Cat Behavior












"Excuse me... didn't you say that you couldn't find your mouse?? I'm an expert mouse finder, you know"









































Kittens are social animals, but, learn how to live on their own as adults




















Discover how you can improve your own behavior by learning from your cat. Wise admonitions such as "Be good at hellos. Don't drag out goodbyes," "Know all the sunny places." "First one in has to warm up the bed," and other teachings bear witness to the sage observations of the feline psyche.

All I Need to Know I Learned from My Cat



























Everybody wants to know why cats act as they do
























Kong Naturals Cat Scratchers - Single Scratcher for Cats and Felines icon 

Nothing seems so satisfying to a cat than a good stretch, which usually includes a scratch, too. Unfortunately, anything she can get her claws into will qualify as scratching material whether it's a couch, a table leg or your pants hanging on the door knob. This behavior calls for training to divert the scratch urge from being destructive to satisfaction with a treat reward. Scratch pads and posts are necessary for any cat's home





































Ugh... that was the worst tasting mouse I've ever had!!


















































Kitties have their own training equipment


































Kong Naturals Mice for Cats icon 

Cats are predators. It's a behavior that cannot be removed from them. Nor should it. If a cat didn't hunt, it would be psychologically deformed... and then it might not even be a cat. But, what are you going to do with an instinct that doesn't need to be acted out when food is always available in her home? Small, light weight, natural feeling catnip filled toys can fill in to do a great job satisfying the needs of basic cat behavior

































Ah you have to do that front of everybody?!!


























































Get Serious!!

Get Serious! Pet Stain, Odor and Pheromone Extractor was the second product ever endorsed by the ASPCA when they first started their ""Seal of Approval"" endorsement program. Get Serious! is non-toxic, biodegradable, non-flammable, and safe to use around children and pets. If your cat has been talked to about marking your home as his or her territory, and you have had them neutered (the first step in correcting this kind of cat behavior), this product is highly effective for removing all traces of odor and stains. Just remember, pets don't have accidents. There is a reason territory is being marked and it's usually caused by some kind of stress.





























Cats are unique, creative & successful creatures of Mother Nature. By the way... they've excellent eyesight, too















































































Think animals can't have a separate moral system? You might want to think again... "Animals... are incredibly adept social beings, relying on rules of conduct to navigate intricate social networks that are essential to their survival."

Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals by Marc Bekoff, Jessica Pierce




















Please... a little privacy!!


Cat Behavior developed hand in hand with the evolutionary development of the cat species


Cat Behavior... a Test of Human Emotions
Any discussion of cat behavior and the mystery behind why cats act the way they do has to include the human response to cat behavior. People will experience a full range of emotions to the way cat behavior affects them. From adoring care giving and/or surrogate motherhood, to anger, resentment or viewing a cat as an adversary to dominate. No pet has quite the capacity to elicit such an extreme range of emotional responses as a cat, who in many cases is just "being herself". Most cat owners, especially novice cat people, can recall those times that they were sure their cat knew exactly what to do to make their owner go ballistic. No matter how many times a cat was shooed away from a plant, table leg or kitchen counter, her owner would always find their cat repeating the same offense... time after time. The offense would be repeated so many times that the human half of the equation would expect to find their cat paying absolutely no attention to the rules of the house each time they entered the room. No matter how much the cat is adored, her owner will usually have at least a low level of anticipated anger, ready to erupt when the cat is found violating the rules... again.


A Brief History
Cats have been around about 25 million years. The first domestic cats (Felis Silvestris Libyca) appeared in Egypt about 5000 years ago. Throughout history ever since the cat was first domesticated by the Egyptians, cat behavior has been dramatically influential in affecting human emotional responses to the presence of cats. Sometimes to the detriment to the cat, and other times to their great benefit.

