As much as we love our cats, their behaviour can leave us feeling a little puzzled. From meowing to staring to headbutting, the better you can understand your cat, the better you can care for them. We uncover the fascinating truth about some common feline habits.
As every cat owner knows, our feline friends can be fascinating, mysterious – and sometimes downright baffling company. To attempt to demystify them, we answer 10 of the most commonly asked questions about cats.
1. Why does my cat meow so much?
If your cat is usually quiet and has suddenly become very vocal, it’s important to get them checked out by the vet. Cats can cry out when they are in pain, and any medical causes should be ruled out as soon as possible.
Usually, cats that meow loudly or frequently are simply communicating with you. Depending on the context, they could be simply saying hello to you, or asking to play, for food or for affection. Interestingly, adult cats do not generally meow at each other – they only meow at kittens, or humans.
On a negative note, your cat could be using excessive meowing to vocalise their anxiety, stress, fear or distress. Cats can also meow more at night due to their natural hunting instincts, or when they are older, due to medical conditions.
A number of cat breeds are known to be ‘chatty’ and vocal. If you have one of these breeds, or your moggy cat shares some DNA with one of these breeds, this could explain their noisiness. Chatty breeds include Bengal, Burmese, Oriental Shorthair, Siamese, Sphynx and Tonkinese.
Try to pay lots of attention to what noises your cat usually makes and when. By ascertaining the pitch, volume and tone of their meows, and the context where they are used, you can learn what your cat is communicating to you. Knowing whether your cat is being louder or quieter than normal will also help you to pick on whether something is wrong.
2. Why does my cat sleep on me?
If you have a deep bond with your cat, they’ll look to you for comfort, security and affection. When cats sleep, like all mammals, they can feel vulnerable. It’s essential they feel safe so they can fully relax into sleep. So, by sleeping on you they are recognising you can keep them safe. Alternatively, your cat might enjoy the warmth of a lap, particularly if they are feeling cold.
3. Why does my cat headbutt me?
You might notice your cat leans their head against your head or hand, but feel confused as to why they’re doing this. Generally, cats do this gently and softly, but depending on how ‘wound up’ they are, these headbutts can be a little forceful. Headbutting (also known as head bunting) is common cat body language, however.
There are three possible reasons why your cat could be headbutting you. Firstly, they are showing you affection and demonstrating that they love you. Secondly, they might be trying to rub you with their scent and cover you with their pheromones.
Finally, cats learn how to get you to react to them, so if you usually stroke them when they headbutt you, they’ll keep headbutting you whenever they want some affection. Cats love to receive gentle scratches between their ears and under their chin, so they could be after some specific strokes.
4. How do I get my cat to use a scratching post, instead of the carpet or furniture?
Cats need to scratch, since scratching is a natural behaviour for them. Some cats prefer to scratch horizontally, for example, on carpets and stairs, rather than vertically, such as the scratching post you’ve provided. Others will happily do either; it seems to come down to individual preference.
One way to help your cat engage in their natural scratching urges, while also preserving your soft furnishings, is to put a scratch mat exactly where your cat is currently scratching.
To make the mat more attractive to your cat, use a wire brush to scratch it a few times in the same direction they normally scratch the carpet. This will encourage your cat to start scratching it themselves.
If you rub the upper side of the scratch mat against the scratched carpet or furniture for a few minutes, it will pick up some of your cat’s scent, which could help them find the scratch mat an appealing place to scratch.
5. Why is my cat affectionate towards people who don’t like cats, but not with me?
It’s not unusual for cats to favour the company of those who ignore them. When someone wants to avoid a cat, they’ll typically behave in a quiet and reserved way, signifying they like their own space. As cats favour low-intensity interactions, they are likely to warm to those individuals due to them displaying what cats perceive as respectful, cat-friendly body language.
On the other hand, when someone is trying hard to win their affection, cats can find that behaviour a little overwhelming. This will lead them to try to avoid an overly enthusiastic person.
So, if you want your cat’s attention, try ignoring them and give them the occasional, slow blink. This may not be easy, but if you are patient, you should find that your cat increasingly seeks out your company.
6. Why does my cat yowl at night?
There are a few reasons why a cat might be noisy at night-time. Firstly, remember that cats are twilight hunters, and they may want to be outside. Try giving them some activities to keep them occupied at this time. Either buy some entertaining toys for your cat, or try making some DIY ones. Hide their dried food in an empty toilet-roll tube with some tissues at either end, or make holes in an empty plastic bottle and fill it with food for them to bat about. This may help to satisfy their hunting instincts.
