Why does my Cat do This? :: Training Your Cat
Living with a cat is always an adventure, if one takes the time to observe, to reflect, and to wonder about some of the fascinating behaviors displayed in the course of a single day by a kitten or a cat!!
And, when you have more than one feline in your home, of course there are all the other social interactive types of behaviors to watch and wonder about, too!! One thing you can definitely be sure about - cats do EVERYTHING for a reason!! Sometimes, that reason may involve something that we humans cannot see, hear or smell; and sometimes, that reason may simply and miraculously be part of the genetic and instinctive make-up of the wonderful animal we call a “cat”. Here are some of the more common behaviors many cat owners have observed in their own felines, and perhaps even wondered about the reasons behind that behavior and/or the best way to respond to a certain behavior.
Dunking favorite toys in food or water bowl
Has your cat ever dropped his favorite catnip mouse or rubber fetching ball in his water bowl? Or, have you gone to re-fill his food bowl, only to find a special toy of his right in the middle? It just might be that your cat is trying to find a “safe” place for his favorite things. It often happens that the toy that ends up in the water or food bowl is often a toy that has recently been enjoyed by your cat, or even by your cat with you. In the wild, cats often take their prey back to their “nest” area, and hide it from predators. Indoor cats don’t really have a “nest” per se, so they often consider their food and water dishes as the “safest” areas within their “territory”.
Kneading you with his paws
Most people realize that when their cat kneads your stomach with his paws, he is showing his love for you. Usually, the cat will have a very special, loving expression on his face; he may be purring, and he may even be drooling slightly. Your cat is back in touch with his instincts as a kitten when he does this, and feeling the same sense of comfort and warmth that he did as a kitten when he was with his mother. Young kittens knead their mother’s nipples to stimulate the “let down” reflex in her so that her milk flows for the kittens to suckle. If his kneading behavior is uncomfortable for you, be sure to keep your cat’s nails clipped short, and maybe keep an extra towel around to pad the area he is kneading!
Sudden hissing while you are petting him
Sometimes, your cat may give you a hiss, or even try to scratch or bite you seemingly without warning right in the middle of what you thought was a pleasant petting or stroking session with him. It doesn’t mean that your cat no longer likes you! This behavior most likely is just the only way he knows to signal to you that he has had enough of the petting and stroking - perhaps it has gone on longer than what he enjoys. Chances are, if you think about it, perhaps you had actually continued the session longer than usual, or started thinking about something else while petting him, not realizing that your cat was getting uncomfortable and that so much time had passed.
Licking or chewing photographs & plastic bags
This is a difficult behavior to explain, and some cats are more prone to it than others. Most feline behaviorists have come to believe that some cats find a slight odor to the plastic and/or film surfaces simply irresistible, and also that the coolness and texture of the plastic and/or film must feel and taste good on the cat’s tongue. It may also be another form of trying to “nurse” - sort of a feline “oral compulsive” behavior.
Deciding to play with you in the middle of the night
Maybe your cat’s been listening to too many country-western tunes on the radio about “the night time being the right time”! It can certainly be annoying when your cat behaves this way. But actually, the night time is the prime hunting time for cats in the wild, and his instincts may be telling him to be active at night. Galloping over furniture and knocking over everything in his path may be his way of looking for “prey”! Another key reason for cats behaving this way is when their human families are away all day, it only makes sense that the cat may choose the day time to sleep and snooze, so it can be awake and active when his human family is home. Young kittens and cats especially can be very active at night. Try making efforts to spend time with your cat before and after work, and any time you can during the day, and make a special ritual before bed of wearing him out with interactive toys such as wand toys, feather toys, Whirly Birds, etc., so that he gets to spend time with you, yet gets tired out just before you go to bed. If you have a single cat who insists on behaving this way, you might want to consider getting him a feline companion so that he would not be bored during the day, and could work off some of that energy during the day instead of saving it all up for the night.
Scratching his paws on glass windows
This is most likely your cat’s way of “testing” the glass to be sure that it does effectively keep him away from what he can see beyond the glass. Sometimes, he may see (or hear) things that definitely interest him and that he’d like to explore such as other cats, other animals, potential prey such as butterflies or birds, people, cars, moving and stationary objects. He can be expressing his frustration that he can’t get beyond the glass. And, as the saying goes, “you can’t blame him for trying”!