At the back of the cat's eye is a highly reflective layer called the 'tapetum', which bounces light around in the eye, therefore making maximum use of all available light which enters the cat's eyes. This is what's reflected when light is shined into the cat's eye. The Egyptians didn't know much about reflection and assumed that the light was generated in the cat's eyes. To the Egyptians, the sun, known as Ra, was the god who created the world. The rising of the sun every day was a symbol of the creation. Now, cats are nocturnal creatures, whereas people are diurnal, or light oriented creatures, and for the most part are fearful of the dark. Human eyes just don't function well in darkness. So, what the Egyptians observed was a night creature who hunted effectively in near total darkness, and whose eyes seemed to be a source of the light of Ra. The night time cat behavior of being a proficient hunter made them ideal for protecting the stores of grain which people depended upon for food. This, combined with eyes that could see in the dark by generating a source of light just as their chief god Ra could, elevated the cat to 'god' status in the Egyptian multi-theistic religion.

The advent of the Medieval period of history saw a reversal of fortune for our cat friends. People were (and still are, for that matter) just as afraid of the dark as the Egyptians were. For these early Christians, there was only one, though intangible, "God" and people were created in His image. Therefore, being good night-fearing faithful, the night had to be reserved for the 'good' God's opposite and rival, the tangible Satan. Into this picture strolls the cat and her very unique cat behavior attributes. With her very adept night-time cat behavior qualities, the cat was easily associated with the Devil and paid a very high price; even though she didn't have any idea what was going on. Cat behavior represented much of Lucifer's own personality, according to early churchmen. The cat's refusal to obey like a dog indicated an inferior intelligence. Cats were (and still are) stubborn, independent of human desires, would come and go as they pleased thereby making them antagonistic towards man and God alike. This attitude prevailed prominently and in 1484, Pope Innocent empowered the Inquisition forces to burn all cats and cat lovers.

The persecution of cats resulted in a reduction their numbers, and instilled a fear of being near people. This consequently brought a return to the days when food stores were the sole realm of rodents. Rats and mice came and went with impunity, eating what they wanted and leaving behind their feces and attendant diseases in the grain storerooms. It was during the Black Plague that people realized the value of keeping cats (like the early Egyptians) to drive away the rodents and the church finally eased up on the persecution of cats in favor of ridding themselves of an unbridled rodent population. So, cat behavior has evolved from being seen as good for the Egyptians, to being evil to Medieval Christians, to being good again for practical purposes.

In the modern technological world food storage has risen beyond needing a cat around to protect supplies. Raw food storage techniques, refrigeration, and packaging has freed the cat today be seen as a companion pet for people. To that extent she has lost a job. But, gained a life. Her vocation, though, may not be entirely eliminated. Having owned several restaurants, I found that having a cat around with strong predator cat behavior attributes to prowl the kitchen at night greatly reduced, even erased the incidence of rodent activities. If you don't think a restaurant isn't a magnet for, or accessible to, rats and mice... then you live in the Dark Ages.


Your Home is Your Castle
It doesn't make any difference where you live. Or even how you live; whether it's meticulous ad nauseam, or more relaxed (which is better than saying messy). Anybody's home is their castle. Living space can be described as constructed either consciously or unconsciously with a certain plan. A person's life-style is built around a logical pattern of predictability and order that reflects each individual's nature. There is, of course, a vast range of order & predictability and its resulting logic that's manifested from one person to the next. Nonetheless, people create a living space that offers for themselves a satisfactory and untroubled level of comfort, safety, peace of mind and tranquility.

This is about the time many will decide they would like a pet to complete this idyllic picture. Some may choose the company of a pet because they live alone; others might desire surrogate children, either because they are just beginning a life together and can't afford children yet, or maybe an older couple's children have grown and flown the nest. Of course, there are those who just appreciate the easy love and fidelity pets seem so easily capable of. Many will opt to adopt a cat. It's here that the peace and tranquility you have established (order) and come to know and expect (predictability) is sure to be interrupted; if not challenged.

