Conscious Cat

January 26, 2011 54 Comments

Why Do cats Do That?

Posted by Ingrid

I’m always tempted to answer this question with “because they can” – after all, they’re cats, and most cats think, or rather know, that they rule the world.  However, there are “real” answers to some of these questions, and here’s a sampling.

Why do cats knead with their paws?

We’ve all seen them do it.  It’s also known as “making biscuits.”  The most common explanation is that it reminds them of when they were kittens and pawed at their mother’s teats to stimulate milk secretion.  It’s why cats seem to be so content, and almost go into a trance, when they knead – kneading takes them back to one of their earliest happy memories.  Most cats purr while they knead, and some will even drool.

Why do cats like to weave through and rub up against their human’s legs?

Most people think they do this to show affection, although perhaps, if that’s what it is, cats should find a better way to show that they care than by trying to trip the human who fills their food bowl.  What they’re actually doing is marking you with their scent.  Cats have scent glands on the side of their face and on the tip of their tail.  These glands produce pheromones, and by rubbing up against your legs multiple times, they’re mingling their scent with yours.  You now belong to them, as it should be.

Why do cats inevitably find the one person in a room who doesn’t like cats?

Unless your cat is the most gregarious and social cat on the planet, he’ll be a little uncomfortable walking into a room full of strangers who are all cooing or staring at him, so he’ll zero in on the one person who is completely ignoring his presence, perceiving that person as less intimidating.

What makes a cat purr?

Scientists are not sure about the exact mechanism behind purring, but the most common explanation is that the cat’s brain sends a signal to the laryngeal muscles to vibrate.  At the same time, the cat is inhaling and exhaling, and the stream of air is causing the vocal chords to vibrate.  Even though most people assume that cats purr when they’re happy and content, purring can also be a sign of stress, such as during a visit to the veterinarian, or after an injury.  The purr is thought to comfort the cat in these situations.

Why do cats race around the house like crazy without warning?

Even though they live in our homes and eat from a bowl, cats are natural hunters, and they’re designed for the speed of the hunt, especially when they’re young.  In an environment where there’s nothing much to hunt, chasing imaginary prey through the house may be a way for them to release pent up energy.

What do your cats do that you’ve always wondered about?

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54 Responses to “Why Do cats Do That?”

  1. I read It’s A Cat’s World, You Just Live In It by Justine Lee, DVM which has 224 questions and answers similar to these all about cats. It’s a good book with humor thrown in. Here’s the link to my review of it if you are interested: http://ourstack.blogspot.com/2010/12/its-cats-worldyou-just-live-in-it-by.html

  2. Great post… I love learning the inside scoop on why I do the things I do…

    pawhugs, Max

  3. Amy Nievera says:

    My cats like to smell and lick my toes. I have no idea why.

    • Ingrid says:

      Amy, that’s too funny! Allegra likes to lick me after I use body lotion, but she’s picky – she doesn’t like every lotion I use!

      • Ivy does that too…and like Allegra doesn’t like certain scents. I used a eucalyptus scent once, she came over, licked my hand and went into the center of the room and fell over like she had been shot. I would have worried except she kept looking at me to be sure I knew she wasn’t happy with my selection. :)

  4. BeckyH says:

    I wonder why cats tend to run like crazy through-out the house after they have done their business in the litter box? Like they are trying to out run the smell?

  5. I agree with Becky. Odin races like mad after a good poop. And he waits until I’ve just cleaned the litter for a big one. Re: purring especially while kneading is what kittens do to signal their moms that they’re getting enough milk and for mom to produce more.

  6. Kent Butler says:

    Both Princess Fluffybutt and Rascal will suddenly jump up and tear through the house for no apparent reason, but seldom together. When finished running, Rascal sometimes looks around like he’s wondering why he just did that.

  7. Erin says:

    I know my cat has most of her quirkiness from being weaned too early, but she has one habit we can’t figure out; she licks things with a smooth, plastic-y surface. We have to hide the mail because she’ll lick the stamps and the “windows”, we have to watch her playing in boxes because she’ll lick the packaging tape and she’s ruined quite a few pictures by licking the coating right off (pictures are her favorite – she tends to steal and hide them, and we’ll find them licked to the point where the color is faded). We can’t figure out why, or if it’s only because she just really likes the texture. But she’s the only cat I’ve known to do this. Any ideas why?

