10 Strange Cat Behaviors Explained - Vetstreet (2023)

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byLaura Cross

Published on March 04, 2014

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There’s no denying that cats are excellent companions, but sometimes they do something that leaves you scratching your head in total confusion. If you’re used to dogs, cats’ social interactions and the way they communicate can be very confusing. Yet it’s these special behaviors, like affectionate head-butting and their penchant for cardboard boxes, that make us love them so much.

To help you better understand your elusive feline, we rounded up 10 cat behaviors that people commonly consider mysterious. You’ll find that many of these habits aren’t weird at all for cats — they’re normal.

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Chatters at Birds

The truth is, behaviorists aren’t exactly sure why cats sometimes emit a clacking sound when they see a cardinal or mourning dove fly by the window. Some behaviorists speculate that it has something to do with cats’ pent-up frustration of not being able to go outside and catch the bird. Others think the rapid-fire movement of the jaw is a Pavlovian instinct allowing kitties to prepare their muscles for the act of killing prey.

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Head-Butts You

When a kitty head-butts you, it’s just his way of saying, “Greetings, I trust you and feel safe.” It’s also one of his methods of sharing facial pheromones with you. Behaviorists actually call this curious behavior "bunting." If your kitty doesn’t bunt, it’s nothing to worry about — he just might not be the head-butting type.

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Brings You "Presents"

It’s what you’ve always wanted: a dead rodent or insect at your feet. Behaviorists have many theories about why your kitty insists on doing this. As a kitten, her mother might have brought back dead prey. You might actually be encouraging her behavior by paying her more attention when she offers you “presents.” Your generous feline might share her prey to thank you for feeding her, or she might simply be sharing her successful hunt with you, acknowledging that you are a member of her “friends” group.

When feral cats are able to obtain more food than they need to eat, they may bring the extra kills back to other members of the colony, especially juveniles, kittens and nursing mothers. In other words, your cat may simply think you could use some help having enough to eat. While this is a gross habit from the human perspective, don’t punish your cat for doing what she does naturally. Instead, try to keep her indoors, or put a bell on her collar so that it is more difficult for her to catch prey.

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Chews Plastic and Other Weird Things

Plastic, dirt, carpeting, wiring, milk jug rings, wool blankets — if your cat eats this kind of item, she might have a condition known as pica. Cats can develop pica for medical reasons such as gastrointestinal disorders, or it can stem from anxiety. Much like humans bite their nails or twirl their hair when nervous, cats chew on non-food items as a way to cope with their anxiety. Now, this is a weird kitty behavior that you do have to worry about. These objects can wreak havoc on your feline’s gums and GI tract. And if she’s anxious, she will also need help with that. If you have a kitty who persistently eats non-food items, you should take her to your veterinarian.

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Kneads You

So your feline is rhythmically pressing her paws one after the other, as if she’s giving you a massage. What gives? Chances are, she’s “making biscuits” because she’s content and happy, trying to alleviate anxiety or wants to mark you with her scent. The instinctive behavior begins shortly after birth, when kittens move their paws against their mother’s mammary glands to stimulate milk flow. If your kitten continues kneading as an adult, sit back and enjoy the massage. If it’s truly out of hand, you should talk to your vet.

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Loves Boxes and Other Small Spaces

There are plenty of spacious and comfortable places your cat could sleep: your bed, the couch, a chair or even a plush pet bed placed on the floor just for him. So why does he choose to curl up in a tiny cardboard box, uncomfortable bathroom sink or small cubbyhole? Well, small spaces make cats feel more safe and secure. In the wild, felines need to be stealthy to survive, so sleeping in the middle of a wide-open field makes them susceptible to larger predators. Hiding in a small den, on the other hand, makes it more difficult for predators to find them. So next time you find your kitty napping in a box, remember, he doesn’t want to be hunted (or bothered).

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Stares at You

Nothing’s quite as disconcerting as having a pair of unblinking eyes trained directly on you. Don’t fear, your cat’s not trying to control your mind. She’s probably trying to get your attention so you’ll give her some food. If she’s not trying to coax her next meal out of you, she’s likely just staring at you because she thinks you’re truly the cat’s pajamas, and wants to know exactly what you’re up to.

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Ignores You

One minute your cat’s eyes are glued on you, and the next he couldn't seem to care less about you. Like people, cats sometimes just need quiet “alone” time. When your cat is acting like he needs some space, let him have it. He’ll feel safer with you because he knows you respect that need. By allowing your cat to have his alone time, you’re setting the stage for him to come seek you out for some cuddles and lap time.

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Does Not Cover Up Her Poop

When a cat fails to cover up his waste in the litterbox, it could be a sign of a medical or behavioral issue. There are many painful conditions, like a urinary tract infection or an injured paw, that may cause cats to avoid the litterbox. To rule out any health problems, take your cat to the vet. If it’s not medical, then your kitty could be leaving his poop uncovered for a variety of reasons. Cats are picky about their litter, and yours might not like the type you’re using. Or maybe you don't keep it clean enough. Perhaps his box might be too small for him to turn in. If you have multiple cats, add more litterboxes to your home.

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Cries at Night

All you want is a good night’s sleep, and Fluffy is yowling away. We know how you feel. Your feline's midnight caterwauling sometimes stems from her urge to hunt the insects and rodents in your home. Her attempts to capture her prey can lead to cries of elation or, if she’s not so lucky, frustration. Curb her excess energy and urge to hunt at night by providing her with food puzzles and plenty of enriching toys to play with during the day. If she’s a senior cat and is very vocal at night, she might have a serious problem and will need to see the vet.

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