The introduction of any new pet, and cats in particular, will require a new way of thinking. With this new way of thinking, to be a successful cat owner will depend on how well one can incorporate balance and perspective, as an evaluation of oneself, into their new relationship. In other words, one needs to balance their own personal needs and the needs of their cat (which includes her unique cat behavior) with a perspective that allows themselves to see their relationship in the long term, as well as on a daily basis.

There's a lot hidden in that last paragraph.

Balance and perspective as an evaluation of oneself requires complete honesty when analyzing ones emotions and reactions to a given situation. Any biased rationalization of an event or circumstance just won't do when one is seeking the 'truth' of a situation.
A person's needs can be either emotional (a harmonious, peaceful and happy home environment), spiritual or physical (food, warmth & shelter). The same goes for your cat. She has emotional and physical needs not dissimilar to your own. As for the spiritual needs of either people or cats, we'll leave that for other discussions.

Perspective is necessary to perceive the relationship with your cat as a long term affair, what you might call the forest, in light of the activities of day to day living, or the trees that make up a forest. Moreover, reactions to a given situation can change from one day to the next, some of which can have an altering effect on the long term view. You can see that moving from the long view to the short view and back again requires a good measure of mental agility.
It's not so simple to go out, adopt a cat or kitten, bring her home and expect everything in your life to continue as usual. The reason? Cat's are unique, individual creatures and come with their own cat behavior characteristics:

Cats don't obey very well. Dogs learn obedience from their 'pack mentality' experiences where pecking orders are observed and enforced. Cats are solitary animals and have learned to live on their own without giving fealty to any creature, other than her own instincts.
Cat behavior exhibits a high degree of stubbornness. The stubborn nature of a cat be attributed to her need to be consistent in her habits which ensures survival both for herself, and her kittens. Being on her own doesn't allow for sloppy habits or relying on others to accomplish critical chores as one can find in pack animal societies. A cat needs to be detail oriented and when she finds a way of doing things that work, you'll be hard pressed to change her habits unless your name is 'evolution', or 'survival of the fittest'.

For the same reasons, the cat behavior characteristic of seeming to be completely independent of human desires can be explained. She knows what she needs to do to survive, has been doing it for millions of years, and, who are you to come along and tell her there's a better way... what makes you so smart?

So, can you still wonder why a cat will come and go as she pleases? Cats can convey a feeling of complete self-confidence, and rightfully so. It's all due to the basic natural instincts that have allowed our feline friends to survive all these millions of years basically on their own.
It's important to remember that attributes such as obedience, stubbornness, independence and self-confidence are all characteristics recognized by human reasoning. Without cognitive thought (and it's not conclusively proven animals aren't capable of some reasoning ability) these attributes are just that... identifying characteristics honed through eons of evolutionary design and response to a given environment. Generalizing, cat behavior isn't the result of free-will endowed or rational thinking creatures who choose how they're going to relate to you, or heed the rules of the house.

A cat is a cat because she is a cat.


Anatomy and Physiology of Cat Senses
Cats see, hear, smell, taste and feel things much in the same way other animals do. But, their senses function quite differently from humans. This is a source of the mystery associated with cat behavior. Paying attention to the differences between human and cat senses can go a long way towards creating an understanding of cat behavior, and in doing so you'll still be able to call her a 'friend'. How cats respond and interpret their world through their senses is not possible for people to experience. But, we do have the ability to comprehend a cat's world intellectually by understanding how the mechanics of their senses work.

Seeing Well Without Seeing Well, But Better
A cat's eyes contain two types of light receptors:

  • Cones, which are detail and color sensitive. Cones respond individually and require greater levels of light stimulation.
  • Rods, which are motion sensitive. Rods operate in groups and require much lower light energy to be activated.

Like most 4-legged mammals, a cat's eyes contain more rods than cones. The result of this rod-to-cone ratio is the ability for a cat to detect motion far better than being able to see color and detail. The highly reflective tapetum located at the rear of the eyeball conserves and diffuses light energy which stimulates the rods to detect even greater sensitivity to motion. The result is a cat uses her eyes to 'locate' things, especially if they move, rather than to specifically 'identify' objects. So, you may think your cat is going blind if her ball is right there under the couch in front of her, but she doesn't see it unless it begins to move. For hunting cats the color, the length of a tail, or the sex of a mouse becomes far less critical in dimming light than its movement.

