One minute your cat’s the picture of serenity, the next minute, pouncing upon a spot of dust that glinted in the sun. Cats often seem driven by mysterious intentions, and watching and pondering their behavior can be one of the joys of sharing your home with a feline. But often times, that behavior raises a questioning eyebrow. While I still can’t explain why they like to join you ON the laptop (is it just warm or does he want love?), here are six explanations for your kitty’s antics.
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1. Kneading: Does my cat think I’m a lump of dough?
Rhythmically raising and lowering his front paws on a soft pillow or pile of clothing is often referred to as “kneading.” Less preferably, your cat may jump atop of you and start kneading on your lap, belly or other body parts.
Kneading is common among cats, and no cause has been definitively identified for triggering the behavior. There are several theories: from kittens promoting the flow of milk, to simple happiness, to an instinctive trait.
While it’s overall harmless, it can be annoying if you’re “kneaded upon” while sleeping. If this happens often, keeping kitty out of your sleeping area may be your best route for a good night’s rest.
2. Unhappy with the menu? Why is she eating my blanket?
When you come home to find something chewed up, don’t be too quick to point the finger at your dog. Cats often engage in the chewing and mouthing behavior as well.
Your dog may go after hard objects, such as a shoe or the TV remote, while cats tend toward softer, flexible items. Cats are drawn to yarn or string, fabric, wool or the occasional household cords. According the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine, the reason why cats chew or suck on these objects is unknown. Some breeds, such as Siamese or oriental breeds, may have a genetic predisposition.
Chewing or sucking non-food objects can result in a dangerous blockage, so pay attention to this habit. Start by cat-proofing the home, to restrict access to items of interest. Also check with your vet, who may explore nutritional or dietary causes, and rule out possible illnesses.
3. Why does she ambush me?
It’s fun to watch a cat at play. She slinks down the hall, spots a toy, then pounces. This type of play is normal and a healthy way for a cat to ‘be a cat.’
What’s not quite so fun: when it’s you or a family member who is the object of the pounce. The unexpected ambush of your feet or resting hands can be dangerously startling, and result in a painful scratch. Also, your alarmed and likely angry reaction could frighten your cat, who only had playful intentions.
According to the ASPCA, the best way to avoid this behavior is to maintain a firm rule: toys and non-human objects are the only objects of play. Never initiate a game with your fingers or hands, and re-direct your cat if he begins toying at fingers or toes. It’s best to implement this rule as soon as your cat begins living with you. But it’s still never to late to start. Also, try to engage him in regular play sessions with an appropriate outlet, such as an object dangling from a string, laser game or other toy.
4. Why am I being serenaded each evening?
Its never pleasant to be yanked from sleep to the loud, drawn out sound of a meow or yowl. Yet nighttime vocalization is a common pastime to some cats.
The cause can vary, from behavioral to medical. If your cat is alone during much of the day, or doesn’t get enough socialization or activity, it could be the result of pent up boredom. Another behavioral trigger: if waking you results in food or fresh water. Medical problems could also manifest as restless behavior at night: cognitive disorders, excessive thirst, or pain or discomfort that inhibits sleep.
Check with your vet first to obtain a clean bill of health and for an objective look at your cat’s typical daily routine. If the issue is deemed behavioral, avoid getting out of bed to feed, water, or play with your cat, which only reinforces the behavior. If it persists, a behaviorist may be your best bet.
5. Why is he avoiding the litter box?
Cats are known for being neat and tidy, which makes it even more surprising when a cat eliminates outside of the litter box. The infrequent lapse can be overlooked, but if your cat is regularly missing the target, it’s time to visit the vet. The first thing to consider is a medical issue: a urinary tract problem could be the culprit, or issues related to aging.
If your vet finds no medical cause, consider any recent changes affecting the litter box – have you changed brands of litter, or purchase a different scent? Did you move the litter box, or move the furniture around the box? These changes can be easy to reverse, or to help your cat adapt to.
Changes in family dynamics could also result in stress, causing the upset: a new cat, a lost pet, or a change in the human members of the family.
If you can’t pinpoint the cause and you’re sure it’s not medical, a behaviorist may be able to help.
6. What’s he staring at?
It may seem like your cat spends hours lazily staring. But if you look closely at his eyes, they probably aren’t glazed over, but focused on something.
If your cat is perched at a window, it could be anything from passing bugs to backyard critters. If he’s in the house staring, it’s could be the way the light hits the walls, or he could be people-watching: keeping an eye on you. Each cat has his own definition of what’s interesting.
Cats are great at amusing themselves, and finding something to sit and watch is one of their pastimes.
While no one knows why cats do some of the things they do, it adds to the intrigue and mystery of their companionship.
Debbie Swanson is a freelance writer, published in numerous national and local outlets. An avid vegetarian, animal lover and reader, she loves learning about healthy eating and finding natural cures for everyday ailments.