Cats, despite being one of the most common kinds of pets, can also be one of the more mysterious. Felines can have very complex behaviours that may be difficult to figure out, especially if you’re new to being a “cat person.” This week, as we celebrate National Take Your Cat to the Vet Day, it’s a great time to learn about feline behaviour.
It’s usually pretty easy to figure out what a hissing, growling cat with its ears pinned flat back is trying to say, but cats can have many more subtle cues that can allow us to interpret a bit of what they’re feeling. A purring cat normally indicates contentment, but some cats can also be heard purring when they’re stressed, seemingly as a kind of self-soothing behaviour.
After you’ve had time to bond, you may notice your cat blinking at you in a strange, slow manner—but take heart, this is a normal sign of trust and affection from your kitty friend. Cats may show their affection for you in numerous other ways, including face rubbing or head bumping (both ways of transferring their scent onto you to mark you as ‘their human’), licking, drooling (usually while loudly purring), or kneading their paws on you. Some cats may even bring you the small creatures that they hunt and kill as a special gift—though most owners who have found a half-eaten mouse beside their bed in the morning don’t tend to appreciate the sentiment!
A fun fact about human and feline interactions: did you know that adult cats don’t meow at each other? They do make a variety of other vocalizations, but the meow itself is something that adult cats strictly use to communicate with humans. A theory is that this behaviour is a continuation of the mewing that young kittens use to vocalize with their mothers, so perhaps cats see us as a natural extension of this parental role, since we provide them with resources.
Speaking of which, cats are notoriously finicky with their environment and resources. For example, many cats will have a preference for certain types of litter, and sometimes even the type or size of the litter box they’ll use. To allow adequate bathroom facilities, it’s best to have one litter box for every cat in the house plus one extra. It’s also important to keep boxes clean, since no one wants to use a dirty washroom. Learning your cat’s litter box preferences and habits can help to prevent many behavioural soiling issues, or let you know if your kitty may be behaving out of their ordinary and needing to see a veterinarian.
Though this column has barely scratched the surface on the intricacies of kitties, they are truly wonderful creatures with playful, quirky mannerisms and clean, fastidious natures. Cats can live up to 20 years, some even more, making them one of the more long-term creatures that we can invite into our homes.
Every cat is unique, and with time and attention you will learn your cat’s individual personality and behaviours, allowing you to recognize if they aren’t feeling quite like themselves and may need veterinary attention. Catching subtle behaviour changes quickly is the key for the best recovery since cats are independent, tough animals that try to hide any weaknesses or pain they may be feeling. Keeping a close eye on your kitty’s behaviour, as well as providing them with quality care, can help you and your cat enjoy many wonderful years together.
Kelsey Dawley grew up in Winnipeg and attended the University of Manitoba, where she studied psychology, including ethology (the study of the behaviour of animals). Kelsey is currently a veterinary assistant and the director of public contact at the North Peace Veterinary Clinic.