In addition, a cat's pupil contributes to superior night vision. The highly flexible cat pupil can dilate to almost 12mm compared to the human pupil which can only dilate to about 8mm. Not only does the cat enjoy a better utilization of available light, but she can collect light more effectively, too.

The pupil is also constructed to enable vision in bright light. The optical disc is a circular area where the optic nerve attaches to the back of the eyeball. The optic nerve transmits all the visual data entering the eye to the brain. Unfortunately, it doesn't have any cones or rods occupying the connection area. If the cat's pupil was round, any light entering the constricted pupil would fall on the optic disc, rendering the cat effectively blind in bright sun light as she constricted the pupil very small. But, when you look at a cat's eyes you'll notice that the pupil constricts vertically. This allows light to still enter the eye off the optic disc and hence, the cat is able to see in bright light. And again, the tapetum diffuses the light effectively enough for your cat to see well even though her pupils are shutting off most of the light entering her eyes. In a way, even in broad daylight she is using her night vision to see.

Here an assumption can be made. Looking at a cat's eyes can give you an indication of her mood. If her eyes are constricted, she may be in an aggressive mood because the narrow field of vision allows her to focus better on prospective prey (or your ankle) and block out any distractions. If her eyes are dilated, she could be in a defensive mood and the wider vision field allows her to collect as much data as possible about her position. She'll be able to detect multiple predators and spot possible escape routes if needed. In any case, under normal light conditions (normal for humans, that is) exaggerated eye dilation or constriction is an indication that something isn't right. It's best to just back off and allow things to settle down. If you observe these exaggerated eye responses and she appears to be relaxed, then she may have a medical condition that should warrant a trip to your veterinarian.

Further, since the quality of a cats' adult life is so clearly determined by its experiences as a kitten, restricted environments such as cages, etc. tend to limit or alter proper vision growth and development. As with other kitten-hood influences, i.e., foods, socialization and learned hunting techniques through play, good visual development is best attained when the kitten is raised in a confined, but not restricted, space with their siblings, their mother, or a foster mother if they should become orphaned.

A discussion of the cats' eye wouldn't be complete without mentioning the 'nictitating membrane'. Cats essentially have no eyelashes to protect their eyes from dust and dirt, or other invasive things. They actually have a better protective mechanism in the form of a third eyelid, or nictitating membrane. This membrane will appear whenever the eye is pushed or pulled back into its socket. This movement can be either a voluntary or passive reflex to protect the eyes. This particular mechanism is beneficial considering that cats hunt close to the ground, usually at night, they lack highly developed detail vision and their prey tend to live in thickets or other environmentally complex areas rather in the wide open spaces. The nictitating membrane rests in the corner of the eye near the nose. Raising it half-way allows the vertically oriented pupil to let enough light in to see and still offer a measure of protection to the eye. But, as with exaggerated constriction or dilation of the pupil, the presence of the nictitating membrane in situations that are not requiring ocular protection may indicate an illness that your veterinarian should search for.


Shhh... Did You Hear That? Bet Your Cat Did.
The first thing to note about the cat's hearing is that her audio range is far greater than that of humans. We can hear things up to around 18 - 20 kilohertz. Our feline friend can respond to sounds that reach up to 50 - 60 kilohertz (ultrasonic range), allowing her to hear noises well beyond our comprehension. She can vocalize in that range, too.

The cat's external ears are known as pinnae (pronounced "pin-nuh") which can be moved independently of each other and act as dish antennae to direct sound into the middle and inner ear. Careful observation of the pinnae in action shows ear movements that are delicate and precise. Compare the pinnae with human ears and you might feel a little inept since people have to move their entire head to better listen to a sound.

