Why Do Cats?… 15 Things You Wondered About Your Cat

Anyone who has a cat thinks that cats do some pretty silly things. I personally have a cat who likes licking plastic bags – or anything, really. I also have cats who love to bite, purr, and scratch in odd places. Without a doubt, cat owners always have the question of “why does my cat do that?” on their mind.

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So, why do cats…

1. Scratch?

Scratching is probably the number one reason that people are hesitant to get a cat. If you have an expensive couch or rug, the thought of a cat tearing it up probably makes your insides twist. I’ve been there; over time, I have learned that all straw furniture exists for the amusement of my furry overlords.

There are a number of reasons that cats scratch. On the surface, it’s like getting a pedicure and some exercise; your cat is shedding the dead layers of her claws, and likely stretching a bit while doing it. Scratching also puts a cat’s scent on a place. Once you figure out why your cat is scratching, you can deter them with strong scents (e.g. cologne), then encourage them to scratch on a scratching post or board. Give them a treat for scratching where you want.

Also, never declaw your cat. That’s like taking out a human’s fingernails!

Let’s keep going. Why do cats…

2. Poop outside the litter box? 

Let’s rule out any medical things now. Your vet did a good job last time you went. There are a number of reasons that a cat may leave poop outside the box. One of them might be a substrate preference. My cats like clay litter and will accept no substitutes.

The more interesting situations with pooping out of the box involve multi-cat households. Remember, cats have a better sense of smell than people; droppings are a way of marking territory. Watch your cats carefully and make sure there’s a safe place for the most submissive cat to do her business.

3. Why do cats not get along with dogs? 

In a nutshell: things get lost in translation. Dog communication, such as barking and tail wagging, is usually incomprehensible (“why are you so LOUD?”) to cats or have other meanings in cat language. When a cat wags its tail, it isn’t happy – it’s anxious. This signal says “play with me!” to a dog, and the cat doesn’t get why the dog is chasing it. This is why cats raised with dogs can learn to speak “dog-ese” and get along fine, but other cats may not do so well.

Rolling over on the side for a belly rub, however, transcends species. While dogs do this as a sign of submission, cats do it if they like you. Your cat is showing you her vulnerable underside, which could spell her doom in the wild, so pet away. Some cats who aren’t so familiar might not like this, however, so bear your mutual relationship in mind.

4. Why do cats knead with their paws? 

The most common reason you will hear is that cats knead because it reminds them of kittenhood. Kittens knead their mothers in order to encourage milk. This is a sign of affection! Other times, a cat may be making sure a bed is just right before settling in. As with scratching, this also puts a cat’s scent on a place. There are a number of reasons cats knead, and none of them are bad – even if the cat has its claws out.

5. Why do cats bring home “presents” of dead mice and birds? 

Particularly if you have an outdoor cat, you may have noticed your cat depositing deceased mice, birds, and so on at your feet. Some cats have gotten creative, bringing their owners sponges and gloves, among other non-prey things. If you didn’t shriek immediately, you may have wondered why your cat brought you its kill. Is this like a dog trained to bring a duck back to its master? No; your cat just sees you as an inferior hunter.

When mother cats have kittens, they will frequently kill something and bring it back to their litter. They do this when teaching their kittens to hunt. When a cat brings you a “present,” she is treating you like a kitten. She is also probably going, “are you gonna eat that?”

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6. Why do cats chase Laser Pointers? 

Cats, unlike dogs, are visual hunters. Although color does matter (one of my cats had a very distinct preference for red toys, despite cats not seeing colors well), what really engages a cat is movement, and that is what makes laser pointers so darn fun for cats. You can move a laser pointer freely with more or less realistic motion.

A laser pointer satisfies a cat’s urge to hunt moving things that stand out. They move more than catnip-filled mice, so they’re more like real prey by that token.  Some cat owners like shining the pointer onto a toy to give the cat the benefit of feeling a “kill.” Just don’t shine it in a cat’s eyes!

7. Why do cats get jiggy with it (even if fixed)? 

You’d think that, after being neutered, a tomcat would stop wanting to have sex. However, in my own experience, an eager, fixed tom will try to get it on with a Weasel Ball or blanket. This is normal; “fixing” a cat doesn’t get rid of his hormones 100%. A newly-fixed tom can still make kittens!

