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Cat behaviour explained

Why does my cat do that? Here we talk about cat’s many different behaviours, and why they do what they do. As all cats are unique, we’ve written about behaviours that are relatively similar for all cats.
Grey cat being cuddled

Susanne Hellman Holmström works giving advice on cat behaviour. A job that often turns into dealing with the behaviour of cat owners.

"I work to create harmony and understanding between cat and human. When we understand our cats, big problems often turn out to be just small misunderstandings" says Susanne

When we get a cat, we rarely think about breed in the same way as we do when we get a dog. Something that Susanne thinks is a shame as she is a strong advocate of finding "the perfect match" from the start.

"It's easiest if you start from yourself and your personality. If you prefer a calmer way, choose a short and chubby cat because they are cooler. If, on the other hand, you want more action, you choose a tall and slim cat because they are more active" notes Susanne.

From the beginning - a desert animal

To understand more of the cat's behaviour, Susanne recommends rewinding the tape and looking back at the cat's history.

"It was in the desert of Egypt that cats were domesticated once upon a time and from there comes their love of warmth. In the desert they were also prey themselves and therefore the cat prefers to hunt at dawn or dusk because then they are the most invisible (you can take advantage of that fact if you are going to release a cat into a new environment because in daylight they don't go as far at all)."

Other cat behaviours that originate from the desert era are the burying of both faeces and food/prey.

"It's about sweeping away their tracks for other predators. For example, not burying one's excrement can, on the contrary, be about leaving a message and the desire to assert oneself and mark one's territory" explains Susanne.

Peeing in the wrong places

Many questions that Susanne receives are about cats that urinate in other places than the owners prefer. Sometimes, however, these problems can be easily solved as it only involves changing the sand or getting more boxes.

"Your cat wants clean, soft desert sand under its paws, but we humans like to choose sand with our eyes and even our nose, then it can get crazy. If the cat is not satisfied with the sand, it may start looking for other soft places to urinate; for example the bed, on clothes and carpets.

The fact that the cat has a phenomenal sense of smell can also lead to it starting to urinate indoors, but then it's about marking territory. A cat can smell the scent of other cats from a distance of 1.5 km and an unneutered male cat has a territory of up to a mile.

We humans help to spread odours when we empty the litter box into the garbage bag and step in with our shoes. Therefore, it does not matter if your cat is strictly an indoor cat, because it can still smell other cats, get stressed and urinate inside."

Talking with your ears

Despite the phenomenal sense of smell, hearing is the most important organ of cats because they hunt with its help.

"Many cats are very afraid of their ears and some do not like being patted on the ears. This is also why they lower their ears during fights," says Susanne.

"Cats also talk a lot with their ears. For example, they angle their ears when they feel they are too close to another cat.

If you have several cats, feel free to study how they behave around food. If a cat angles one or both ears, it thinks the distance is too small. Cats prefer to eat alone and not share food bowls with each other."

Greeting routine - with both eyes and tail

Even when cats greet each other, they prefer to do so from a distance.

"They check each other from a distance. Staring means stop. A wink, however, means a smile and an acceptance.

They also send signals with their tails. Immediately when the cat recognizes a person or another cat, the tail goes straight up in the air but with the tip folded a little to the side."

Cats without jobs

When Susanne goes out to meet cats whose owners feel they have problems, she often meets cats "without a job".

"All cats want a mission, so be sure to activate your cat. Make sure that the hunting need is met and that they get to investigate things and solve tasks and problems. Only your imagination puts an end to what tasks you can give the cat," says Susanne.

"This is especially true of one-year-old, mischievous male cats who wrestle and mess around and require more activity.

These cats can be compared to 14-year-old teenagers. However, be careful not to become the young, wild cat's wrestling partner and invent other activations for it."

Cats want to feel safe

In order to feel good, and not stressed, the cat must feel safe in its territory. A territory marking that provides security for the cat is to rub its cheek against protruding objects, such as table legs, corners and doorposts.

"Good friends also share the same scent. This is why your cat rubs against you when you come home after being out of range.

Another way to see if your cat feels safe and at ease in its territory is to watch how it places its paws when it is resting.

Paws down on the ground means it is on guard and ready to escape. Foot pads that fold upwards tell us that the cat is calm and relaxed," concludes Susanne.

Tips to help your cat to thrive and feel good

1. Food

Give your cat many, small meals during the day, it keeps the blood sugar level even. If cats are fed too rarely, it can lead to fights. Cats like to eat alone, some distance from each other if there are several cats in the household. Feed your cat from large, low bowls so that the whiskers do not hit the edges. Because of their good sense of smell, they can be picky about food that doesn't smell fresh.

2. Liquid

Give your cat plenty of water. They want to be able to see the surface of the water, if their own shadow prevents them from doing so, they can create vibrations on the surface using their paws. Cats often enjoy running water.

It is important for your cat to drink water so that the urine does not become too concentrated.

3. Toilet drawer

The toilet should be clean and contain enough litter that the cat can dig and cover. Think of the desert when it comes to litter boxes. At least one large box per cat plus one extra. Cats hate when they smell another cat. Feel free to try different types of litter and see if you notice any difference in the cat's behaviour.

4. Territory

Cats must feel safe in their territory so they don't get stressed.

5. Sleep

Sleeping under something is a sign that they want to hide. Being high up gives control. Check how your cat sleeps.

6. Fur care

Stressed cats try to calm themselves by washing. Washing away fur can be a sign that your cat is in pain or stressed.

7. Play

Healthy animals play.

8. Hunting

6-8 hours per day an outdoor cat hunts. It is important that all cats have an outlet for that need to feel good. If you have an indoor cat, make sure that it can, for example, hunt for its food. For bored cats, special hunting films can be good.

9. Claws

Make sure your cat has access to a stable scratching spot. This is for sharpening the claws and for scent marking with the foot pads. 

10. Hide

It is a natural behaviour for your cat to look for hiding places, so make sure that it is allowed to hide sometimes. Cats love to sit hidden and watch everything happening.

11. Explore

Let the cat discover new things, especially things that rustle.

12. Social contact

Communicate with your cat! Praise it and teach it things.

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