These two facts (ultrasonic hearing and moveable pinnae) give the cat some distinct hunting advantages as she prowls in limited light with her lack of detailed vision. Note that:

  • Her prey tends to communicate in the higher ultrasonic ranges.
  • Prey also have motion-sensitive vision
  • Natural enemies of the cat will possess these ultra-sonic sound ranges and motion-sensitive vision, too.

Using as little movement as possible herself, our intrepid huntress is better able to avoid detection by both her prey and her predators. She can remain completely still and pin-point noises with a slight, almost undetectable adjustment of her ears. All the while her motion-sensitive eyes are alert for any movement.

Have you ever seen the cat behavior of your kitty sitting and looking at you, then give you what appears to be a 'silent' meow? She's really talking to you in the ultra-sonic range. I'd hate to speculate what she's saying to you. "Hey, you... can't you hear me?". Or, "I said... WHAT'S FOR DINNER!! Geez, this guy's got to be deaf!". But, cats being the smart creatures that they are seem to realize that ultra-sonic communication with their human counterparts is a cat behavior which doesn't produce any results other than a blank stare from us.

It might be assumed that cats learned to communicate in the human hearing range as a response to the human presence in a domestic cat's life. There's certainly no way to determine if cats communicate entirely in the ultra-sonic range in the wild. I know that in those old African movies I watched as a child roaring cats filled the night-time jungle air. Old jungle movies are certainly not any measure of cat behavior, but all 4-legged mammals who can hear in those ultra-high ranges seem to also be able to vocalize in normal human ranges, too. It's an academic question as to whether animals developed ultra-sonic hearing because it gave them a survival advantage particularly if humans were part of the hunting game (the advantage being that humans couldn't hear in the ultra-sonic range), or humans had the ultra-sonic capacity then lost it through evolution as their brains developed to make them better (smarter) hunters.

A cat's hearing is especially important if her sight should deteriorate, or be lost completely, which is usually age related. Along with memory, scent and touch, a blind cat can redefine her world into one that doesn't include sight. A blind cat will respond to your voice quite readily. There's even speculation that she might be capable of echolocation, an orienting system whereby sound is bounced off objects in order to locate them. If your cat should become blind, familiar scents and sounds will aid her in getting around. Her memory of the location of things also helps, so don't decide to move the furniture around very often. She most likely will be able to change her cat behavior and reorient herself if you move the couch and coffee table, but you don't need to make things any harder for your blind friend than necessary.
As with the eyes, the position of a cat's ears can indicate cat behavior in relation to her mood:
An alert confident cat who doesn't feel threatened by you will look at you with ears erect and facing you. She's willing to collect as much sound information about and from you, as well as the area surrounding you.

If a cat feels threatened but wants to be left alone and will only fight to defend herself, her ears will be held tightly against her head. You should notice that her eyes will be fully dilated and her body will be pressed close to the ground. This is a classic "freeze response" which makes her look smaller and says she doesn't want to fight but can't or doesn't want to run. The flattened ears removes these valuable assets as far from harm as possible.
If she decides that she is going to attack, her ears will rotate so the insides of the ears face to the side. This means she has decided on an attack and has located her target. Keeping her eyes on her target and her ears to the side will help her to decide when to attack and alert her to any surprises from the sides or rear.

One thing's for sure. The cat behavior mood that is indicated by the position of the ears should tell you when you can reach out and pet her, or back off and give her a little space.
When considering cat behavior the fact that a cat's hearing range is far greater than ours needs to be considered. The next time you see your cat perk straight up and look intently in a particular direction for seemingly no reason, don't assume she's heard a ghost. You didn't hear any noise, but your cat most certainly did.


