Characteristics of Cat Behavior


Although you provide your domestic cat with food, water and shelter, he is still a predator. Many of the behaviors you see in your cat stem from their hunting instinct. Understanding cat behavior allows your family and cat to live in harmony.

Cats play by stalking and hunting their toys.
Cats play by stalking and hunting their toys. (Image: pyzata/iStock/Getty Images)

Hunting and Play

Although domestic cats no longer hunt for their food, you still see their hunting instincts emerge during playtime. Cats will stalk objects and toys, pounce, attack and capture toys with their paws. If a cat does not have toys to play with, he may stalk and pounce on humans in the home.

Sleeping Habits

Cats tend to be nocturnal and tend to sleep most of the day. Their most active hours are at dusk and dawn. According to PetMD, cats sleep approximately 15 hours each day. This is a similar pattern to wild cats who rest and conserve energy during the day and hunt at night.

Cat Grooming

Dr. Cynthia McManis from Just Cats Veterinary Services in The Woodlands, Texas advises that cats spend up to half of their waking hours grooming themselves. They groom with their tongue or by licking their front paw and using the paw to groom. Cats groom after eating to remove the scent of their meal from other predators. Grooming also helps a cat cool his body temperature, release stress and remove shedding fur. Cats also may lick areas where they are injured or have fleas.

Scratching Claws

Cats frequently scratch their front claws to help shed old nails and to mark their territory. Scratch marks visibly mark territory while glands on the cat's paws mark with their scent. Scratching also provides a way for the cat to stretch and exercise. Provide your cat with a scratching post so that he does not damage your furniture with his claws.

Kneading and Rubbing

Often cats rub against you or knead you with their paws. Kneading indicates your cat is happy. It is a habit developed when kittens would knead their mother's nipples to stimulate milk flow. Although often interpreted as another sign of happiness, when your cat rubs against you, she is marking you as her territory.

Vocalization and Purring

They typical meow may mean anything from a simple hello to a command to a warning to leave the cat alone.

Cats usually purr as a sign of contentment or happiness. Although it is less common, cats may purr when they are sick to comfort themselves.

Cats express their displeasure, anger or fear by growling or hissing. This vocalization is a sign of aggression. They may yowl when they are in pain or some other kind of distress.

Elimination and Marking

Cat prefer to eliminate on materials that feel soft. Using a fine-grain cat litter will encourage your cat to use the litter box rather than a pile of clothes or bedding. If you have multiple cats, there may be competition for the litter box if one cat claims it as his territory. Set up multiple litter boxes to keep cats from eliminating outside of the box.

Cats also may spray urine to mark their territory. This is most common in male cats who are not neutered, but any cat may start marking to cope with stress.

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