Cats are fascinating creatures to live with but sometimes their behaviour intrigues, perplexes and even frustrates owners. Here are some insights into the minds and behaviour of cats and why they do what they do.
Peeing on personal belongings
Cats like their environment to have their scent, so when foreign-smelling objects invade their space, they will often choose to mingle their familiar scent with the new one. One of the most effective ways of transferring scent is to urinate or spray on objects.
While it may seem disgusting to you that your cat has urinated in your suitcase or embarrassing that they have sprayed over your friend's handbag, this behaviour may actually be relieving some of the anxiety your feline friend is feeling.
You can prevent this happening by being very tidy with your belongings and by relieving your cat's anxiety.
Cats love to rub up against their owners. This movement may involve their entire body or sometimes just their foreheads and cheeks. Most owners see this as a sign of affection and welcome this behaviour.
When cats rub against objects, they are transferring their scent. It is almost as if they are claiming ownership and we are one of their belongings. Your cat head-butting or nuzzling your face deposits scent from glands in their cheek area. Their weaving through your legs, usually as you prepare to feed them, transfers scent from their sides and tails on to you. This behaviour is also an effective way of making sure that they have your full attention.
Cats need to scratch surfaces to sharpen their claws but they also use this behaviour to deposit their scent. Cats have scent glands on their paws and rubbing their paws along objects places their scent there.
If your cat has the annoying habit of scratching furniture, it is often because this is an area that attracts many different scents. The sides of sofas, for example, are favoured areas and these may have the scents of outdoors, our guests, our bags or shoes. In performing the scratching behaviour, your cat replaces the foreign scent with their own.
If scratching is a problem, then scratching posts are a must. Place these in areas that cats like to scratch and then gradually move them towards your preferred location. There is no use hiding scratching posts in corners, as cats need to scratch in prominent areas. They also often like to scratch at different angles so provide horizontal and vertical scratching surfaces.
Cats meow to communicate with humans. This endearing method of speech is heard in young kittens, to get their mother's attention but is rarely heard between cats. So when your cat meows to you, it is a special form of cat-to-human conversation.
You can encourage your cat's meow by responding to it. Alternatively, if your cat talks too much, you should ignore the meows and respond when they are quiet.
Cats kneed prior to relaxing. This involves pacing with their paws, on top of a soft object - usually a bed, a blanket or our lap. Some cats will purr or even drool at the same time. Kneeding is often a pleasant behaviour - until the claws come out.
Kneeding first begins when kittens are suckling milk from their mother, the padding behaviour stimulating milk release. Cats carry on with this behaviour, perhaps to recreate pleasant feelings, to create a comfortable spot or to place their scent on the underlying object.
If you enjoy your cat on your lap but can't stand the claws, keep their claws trimmed and place a thick blanket between you and your cat.
Cats communicate to other cats and to humans using feline body language. The tail is an important part of this communication.
A swishy tail signals high arousal, often due to anger or play. The swishing tail is a warning – of impending attack. If your cat holds their body low and the tail begins swishing, look out. They are probably about to pounce. Direct their energy onto appropriate toys and enjoy.
About Dr Joanne Righetti
Dr Joanne Righetti is an animal behaviourist, educating the public and professionals in all aspects of the human–animal relationship. Her background is in zoology, with a PhD in animal behaviour and a counselling diploma – qualifications which enable her to work with all sorts of animals – including the human variety! Joanne likes to help pet owners understand their pet's behaviour and solve any pet behaviour problems. She also consults to a variety of organisations including non-profit organisations, commercial companies and councils and is involved in a variety of media including regular spots on radio. Joanne is an honorary associate of the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, University of Sydney. Find out more about Joanne at www.petproblemsolved.com.au