Weird Cat Behaviour Explained
The actions of our enigmatic feline friends frequently leave cat parents confused or concerned. Here, cat experts unpack and explain commonly mystifying cat behaviours.
Q: Why does my cat suck on and knead blankets?
“When cats engage in the behaviour of suckling and/or kneading on soft items such as blankets, it’s a holdover from kittenhood when they would nurse on the mother cat,” explains pioneer cat-behaviourist Pam Johnson-Bennett and star of the Animal Planet UK series Psycho Kitty. “It’s not unusual for adult cats to still retain those behaviours well beyond the kitten stage. Kneading is an especially common behaviour when a cat is relaxed and comfortable. Suckling can occur when a cat is happy and content but can also be displayed when stressed.”
Q: Why does my cat rub his face on me/my feet?
“Cats communicate through smell and pheromones,” explains veterinarian Dr. Liz Bales. Cats produce pheromones in glands on their face. When they rub their face on you, they are depositing their smell and their pheromones on you. They are claiming you as ‘their person!’”
Q: Why does my cat lick me?
“Primarily, if your cat is licking you, you can take it as a show of affection,” says Dr. Marci Kolski, a certified feline behaviour and training consultant at Feline Behavior Solutions. “Bonded cats will groom each other, and cats who enjoy the company of their people will groom them as well. They may also lick you as a way to ‘mark’ you, and put their scent on you, much the same way cats rub up against people using their cheeks and forehead (called ‘head bunting’). When cats live together, there’s typically an ‘allogroomer’ who will groom all the cats so that they develop a kind of group scent; your cat could be attempting to incorporate you into the group as well. And don’t discount that your cat might actually like the way you taste—for example, if you’ve been working out and are a little sweaty, your kitty may like the salty taste of your skin—or just be trying to let you know it’s time for a shower!”
Q: Why does my cat meow so much?
“Meowing is a form of communication,” says Mikel Delgado, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis. “Kittens meow and cry for mom when they need help or feel insecure. But adult cats don’t typically meow at one another. Meowing is something reserved for adult cats who want to communicate with us! If you have an excessively vocal cat, the first thing to do is make sure all of their needs are met and you aren’t dealing with a medical issue that can lead to more vocalizations. This is relatively common in older cats.
“In most cases, the meowing is a learned behaviour. Cats figure out quickly that meowing gets them something they want—your attention, food, a door opened! Your responses can reinforce meowing behaviour and your cat will make the connection that meowing is a great way to control YOUR behaviour. Specific breeds (such as Siamese) are known for being chatty, and some cats are likely more communicative by nature (sounds like some humans you know?).
“Some cat guardians really enjoy the back-and-forth conversations with their kitty, but some folks really don’t enjoy being woken up in the middle of the night to a cat ‘singing the song of their people,’ so be aware of how you respond to your cat when they are meowing and think about rewarding them when they are being quiet instead!”
Q: Why is my cat sneezing?
“There are several things that can cause cats to sneeze, says Dr. Katherine Kramer, Medical Director at VCA-Canada Vancouver Animal Wellness Hospital. “Occasional sneezes can occur due to dust, odours or other airborne allergens. Constant sneezing is more of a concern and warrants more investigation since it could indicate:
- An upper respiratory infection: There are several types of respiratory infections (bacterial, viral, fungal) that can affect cats. Even indoor cats can be vulnerable as most of these agents are highly contagious.
- Inflammatory disease: Cats can develop chronic sinusitis or rhinitis and even develop polyps that can cause sneezing and breathing problems.
- Foreign body: Cats that eat grass can occasionally have a blade or seed that migrates under the soft palate into the nasal cavity. In our practice, we’ve had some success using a homeopathic remedy, silica, to cause the kitty to sneeze out the foreign body.
- Tooth root abscess: Abscessed tooth roots can cause infections to spread to the sinuses and nasal cavity, causing sneezing, purulent nasal discharge, and halitosis.
- Cancer: Although rare, cats can develop tumors of the bone that invade the sinuses and nasal passages.
“Please consult your veterinarian if your cat is sneezing constantly, your cat has nasal discharge or congestion, or your cat is not eating,” she advises. “A cat’s desire to eat is motivated by his/her sense of smell and an anorexic cat is nothing to sneeze at!”
Q: Why does my cat chatter?
A cat’s chirps and chatter are prey-directed sounds, explains Dr. Susanne Schötz, a Swedish phonetics expert and cat sounds researcher. These vocalizations are part of the cat’s hunting instinct. The cat is copying the calls of their prey. Riveted by the sounds a bird or insect makes, the cat starts to chirp, tweet, and chatter in response.