8. Why do cats meow? 

Cats meow at people as a form of communication, and not usually between themselves – hisses and growls are more common for cat-to-cat conversation. When your cat meows in the middle of the night for no reason, it means she wants you for something. That could be food, illness (especially in elderly cats), or just some attention.

Also, please bear in mind that some cats are more talkative than others. Siamese cats, for example, are known for being great “conversationalists” – you meow at them and they will probably meow back.

9. Why do cats lick plastic bags? 

One of my cats, Oberon, has a very curious tongue. One of his favorite things is to lick plastic shopping bags. Aside from maybe some weird chemicals, we had no idea why he was doing this until I looked it up.

There are a number of reasons that cats may lick plastic. The two most logical reasons involve scent and sound: plastic is good at retaining scents, and crinkling plastic might sound like prey scurrying about. Other possibilities include stearates in the plastic, which may be derived from animal products, and an attraction to corn starch (it’s in everything!). The texture may be another reason still. If your cat licks and eats plastic, however, she may be suffering from pica – an eating disorder that occurs when a cat doesn’t get enough nutrients from her food.

10. Why do cats purr? 

First off, how does a cat purr? It involves pushing air across the vibrating nerves in the larynx (voice box) using the diaphragm (the area helps regulate breathing, and causes hiccups). The purr can range from 25-150 hertz – that means the loudest cat purr is on par with a rumbling diesel engine! All small cats can purr (including cheetahs), but lions and tigers have traded it for the roar.

Cats usually purr when they are either very content or are trying to make themselves feel better. This is why an injured or scared cat purrs. She’s not happy but is trying to trick herself a little. Some people even think that cat purrs might have healing powers, but this shouldn’t replace a trip to the vet. The best way to decipher a purr is to observe your cat – is she doing anything unusual?

11. Why do cats bite? 

No, we don’t mean biting a mouse or a nice piece of cheese, here. Some cats just seem to have a habit of biting the hand that feeds – literally. It’s not always associated with food or playtime, so what’s going on?

Some cats “love bite.” This is a playful behavior and varies from cat to cat. Other theories hold that this asserts dominance. An aggressive bite is different- you’ll know when your cat is biting you out of anger, not love. If you have a love-biting cat, don’t take it the wrong way.

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12. Why do cats like catnip? 

It’s elementary, my dear cat lover! Catnip contains a chemical called nepetalactone. This causes the cat to experience euphoria on par with that of hallucinogenic drugs in humans. Kitties simply can’t resist this stuff, once they acquire a taste for it. The love of catnip is both hereditary and dependent on age; most cats from Australia don’t care about catnip, and very young and old cats might not even show interest. Big cats, such as lions and tigers, also get catnip highs.

Catnip itself has a few interesting properties. Nepetalactone could be used to make a bug repellent 10x more effective than DEET. Catnip has also been made into a tea for human consumption. It can be used medicinally to combat nausea and as a mild sedative. Even though we humans don’t get catnip crazy, maybe the cats were onto something.

13. Why do cats headbutt? 

Cats headbutt to get their scent on things – even you! In particular, a cat getting her facial pheromones on you marks you as safe. Bunting is a sign of trust. Take it as a compliment!

14. Why do cats rub against humans and things? 

The answer put simply, is the scent. Every little hair your cat sheds contains her scent. Rubbing with their face is particularly effective.

This is the last time I will talk about a cat’s scent-based world. Many mysterious behaviors that cats have can be explained by what they smell. Dogs are even more focused on their noses, so saying “scent” will probably answer the majority of your dog questions, too.

15. Why do cats zoom around the room? 

The answer is simpler than you think: cats need exercise. This doesn’t involve a long, leisurely walk like a dog. Cats, as ambush predators, get little bursts of activity rather than being up all the time. This is also why your cat sleeps so much!

Now, you hopefully know more about your cat! Your cat isn’t crazy, but following instincts that humans don’t necessarily understand. All the “weird” behaviors are totally natural, and part of owning a cat. Are there any other behaviors that you have questions about? Comment below!

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