Understanding your cat’s behaviour
October 16, 2020
Cats share our homes and enrich our lives. They have a natural empathy with humans and have been our companions (and pest-controllers) throughout human history. Unlike dogs and other domesticated animals, cats have retained the same physical form as their pre-human ancestors.
Many cats survive without any support from humans whatsoever. Humans have enabled cats to colonise almost every major landmass in the world – they are one of nature’s born survivors and it’s a privilege that cats choose to live with us.
This information is not intended as a substitute for properly qualified behavioural advice but hopefully will give you a better insight into your cat’s world. This is what we will cover below:
- Seeing through cats’ eyes
- Calming Cat Pheromones
- What is good cat behaviour, bad cat behaviour, and normal cat behaviour?
- Home, sweet, home
- Introducing a new pet – start as you mean to go on
- Give us what we need, where we need it, and when we need it!
- Seeking help for your cat’s behaviour
Seeing through cats’ eyes
SIGHT – Cats are ‘super sensory’ creatures. Their vision in low light and their highly sensitive hearing are virtually unequalled in the animal world.
FEELING VIBRATIONS – Cat’s whiskers are able to detect minute vibrations and provide them with more information about the world around them.
SMELL – It’s not just dogs that have an acute sense of smell. Cats can detect minute quantities of substances by smell, including those formed in foodstuffs when they are going stale – cats really can tell when their food has been down for more than half an hour or so! Just like dogs, cats are acutely aware of the scents of other animals, especially other cats. Scent is a vital method of communication between cats.
TOUCH – We all know how tactile cats can be. They love stroking and cuddling but can go from happy to cross about being touched in an instant.
In addition to their incredible senses, cats have super-fast reflexes and considerable intelligence. Their spatial awareness (including their ability to navigate) is quite extraordinary.
Because throughout their evolution cats have been both predator and prey, they are adapted to be cautious and sensitive as well as inquisitive and playful. Cats’ sensitivity to possible threats means they are prone to stress if they view something in their environment as a potential threat to their safety or wellbeing.
Calming Cat Pheromones
When cats are rubbing their faces on something (or someone) they are smearing on tiny amounts of a chemical they produce called a pheromone. Face rubbing is a sign of calm and contentment. When a cat detects the smell of this pheromone it reinforces these positive emotions. Scientists have managed to reproduce the feline facial pheromone, which is undetectable to the human nose. The pheromone is available as a spray or plug-in diffuser called Feliway and can be purchased from us without a prescription. These products can help to keep cats calm and happy when something occurs that may cause them stress, such as fireworks, the introduction of a new pet, or moving house.
What is good cat behaviour, bad cat behaviour, and normal cat behaviour?
Affection & Aggression – Cats are complex in their relationships and are able to exist happily as solitary individuals, as well as mutually cooperative groups. They are capable of deeply affectionate relationships with some cats, and extreme hostility and aggression towards others – a bit like some human relationships.
Territorial Marking – Cats are very territorial and spend considerable time and energy checking that their environment is safe. When doing so, both males and females (including neutered individuals) will mark their territory using smells (face-rubbing, urine spraying, and faeces marking) or by scratching vertical surfaces. If performed in your house, most of these methods of marking are undesirable to humans, however, we need to understand that they are normal. Therefore, cats should not be considered to be ‘naughty’ for doing these things and will never understand that they are doing something ‘wrong’. Scolding or any punishment is therefore always an inappropriate way to respond to marking behaviours and is likely to stress your cat, usually making the problem worse.
Hunting – Cats were born to hunt mice, birds, and other small creatures. It is unreasonable therefore to be cross with your cat for bringing you their prey (dead or alive). We must remember that taking a cat’s prey from them may cause considerable frustration and it is, therefore, appropriate to wait until he or she has finished with what they have caught. If you really have to intervene, substitute the unfortunate creature with a suitable toy (preferably one with catnip) or provide some food to simulate a successful hunting session.
Some cats may experience similar frustration after play sessions if their toy is taken away afterward, especially if the session is not long enough for them. It’s a good idea to play with your cat before feeding, as this simulates the natural process of ‘hunt it, kill it, eat it’.
Home, sweet, home
Most cats naturally patrol a wide area and exploration of this area provides them with plenty of physical exercise and mental stimulation. Within that area (termed a ‘home range’) cats will establish a safe area (referred to as ‘core territory’), usually within somebody’s house.
Cats will tolerate rival cats or other potential threats within their home range to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the individual’s nature, previous experience, and level of the threat. Threats (including hostile cats) within their core territory cause all cats high levels of stress.
Cats show their stress in a variety of ways, including urine and faecal marking, and irritability or aggression toward other members of the household (including both animals and people).
Introducing a new pet – start as you mean to go on
Imagine if one or more people who you had never met before turned up uninvited and stayed in your house, how would you feel? If these strangers were agitated, hostile, or over-familiar toward you, this would be an even more stressful experience. Why should we expect a cat to cope straight away when a new cat or dog is introduced into the home?
It is essential that your cat(s) and any new cats or dogs should be introduced slowly, and be prevented from being aggressive to one another. This is essential to avoid negative associations becoming reinforced.
Providing every cat with a choice of ‘resources’ – hiding and sleeping places, food, water, and a litter tray – is essential to maintaining their happiness.
Give us what we need, where we need it, and when we need it!
Snooze Time – Cats love to hide and snooze in small, enclosed spaces. It’s even better if these ‘dens’ are off the floor. If you leave a drawer open for long, you’re likely to find your feline friend asleep on your socks! If you don’t like your socks being slept on, then why not provide your cat with an alternative. We stock a wide choice of cosy cat dens and activity centres with sleeping platforms in our shop. Strategically placed cardboard boxes with bedding in the bottom will do the job nicely too.
Eating & Drinking – Cats are very particular about their food and water supply. They show strong preferences not only for the actual food, but the type of bowl (particularly the shape, but also the material it’s made from), and the location is important. Make sure you feed your cat in a quiet spot, well away from doorways, cat flaps, or busy corridors. Many cats prefer their water supply to be well away from their food and may prefer it to be running water from a dripping tap or from a cat drinking fountain. Cat food and water should be located well away from their litter tray – would you like to eat your meals near a toilet?
Toileting – Just like with their other resources, cat litter trays should be located in a quiet spot and on every level of your home. Cats are very clean by nature and will put off using a dirty litter tray, especially if another cat has used it. Litter trays should be checked and cleaned, if necessary, at least twice daily. Cats dislike litter trays that are cramped and are likely to put their front paws into the tray and deposit their urine and faeces outside if it’s too small.
It’s important to provide a variety of feeding, watering, and toileting places if you share your home with more than one cat (preferably at least one each).
Seeking help for your cat’s behaviour
If you are experiencing a problem with your cat’s behaviour it may be due to illness or stress. Please book an appointment to have them examined by a vet so that a plan of action can be made to help them.