Two Noses are Better than One
Normal cat behavior relies on various stimuli of the senses a cat possesses. For example, we might assume that with normal cat behavior, a cat would eat when it's hungry. In reality, this is not the case. In the wild a cat will eat when stimulated by the movement or sighting of prey. The cat behavior characteristics of predation is a four step process:

  • Stalking
  • Catching
  • Killing
  • Eating

Each step requires a stronger stimulus than the step preceding it. Since eating is the final step of the process, eating requires increasingly stronger sensory stimuli. In other words, a cat has to really be geared up before she will eat. This is probably why you won't see a cat in the wild assuming the role of a scavenger consuming food she didn't actually hunt and bring down herself. This follows the evolutionary pattern of cat behavior since her nutritional needs require her to eat only freshly caught prey. Further, she can forget to eat unless she is properly stimulated, or if she is ill. In the case of illness in a cat, the missing appetite can be a positive paradox since research indicates that not eating in the initial stages of an illness can trigger the immune system into action to ward off infection. Eventually she will have to eat or her immune system will weaken and she will become more ill.

In the wild, the olfactory sense is not as critical for predation as sight and hearing are. Even so, a cat can out-sniff a human any day of the week. Her nose is used more to detect the scent marks she leaves on her territory and less to detect prey. Alternately, today's domestic cat finds smell to be more of a stimulus to eat than her wild ancestor. Her pre-captured meals don't run from her and seem to jump right from the can or bag and just sits there waiting to be consumed. She becomes used to her bowl appearing at regular times wafting with the aromas that stimulate her to eat. But again, if illness such as an upper respiratory infection is present, she may not receive the olfactory stimulation she needs to eat.

Cats are generally perceived as stubborn creatures. They learn this when they were kittens. The strong maternal instinct of a cat is one of her identifying cat behavior characteristics. In the wild a Queen has a short time to teach her kittens all they need to know to survive and set then off on their own. Conversely, the kittens have to learn all the Queen has to teach for their own success. Consequently, the impressions learned during kitten-hood are deeply ingrained and not easily undone. Domestic cats also exhibit that strong materialism and when humans are involved in the weaning process, the food that the kittens are weaned on will imprint in the kittens a memory of what they will or should eat the rest of their life. That's why it's so difficult to change a cat's food when she is older. If she didn't eat it as a kitten, she won't want it as an adult. And her nose, as well as her taste buds, is what will tell her this. Moreover, even though the four steps of predation are part of the domestic cat's instincts, she may not have the stimulus to follow through with them completely. She may not know how to, or have the incentive, to kill and eat her prey. Her stimulus to eat comes through her nose for the canned tuna meal she has come to expect.

Like most mammals, excluding humans, the cat has two olfactory systems. The most evident one was just discussed and is easily seen at the end of her cute snout. It works very much like our own, but, of course is much more sophisticated and sensitive.

The second is called the vomeronasal olfactory system. This is a specialized system closely related to mating activities. The duct opening for this system is located in the mouth just behind the upper incisor teeth and connects at a separate olfactory location in the brain. Cats use this system when examining the urine and scent marks of other animals. Since visual and auditory signals might attract the wrong attention, such as predators, this provides a safe way for receptive females and male cats to locate each other for the purpose of mating. You might recognize the cat behavior of lifting her upper lip to expose the duct opening while blocking the snout nasal passages. The entranced and vague expression she displays, besides eliciting a similar expression on your own face as you wonder what the heck she's doing, is called the flehmen reaction. What she's doing is analyzing the scent pheromones and determining if she is interested in pursuing the scent trail she has come upon. She's quite capable of disallowing the hormones of other species, while she can become excited over the scent of another cat of the opposite sex.

Catnip can also cause a flehmen reaction in 50 -75 percent of domestic cats. Neptalactone is a hallucinogenic compound found in catnip and is responsible for affecting cat behavior the same way as their natural sex pheromones do. But, olfactory fatigue eventually causes a loss of interest and the brain loses any ability to respond to the catnip odor.