Chattering his teeth at birds
Most cats make that quite distinctive teeth chattering sort of noise that seems reserved specifically for when they see birds or squirrels, whether outside or on television. Actually, that noise may be more of an instinct than we realize. Many feline behavior specialists have noted the similarity of that noise to the special neck bite that cats use in the wild designed to kill a bird or small rodent quickly and efficiently, before they have a chance to struggle. Young kittens and cubs in the wild have the opportunity to practice this special bite; house cats may just be showing their excitement at seeing potential prey, or possibly their frustration (with the excitement, too) in seeing potential prey that they cannot get to. Many times, you may notice that your cat’s tail is getting puffy, or is twitching in a special way that accompanies his special chattering noises.
Trying to bury his food bowl
Sometimes after eating, or simply when you put down a bowl of wet food, your cat may try to let you know that the food is not to his liking by trying to “bury” the entire bowl! This behavior can also occur when the cat is displeased with the location of his food bowl, the food itself, or possibly when he is not very hungry, and is trying to “bury” his food (which he is then thinking of as “prey”) for him to have later on, when he is perhaps more ready to eat.
Preferring water out of a running faucet
Not surprisingly, cats prefer their water fresh, also. The motion of water coming out of a faucet is very appealing to their sense of hearing, as well as of sight, and possibly even of smell. Even if your cat’s water dish looks clean, bacteria can collect very quickly especially in ceramic and plastic bowls. Always use stainless steel bowls for food and for water for your kitty. And, it is best to change his water daily, after rinsing out his water bowl thoroughly, or even washing it daily. Water that has been standing even a few hours loses oxygen; cats are smart enough to know that the freshest water still has lots of oxygen in it, which is certainly true in the running fresh water right out of the tap.
Rubs his head against you or your shoes
Your cat has special scent glands located in various parts of his body, including the area underneath the skin on his chin, and the area around his eyes. When your cat rubs up against you with his head, he is actually “marking” you with his own scent, as a signal to other cats that he is claiming you as “his”! You will probably notice that when your cat is doing this behavior, he is in a loving, peaceful and contented mood. The scent glands around his face release what are known as “facial pheromones”, sometimes dubbed “happy hormones”! You should feel honored when your cat does this behavior to you as it is demonstrating his deep affection for you. Rubbing his head against your shoes is also a marking behavior - perhaps your cat is trying to cover up the scents from where you have been during the course of the day (which of course will be on your shoes) with his own scent, signifying again his “claim” on you.
Attacking your ankles as you walk by
This behavior usually signifies a kitten or cat who is bored! Cats need to play and to practice their hunting techniques. An indoor cat (especially an active breed like a Bengal, Ocicat or an Abyssinian), without adequate toys, cat furniture and other objects and situations to stimulate him, may well feel that his only chance to practice these skills is on you. They may start making up elaborate prey games whereby they hide behind furniture or out of your sight, and wait for you to walk down a hall, or in to their “lair” where they can ambush you. It is important for you to realize that your cat is not trying to hurt you, and is probably unaware that he may be hurting you. A cat doing this behavior needs more scratching and climbing toys and furniture around, and also may benefit from stuffed animals to drag around, animal-style cat beds which can give them the illusion of company and the security of “mom” or a sibling. A cat that continues with this behavior may well benefit from having another feline friend, who will be able to wrestle and play with him, and help burn off some of that energy he feels. Most often, the cats who exhibit this behavior are males, and there may be some sexual impulses involved, even if the male is neutered. A possible way to avoid this behavior turning in to a bad habit (and your legs and ankles turning in to a war zone) would be to have one of your cat’s favorite rubber balls or mouse toys in your hand, and before reaching the spot where your cat usually ambushes you, try throwing the toy down the hall or in another direction. The idea is to recognize that your cat wants to engage you in a play game ritual, but to make the ritual more fun and safe for you.
Burying outside his litter box
If your cat is scratching around the floor or area around the OUTSIDE of his litter box, especially if this is right after he has used the litter box, he is most likely trying to tell you that something is not right to him about his litter box; either he is displeased with the feel of the litter; the smell of the litter; the type of box; the location of the box; or something to that affect. The only way he can think of to demonstrate this to you is for him to try to “bury” the area outside of his box. If all was well to him with his litter and litter box arrangement, he would jump in to his box, do his business, bury his urine or feces, then jump out and go back to what he was doing.