    • Ingrid says:

      Erin, some plastic products use fish oil or other rendered animal products in the manufacturing process, and that’s most likely one of the reasons why cats seem to like to chew on plastic so much. I don’t know what’s in the finish of pictures, but I suppose it could be the same type of thing.

      • Julie says:

        My Kirby does the same thing with plastic plants and real plants. He loves to eat rose petals. If I put a vase with roses on the table he pulls them out and then he drinks the water from the vase. He even goes for silk flower arrangements. I grow cat grass for him but he still wants the plastic ones. He also loves marshmallows and rubber bands.

      • Kristina says:

        My cat is obsessed with plastic grocery bags especially produce bags. I wonder if that’s why. Though she doesn’t eat them so much as play with and climb inside them.

    • Lucy says:

      Erin that sounds a lot like my kitty Peanut- she was weaned too early at 4 weeks (yikes!) and she kneads while purring and drooling, and she eats plastic! She is the absolute sweetest can I’ve ever known. I’ve never had a cat who did the drooling and plastic eating. Her favorite plastic is sandwich bags, or similar thin plastic. We have to be very vigilant, about leaving any plastic within her reach, and I’m paranoid that it will kill her someday!

      • kathy g says:

        I have 3 kittens that are a year and a half old. I also still have their mom. One of them makes biscuits on me and also chews plastic, licks tape residue, will steal fruit snack wrappers.

      • Kim says:

        My cat, Dudley, liked to lick, knead (we call it doing mitts) and drool. I just assumed it was from being weaned from his mama too soon. I loved it! He was the best baby boy! Now, my cat Lilly does the licking of plastic, as well. We have to almost baby proof the house, so she doesn’t go lick crazy. I had read that the licking, in addition of being weaned too early, is a sign of OCD.

  8. This is great! I always assumed when my cats were rubbing against me, they were marking me. It sounds like that’s pretty much the case :) I’m happy to intermingle my scent with theirs!

    I’ve read a bit about the subject, but would love your take on why my cat drools when he is happy and purring. He has no dental issues — he’s just a happy little drooly boy.

    • Ingrid says:

      Angie, I think the theory behind cats drooling when they’re happy and purring goes back to kittenhood. Quite often, the purring and drooling is accompanied by kneading, which takes them back to the feeling they got when they were nursing, which might stimulate the salivary glands.

  9. Laura says:

    I have a cat who’s name is Brat and trust me she fits that name to a T.. She’s one funny cat… she loves shiny things especially beads…necklace type beads I have one that i let her play with its kinda cheap looking and got it from the Festival this past Feb. Also she loves to lick the palm of my hand too I just don’t get that.

    • Ingrid says:

      Laura, it sounds like Brat likes whatever she tastes on the palm of your hand. Allegra loves to lick my arms after I put body lotion on – one brand in particular seems to taste really good to her!

  10. Laura says:

    Yea i just hope that lotion dont make her sick. Another thing my cat does is everytime i head into the bathroom to do my thing. My cat is right behind me and soon as i sit down she lays down under my legs. ROFL She dont do anything else.. She just lays there.. However i did have this one cat.. I miss him so… He use to take a bath wit me.. yes he did.. actually got into the tub and sat on my stomach. I was like.. uhm. Can i take a bath without getting fur all over me? He looked at me as if he understood what i said and got out. ROFL strange yes i know but he loved water.

  11. Laura says:

    Oh, I got a cute picture that you’d like lol my cat thinks the Beta fish bowl is her water dish! >.<

    dont worry link is safe its on my server. :)

    http://www.crossaddiction.info/brat.jpg

  12. Jeff says:

    Why does my cat like to drink water out of my hands than out of a bowl? He started to do this about a couple of weeks ago.

    • Ingrid says:

      Now that’s a new one to me, Jeff! Maybe one of our readers has an answer?

    • Julie says:

      My cat, Kirby likes to drink the water out of the faucet when it is running, maybe because he knows that it very fresh that way. I don’t know about the palm thing but if I put my hand under the running water he will drink out of it.

      • Ingrid says:

        Maybe having your palm under the running water makes it a little easier for Kirby to drink, Julie.