The Taste Difference
When confronting cat behavior in the wild, a Queen will bring home prey for her kittens which she identifies as acceptable food. She has only a short time available to teach her kittens what food sources they need in order to survive. At first she brings home dead prey to acclimate their olfactory and taste senses to what is acceptable food. Later she will bring home live prey and teach her brood how to kill. There's no experimenting with delicate sauces or wine pairing... just "this is what you eat and this is how you catch it". The result is an imprinting on the kitten's memory of what foods are to be consumed and everything else is to be avoided. As you can tell, smell and taste work hand-in-hand to determine what is acceptable food. This imprint stays with the cat her entire life and trying to change her preferences is very nearly an impossible task. As a matter of fact, a wild cat will not change her diet.

This cat behavior is still prevalent in the modern domestic feline. The foods a kitten is weaned on will be her preference for all her life whether it is out of a can or bag. Her preferences might even become brand specific. If you were to wean the kitten on human food, she may never touch store bought cat food varieties. This is strongly not advised since human foods lack the necessary nutrients kittens and cats need for a healthy life. The point is that 'taste' is a cat behavior characteristic developed when a kitten is in the early stages of growth and is difficult to change.

Does this mean that you are destined to share your life with a picky, dogmatic and finicky eater?

Not really.

Research has shown (The Dynamics of Behavioral Development by Z. Kuo, 1967) that kittens will maintain the preference for foods they're fed when they are young. If you wean them on a variety of foods, they will eat just about anything when they grow older. If their diet is restricted to a narrow range, such as canned fish and rice, they won't eat anything else even when they are hungry. The lesson here is to wean kittens on a variety of cat foods, both canned and dry, and different ingredients, i.e. chicken, fish, lamb, etc. Then as they grow older and their diet needs to change from time to time (such as they might develop an allergy or a medical condition dictates a different food regimen) it won't be such a task for you to alter their eating habits.

Just like smell, taste isn't as important to the wild cat as it is to the domestic feline. The domestic cat is not used to her dinner needing to move to stimulate her sight and hearing senses and eventually to stimulate her to eat. Her meals comes in a dish and she uses smell and taste to determine if it's acceptable as food. In both cases, what she was taught to eat as a kitten will be her preference as an adult. And as a kitten she will learn by smell and taste what those preferences will be when she grows up.

If you find that you do need to change your cat's diet, the best way is to introduce a new food slowly over a few days to a couple of weeks. Start by mixing a little of the new food into her regular meal, then over time keep increasing the new food and reducing the old until she is eating 100% of the new food. Remember, you might be able to change her food, but you won't be able to change her cat behavior.

So, what does it mean when she brings home that little field mouse and places it at your feet? She's not doing it because she's hungry. You know that because you keep her well nourished. It may even still be alive. My guess is that she's asking you to show her what to do with it. I can hear her now, "I just saw it moving in the brush. I don't know why I went after it. I just had the urge to stalk and catch it. Now, what do I do?"

Well, you should congratulate her on her excellent hunting abilities and take the poor critter and put it someplace out of her sight so she'll forget about it.


Feeling Her Way Around
People might identify with a cat's senses of taste and smell more easily than with their sight or hearing. Even though the taste and smell senses of a cat are much greater in sensitivity than that of humans, it's almost impossible to imagine seeing the world as a contrast of shadows or hearing sound in ultra-high frequencies. Now throw in a 5th sense that affects cat behavior and the world might really seem alien. The cat's tactile hairs, known as whiskers, are located over the eyes, on both cheeks, the upper lip, under the chin and on the back of the front legs. These hairs are extremely sensitive with very developed nerves that can even detect minor changes in the environment. This sensory system can tell a cat what's nearby and her position relative to it.

Some examples of what a cat can learn from these hairs are:

  • The whiskers on her upper lip are as wide as her body. If she can fit the whiskers through an opening, then she knows her body will fit also.
  • Those hairs on the back of her front legs let her know if she has properly grasped prey relative to her claws and communicates data as to whether her grasp will ensure a kill safely for herself.
  • These hairs are so sensitive that trimming them or even moving them counter to their natural alignment is disorienting, even irritating, to a cat.