Trying to nurse on clothes or objects
This behavior is most often displayed by a kitten or cat who was taken or weaned from his mother too early. Keep in mind that just like humans, cats are individuals too, and some may need more time with their mothers for emotional reasons, than others. This behavior often is one that the cat will outgrow as it gets older; however, some cats never seem to outgrow this special babyish behavior. The way to avoid your cat “nursing” on an item of clothing or household item you don’t want him to suck and chew on, is to put something on the item that is distasteful to your cat, such as paprika, hair spray, or citrus-smelling agents. This also works well with cats who like to chew on electric cords. Be aware though that chewing electric cords is often thought to be directly related to your cat’s anxiety due to being separated from you.
Collecting small round objects & string & storing them in a safe place
Cats who exhibit this behavior (and it seems some breeds are more prone to this than others) are usually trying to utilize their natural instinct to retrieve. In the wild, cats hunt their prey, then they bring their prey back to a safe place before they consume it. With house cats, the challenge often becomes how to create safe and meaningful ways for your cat to be able to “hunt” and to “retrieve”. Therefore, some cats seem to develop an enjoyment of taking small objects such as their toys, but often small objects such as jewelry or other possessions of their owners, and collecting them in a particular spot.
Trying to bolt outside the minute you open the door
Cats that have this figured out and are consistent with this behavior are probably strongly attracted to the sights, smells and sounds of the outdoors. Cats like this may do well if you can build a small, safe enclosed area right outside your back door, or if you can try adding a greenhouse window type of enclosure to his favorite window. Of course, ensuring your cat is fixed is the first line of defense, but even neutered and spayed adult cats can still feel their deep instincts to find a mate, and this can be triggered by them hearing or smelling another cat outdoors. If you have a cat like this, getting a companion feline for them is probably a very good thing to do, and they definitely will also benefit from being entertained by having the radio on, the television, hiding their toys around your living room while you are gone, providing several tall pieces of cat furniture, possibly hammock style cat beds at your windows. Try using different doors to enter and exit your house, so that your behavior is not so predictable. Your cat can’t be waiting and watching 2 or 3 doors at the same time!
Constantly making noise or meowing
Some cats, of course, are definitely “talkers” and are very vocal all the time! However, if your cat has been checked out by your vet and there are no medical problems, and he is really trying to get your attention with his constant meowing, it’s time to start paying close attention and try to figure out what it is your cat is trying to tell you! He is possibly hungry; possibly lonely; his litter box is possibly not clean enough for his liking; there may be changes in your home or personal routine that are upsetting to him. Remember - your cat has feelings too, and you should try to look at things from HIS point of view - not yours.
Slowly blinking his eyes at you
This is a fun feline behavior to observe as it usually signals that your cat is very content and serene at that moment. I will often sit quietly and slowly blink my eyes back at my cat, and quite often, this will be just the final sweet comfort that will make them close their eyes completely, secure that they are loved back, for a luxurious cat-nap.
Young kittens between the ages of 3 weeks old and 8 months old will be teething off and on, and will have very strong needs to bite. Just like baby children, kittens are born without teeth, start getting their first baby teeth at about 3-4 weeks old, then they will lose their baby teeth and have their adult teeth come in up until the age of about 8 months old. So the trick here is not to keep them from biting; but rather, to provide them appropriate items to bite. We use heavy-duty plastic drinking straws with our kittens (being careful to cut off any bitten ends and discard the entire straw before it becomes dangerous, as with any toy), and train them from the start that toys and straws are purr-rectly fine to bite, but human body parts are off-limits! If a kitten learns this from the start, there is hardly ever an inappropriate biting behavior as an adult. Some cats start biting out of frustration after they have been de-clawed. Some cats start biting out of misplaced aggression, which usually can be countered by providing the cat a feline playmate, and/or providing them more cat toys, cat furniture, and making their environment more stimulating for them. For a cat with a serious biting problem, often the quickest way to teach them not to bite you is to immediately blow on his face, as soon as you realize he is biting or is about to bite you. Saying “NO!” firmly at the same time reinforces this training. At all times, it is critical that you be thinking and acting on the firm belief that “toys and straws are for biting; human hands are for giving and receiving love”.
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