      • Murphy says:

        Cat I had once would dunk one of His front paws in the water dish…..then lick His paw…..to get water

        • Lucy says:

          I have a cat that does that too! (dips her paw in the water then licks it off) I’d never seen it before. She has now taught our younger cat to do the same!

        • annie says:

          both of my cats have a beaker on the table for their water, they refuse to use a bowl. if the beaker is not full they sit and wait until you fill it. full on waiter service in our house!!!

    • Kristina says:

      Do you keep your cats water bowl next to his food? They don’t like to have them near each other and will look for other sources of water.

    • Milton says:

      My cat does the same thing.

      He wants to put a paw in a glass and then lick off his paw. Sometimes he knocks over a full glass.

      So I pour a small amount of water into my hand (it could be other liquids like tea, kool aid or whiskey but not wine, coffee or juice.)

      He laps it up despite having at least two full bowls of water nearby.

      I suspect it’s bonding behavior like sharing food or sleeping nearby.

  13. 2Cats says:

    Jeff,
    Have you changed the actual water bowl recently? Maybe it is the material that the bowl is made of? If it isn’t a proper bowl the water could be leaching the material and making the water taste funny. Cats prefer really super clean water. Maybe your cat believes that the water from your hands is the freshest. Just some thoughts :)

  14. Rose says:

    My cat always drinks water from my glass. If there’s a piece of paper in the room he will sit on that rather then all the other options in the room!!

  15. Mike L says:

    We have three cats now. They all purr and rub, marking everything as their own. The two newer ones race around the house, sometimes smashing into walls cause their sliding and can’t stop.

    Our little ones brought us eighteen toy mice around our bed the other day, they’re hunting and bringing us their catch. The prior “mouse” record was 11.

    Now, I know one of the reasons they rub their paws around the food is instinctive to bury it. One time, it seems because they like it and want to save it for later. Another time, the older Siamese. Lilith, will paw around food which is a different message to us that she hates the food. She just wals up, smells, paws, and walks away yelling at us for feeding her stuff she doesn’t like, She’s a very finicky eater.

  16. Kristina says:

    I wonder why my cats store their favorite toys in or near their food bowls and why my one cat is obsessed with plastic grocery bags tho perhaps they are made with fish oil of other animal products as suggested in a previous comment.

  17. Mike says:

    my two Manx cats rush to the water closet when they hear me close the door. Obi will win. he runs against me, purrs, and turns on his back for me to rub his belly. he stalks All 5×4. I brought the brush in and now he gets a brushing as be wanders around. then he attacks the brush with a vengeance.

  18. Here’s the one I can’t figure….there is a spot right at the base of Ivy’s tail. scritch it JUST right…and her tongue comes out like she is licking something. and while I was sure it was just her, I discovered the other night that my one foster kitten (Coral) does the same thing. I keep telling Ivy I just don’t understand where there is a nerve in her butt that is attached to her tongue. :)

  19. Margie says:

    I have a 3 tear old male smoke tabby who jumps on my back when I am bending over to clean the litter box or pick up food dishes. Anytime he gets the opportunity! He then rubs on me and lays there and purrs. I raised some kittens last year and ended up keeping some (I am a foster failure!), and a few of them do the same thing. I assume they learned from him. It’s pretty funny but sometimes can be a complete surprise! I think this is a form of affection and letting me know they “own” me!

  20. Lora says:

    I know this is an older article, but I possibly have some insight on a few things. The water dish dilemma: my Fluff-monster is soooo picky about the water bowl. I found out that if they can’t see the surface of the water, they will pass on a drink. Or, they will paw at the side of the bowl until the water ripples. I guess they really don’t want to suck water in their little noses. Sometimes when we arrive home the water dish will be several feet away from it’s normal spot. Not spilled, just sitting in the middle of the room. First I thought we had a ghost. Nope, it was the cat. Also, a cat’s whiskers serve as guide for them to judge tight spaces. It’s an instinct. For example: a wild cat is hunting in the forest. He finds a rabbit hole. He will stick his head in, but if his whiskers touch the sides he knows the rest of his body will not fit. Long story short, they prefer shallow dishes so their whiskers don’t touch the rim.

    Maybe I just have a diva cat.

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