If your cat is female, adolescent (over four months old) and unneutered, she may be experiencing ‘heat’. This is when your cat is at a certain point of her reproductive cycle and is keen to find a mate. If this is the case, having your cat spayed by your vet should solve the yowling problem.
If your cat is senior, yowling at night could be a sign they have feline dementia, also known as cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). This is something to discuss with your vet as soon as possible.
It’s also a good idea to rule out any other potential medical issues that could be causing your cat pain. Bear in mind, however, that cats are very good at masking the signs of pain.
7. Why does my cat stare at me?
Cats use their eyes as a key communication tool. How much they close or open their eyes, as well as how they move their eyes, and what they focus on, can all reveal much about their mood.
When a cat stares at you with the body language of a crouching position and a flicking tail, they could be getting ready to pounce on you.
If your cat stares at you while holding a relaxed pose, this could suggest they feel a close bond with you. Holding eye contact while kneading or curled up is a sign they trust you and feel close to you.
A cat blinking at you indicates a sense of close affection, trust and love. Cats are typically solitary animals and are constantly on the alert for prey or predators. So, if they close their eyes in front of you, it means they trust you enough to relax in your presence. See how they react if you hold their eye contact, slow-blink back at them and then slowly turn your head to look away from them.
8. Why does my cat like being in, or near, water?
It’s rare for cats to like water, but there are some breeds, such as the Turkish Van, who tend to enjoy getting wet and even swimming. Usually, cats are scared of water and actively avoid it. So, if your cat likes to climb into sinks, follow you into the shower, or sit on the edge of your bath, it’s likely to be a quirk of your cat’s personality or else perhaps they want to drink from a running tap. Your cat might like the sound of running water, enjoy playing with it using their paw, or feel curious about it. Keep an eye on your cat when there is water nearby, but there’s nothing to feel worried about.
9. Why does my cat go into my neighbours’ homes?
Confident cats like to explore their neighbourhood, and in some cases, this includes going into other people’s houses. This could indicate there is a friendly relationship between your cat and your neighbours. The relationship might be strengthened further if your neighbour regularly strokes or feeds your cat.
Many cats will visit neighbours’ homes if they can easily gain access through an open window, door or another cat’s cat flap. If neighbours want to discourage this, it’s a good idea to work together. You can keep your cat in more, or keep them in when the neighbours have their doors open, and ask your neighbours to ignore your cat if they see them and not let them into their house.
Visits to neighbours are more likely to be a problem if your neighbour has their own cats, since their pets may be intimidated by your cat. If this is the case, your neighbour may wish to get a microchip cat flap that only allows their pets into the house and not yours.
10. Why does my cat pee on the carpet?
Sometimes cats urinate in unwanted places. Trying to work out why this problem is occurring is key to resolving it.
Firstly, establish whether your cat is urinating or spraying. Unlike regular urination, spraying is a scent-marking behaviour that often occurs when cats feel insecure and need to surround themselves with their own scent. When cats spray, they generally only emit very small amounts of urine on a vertical surface, such as a wall. A relaxing pheromone plug-in could help reduce this marking behaviour.
Once you have established that your cat is not spraying, consider whether there might be an underlying health issue if your cat starts being caught short on a regular basis. Speak to your vet to rule out medical reasons, such as cystitis, which will probably involve your cat’s urine being tested. If the vet gives your cat a clean bill of health, consider whether there are any other reasons why they might be relieving themselves in places you find inappropriate.
Urinating indoors might also indicate a problem with a cat’s usual toileting site. For example, cats that usually toilet outdoors can be deterred from doing so by physical weakness, or by a threat such as a strange cat. It may be helpful to provide an indoor litter tray, even for cats that usually go outside. If they already have a litter tray, your cat may be put off from using it if it’s insufficiently private or too dirty – or even too clean and smelling of chemicals! Try to have one cat litter tray on every floor of your home to allow your cat to access the trays easily.
If your cat always urinates in the same place on the carpet, put a cat litter tray there and gradually move the tray every day towards the area where you’d prefer the cat to urinate.
Does your cat have any particularly puzzling habits you’d like explained? Or have you recently addressed some of their baffling behaviour? Let us know on social media using #PethoodStories – we’d love to hear from you!