Mind Candy

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Understanding cat behavior -Why Fluffy won’t cover her poop and other issues

Posted by mandyf on September 29, 2011

What is this cat really saying?

Cats tell their owners a variety of things through their sounds and actions. Understanding what a cat is trying to tell you however isn’t always easy. In many cases actions or sounds a cat makes are completely misinterpreted meaning Fluffy or Mr. Bigglesworth is going to keep repeating whatever message they are trying to get across over and over again. In other cases there are things cats do that are just really cool to understand because it contributes to their overall badness – in a good way.

photo by Cindy McCravey

On the prowl

Cats are hunters – in fact cats will hunt living prey even when their hunger is completely satisfied for the sport of it. When your cat snags a low flying bird or that mouse that has been snooping around and drops it on your slippers or leaves it someplace they know you are going to see it, they are not presenting you with a gift. That is a total myth that has been perpetuated for far too long.

When cats present you with their slain prey they are trying to teach you – just as they would their kittens. In essence they are saying that when it comes to hunting – you suck and need help. Seeing the dead prey is supposed to get you on the same page with them so you can start pulling your weight. If the present thing makes you feel better though, feel free to go with that – most people do because it’s more comforting than knowing your cat thinks you’re incompetent.

photo by Jennifer Leigh

Always time for one more lick

Most people think cats groom themselves all the time because they have OCD about being clean or something, but in reality they are trying to get rid of smells they don’t want on their body – usually yours. When cats groom themselves – which includes when they tug on their fur – what they are doing in large part is stimulating glands that release their own scent. Sure they like being clean, but they prefer their own scent on their body way more than yours for reasons that will be explored in another section. Think of it this way – when you pet your cat and they walk away to groom them self, it would be like if you gave your nana a hug and she bolted for the shower. Nice, huh?

Everyone has seen a cat give the hiss of death – and it is pretty freaky scary. Did you ever really look at cat doing that though and wonder what is behind it all aside from fear? The hiss is a part of the defense, but the rest of the posture your cat takes on is mimicry – specifically mimicking a snake. Most living things really don’t want to tangle with things that can kill you – and Fluffy along with pretty much everything else knows that.

photo by Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez

The hiss of death from a full defensive posture

You’ll notice when a cat goes into it’s defensive posture and hisses, it also spits to mimic the release of venom. Pretty cool, huh? That’s not it though – they bare their teeth (fangs), squint their eyes,  and push their ears down flat to take on a more snake-like appearance. The total package is meant to strike immediate fear into anything that threatens them – and if your cat does this to you just back away slowly and leave the tuna casserole out.

What about the way a cat meows? Cats are pretty smart and they do have mimicry mastered which was just established. With that in mind, cats have a meow for pretty much every occasion. When they want to be fed or nurtured they will meow as close to the sounds a human baby might make when in need as possible. When they want something (Like right now!) they will amp up the volume and toss in the equivalent of a bitchy feline tone. They have the contented purr, and everything in between. A recent study even examines the various meows and yelps cats are actually believed to learn specific to their owner to get what they want.

Did you ever wonder why your cat doesn’t cover their poop? The simple answer is that it is the way a cat gives you the finger. Cats cover their droppings for two reasons – to hide their trail so predators cannot track them as easily, and to show respect to the pack leader. When a cat doesn’t cover their poo it is their way of saying they are running show and you are no threat to them. A major sign of disrespect is when they evacuate in the open like in front of a door or on your bathroom floor.

People like to believe that when their cat rubs against them it is their way of giving you a cat hug. That is a sweet way of looking at things, but in actuality it is the feline version of a prison tattoo. They are saying you are their property and any other critters in the area better back off. The most active glands on cats that release their scent are located on their sides, around the base of their tail, and their face. So when your kitty is rubbing up against your leg what it is really doing is marking you as theirs. The hug thing is nice, it’s just not true.

So now you know what your cat is really telling you with a few of their very common behaviors. Don’t let knowing what is really going on change the way you feel about your kitty, maybe take a few cues from them and try things their way for awhile – unless you like finding a surprise in your shoe now and then.

http://www.petpublishing.com/catkit/faq.shtml

http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/60-second-science/post.cfm?id=the-manipulative-meow-cats-learn-to-2009-07-13

http://www.petplace.com/cats/why-do-cats-cover-their-waste/page1.aspx

http://cats.suite101.com/article.cfm/why_cats_rub_against_things

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