By the RSPCA’s cat behaviour and welfare expert, Alice Potter.
Many of us share a home with a cat and even consider them to be an important part of the family but do we really understand them?
This blog will try to explain some of our cats’ curious and quirky behaviours, because the more we understand them, the better we can be at making sure our cats are happy and healthy.
Why does my cat… not drink from her water bowl?
This isn’t about being fussy, this is actually a very sensible behaviour they are believed to have inherited from their wildcat ancestors. In the wild, cats wouldn’t drink and eat in the same place, because they may contaminate their drinking water with the entrails of their prey.
Instead, they drink away from where they eat, ideally where there’s running water which is more likely to be clean and fresh. This is why your cat may jump up and drink from the tap when you clean your teeth or the glass of water next to your bed – because it’s far away from their food bowl.
Top Tip: Always place your cat’s water bowl away from where they eat, ideally in a separate room. If your cat enjoys running water, consider getting them a pet drinking fountain.
Why does my cat… rub against me when I get home from work?
In part this is a greeting behaviour but there is more to it.
Your cat is depositing scent on you to make you smell more familiar. Cats have a number of different scent glands on their body including on their cheeks, tail and the sides of their mouth. These scent glands produce pheromones which have a unique smell.
When you get home from work or being out you will have picked up all types of new smells so by rubbing themselves on you, your cat is making you smell more like them, more familiar and more safe.
Top Tip: Familiar smells can help your cat to feel more safe and secure. If you move home, take your cat to boarding, or even just visit the vets, make sure your cat travels with an item that smells of home such as a blanket or worn piece of clothing.
Why does my cat… roll over and show her tummy but not want it to be stroked?
When cats expose their tummy it makes them vulnerable, so when they greet us in this way it’s a sign that they feel safe and trusting. However, it isn’t a request for a belly rub.
When your cat rolls over and shows you her tummy it’s best just to acknowledge her with a gentle little head rub.
Why does my cat… love being stroked one minute then seem fed-up the next?
We often think of our cats as being unpredictable or just plain grumpy but with a little more understanding we soon learn that isn’t the case.
As humans, we tend to enjoy more intense and longer social interactions compared to cats who like them to be short and sweet. This means that we can easily overdo it when we are giving our cats a fuss and might miss the subtle signs telling us that they’ve had enough.
Top Tip: As well as only enjoying short social interactions, recent research has also confirmed that cat’s only like to be stroked on particular parts on their body too. When cats groom each other they focus on the head and neck and they prefer these areas when being stroked by people too.
Why does my cat… really love boxes?
Hiding is a natural behaviour for cats and boxes provide the ultimate opportunity. Research has shown that being able to hide can help cats feel less stressed so it’s important all cats have hidey-holes around the house to retreat to for some time out.
In addition, cats are highly intelligent animals who are naturally motivated to explore. They also have the physique to jump and climb – so why not find out what’s in the box?!
Why does my cat… seem to prefer people who don’t like cats?
It’s believed that the body language of people who aren’t keen on cats actually makes cats want to be around them.
In contrast to some cat lovers, people who aren’t so keen tend to give the cat more space, less eye contact and can appear overall as less threatening.
If cats have the choice to approach somebody in their own time rather than have it forced upon them they will likely feel more relaxed and comfortable with the interaction.
We hope we’ve cleared up some of your cat’s more perplexing behaviour!
Did you know that London currently has a “cat crisis”? Read about it in our recent news story and City Cats report.
Guest blog posts on all things cat-related from the RSPCA