches for protection, in order to escape predators, or simply survey the landscape below to gain awareness of their environment. Cats associate heights with safety, and the higher up they are the better vantage point they have of the world below them.



Love Catnip

Cats tend to go crazy over live catnip plants and toys and objects containing a dried version of the substance. The reason for this is that the plant contains an oil called nepetalactone that stimulates pheromones, resulting in a feeling of euphoria in felines. The effect is short lived and tends to be passed down from generation to generation.


Go Outside at Night

Indoor and outdoor cats alike can exhibit a natural desire to go outside in the evenings. This is because cats are nocturnal creatures and instinctually wired to hunt at night and sleep during the day. Cats have excellent eyesight in the darkness and use their evolved whiskers to help them move unseen across open landscapes.


Rub Against Your Legs

This behavior can be attributed to the fact your cat loves you — and wants you to smell more like them. By rubbing up against you they are transferring their feline scent in the form of pheromones onto your body, making you more attractive to them and also marking you as their own. Although you can’t smell it, other cats can.


Constantly Groom Themselves  

Unlike humans who are able to bathe themselves with water and soap, cats use their natural body parts to clean themselves. They are instinctually hygienic animals and come equipped with a full grooming kit including teeth, paws, and a tongue that can all be used in conjunction to wash, scrub, and primp their hair coats. It is estimated cats spend more than 50% of their waking hours washing themselves.


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