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5 Common Cat Behaviors Explained

Written by Jessica McCawley

How often have you heard someone saying they don’t like cats because they’re too unpredictable? Have you said this yourself? Many times people say this simply because they don’t understand how cats communicate and behave. Here are 5 common comments and questions about cat behaviors and their explanations:

Image shows cat with head in person's hand. Text on right says, "Many cats prefer gentle scratching around the chin as opposed to strokes that go along their entire body."

"Cats are mean because when I pet them, they bite me/swat at me out of nowhere!"

If a cat bites or swats at you while you pet them, it doesn’t mean they hate you. These reactions are a cat’s way of telling you the way you’re petting them is either too aggressive or in a spot they don’t like. Many cats prefer gentle scratching around the chin as opposed to strokes that go along their entire body. You can also try letting the cat guide your hand by touching your finger to their nose and letting them rub against you.

"This cat looks like it wants belly rubs, but as soon as I try to do that, it attacks me!"

While dogs often present their bellies for rubs and scratches, cats do this as a sign of trust. When you go to pet a cat’s belly, the cat either thinks it’s playtime or is reacting to that “broken” trust. Some cats may enjoy the occasional tummy rub, but usually only from people they know really well.

Black and white image shows cat sitting beside a woman. Cat has head raised as woman pets the cat's head. A blue box to the right contains the text, " Understanding cat behavior: Spend more time playing during the day to cut down on your cat's night-time antics."

"My cat sleeps all day and then runs all over the place at night! What gives?"

Cats are nocturnal, so this behavior is normal. Spend more time playing during the day, especially before leaving the house or going to bed to cut down on the night-time antics. Before leaving or going to bed, block off any areas you don’t want your cat getting into. A feeding schedule that gives your cat more energy in the morning may also help.

"Cats just knock things over because they’re jerks."

Cats knock things over for a few different reasons. They either are playing, wanting your attention, or testing their prey instinct. Find ways to prevent this by placing fragile items out of their reach, checking their water or litter box more frequently, and ensuring they get lots of playtime with you.

"Why does my cat rub against me or on stuff around the house?"

Cats have scent glands in their cheeks and forehead, as well as other parts of their bodies such as their tails and paw pads. They rub those areas on objects to mark their territory or on people and other members of the house to claim them as part of their group. Cats will usually rub against the areas they can reach, such as hands or legs, but headbutting signifies that you’re particularly special to them. If you pet your cat in response to rubbing, this tells your cat that you accept them as part of your group, too!

These 5 tips won’t make you a master of feline communication, but hopefully they help you understand cats a little better!



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