Tactile hairs complement sensory cat behavior by allowing movement in very little light without making unnecessary noise. With eyes equipped to detect motion in limited light and ears that can pinpoint a prey's (or predator's) exact location, a cat's whiskers facilitate her own movement with little notice by anything else. When she's in contact close enough to touch another animal these same hairs give her essential data so that she instantly knows her relative position in near total darkness.

Another aspect of the feeling is that of pressure sensitive touching, cat behavior responses and the feline resistance to restraint. Applying pressure to the back of the neck area, or nape, of a cat will usually produce a freeze response. It might be assumed this is a left-over response from kittens being moved or by females being bred. Other than that, cats do not readily accept any kind of restraint. As a matter of fact, the more you try to restrain a cat... the more she will resist and try to escape your grasp. This proves problematic when trying to groom or medicate your cat.

There are two schools of thought with regard to coping with this particular cat behavior.
The 'Less is More' theory says that the tighter you hold on to a cat, the more she will resist. Therefore, gaining cooperation with your cat relies on building trust so that forceful restraint becomes unnecessary. If you build trust when she is a kitten, and she is used to you handling her, forceful restraint shouldn't be required. Even for unpleasant activities such as medicating her eyes and ears. Most people make the mistake of thinking it's the medicating or grooming activities that the cat doesn't like, when in reality it's the restraining that she doesn't like. When she see's the medicine bottle or brush coming her way, she'll associate those things with restraint and look for escape. When you find yourself wanting to pin your cat to the table to dose her or brush her, it's best to back off. Try again later when you both have calmed down. It's best to plan ahead to when you may need to medicate or groom her by getting her used to you handling her during times when restraint is not an issue or necessary. Such as giving her some quiet lap time with gentle stroking. Develop a touchy, feel-y relationship with your cat and you just might get cooperative cat behavior responses when they are most needed.

The second theory says that if restraint is needed, go all the way. In this theory, the cat is restrained so tightly and immobilized so completely that escape is impossible. If you are going to use this type of restraint consult with your veterinarian with regard to the method and type of restraint to use. Personally I don't believe in this approach. I have seen it used on one of my cats for the purpose of putting medicine in his ears to rid him of mites. Though the medication was successful, it left my cat terrorized and traumatized by veterinarians for the rest of his life. Taking him to the vet's after that episode was always a difficult task. The worst part was it made me reluctant to maintaining the most basic veterinary care because I dreaded the struggle we faced.

Cats don't like to be restrained and if it's forced on them, I firmly believe it leaves them with permanently scarred cat behavior characteristics.


The 5 Characteristics that Define a Cat
Let's leave basic anatomy and physiological cat behavior characteristics and look at the more specific characteristics which affect feline and human relationships. The unique sense physiology of a cat gives her a perspective regarding how she relates with her natural environment in a practical, day-to-day manner. Practical for her, of course. Humans see things (by that I mean relate to) a whole lot differently given our own unique physiological characteristics.

There are 5 cat behavior characteristics, sometimes called body-language displays, which can be said to identify a cat. They are what makes a cat, a cat. It has to be noted that these characteristics are closely intertwined with each other. None of these characteristics can be eliminated from a cat's behavior, but any can be predominate in a particular cat's personality. These displays are listed as follows:

  • Cats are predators
  • Cats are nocturnal
  • Cats are territorial
  • Cats are solitary
  • Cats are maternal

There are as many ways for any person to describe their cat as there are cats and cat owners. But, these 5 basic characteristic body-language displays can explain just about all the reasons a cat acts like she does. And, why the way they act sometimes makes for difficult feline-human relationships.

Predation: Cry of the Wild
Somewhere in antiquity cats learned that by hunting they were able to survive. Over eons of time a predator and prey relationship was developed and has remained a part of the make-up of cats, as well as their prey, to this day.

When a Queen cat in the wild introduces food to her kittens for the first time, she will have killed the prey, then eat part of it to teach her brood that this is what they need to eat in order to survive. This is the beginning of the weaning process. On subsequent forays she'll eventually bring live prey home to teach the kittens how to kill. And their play teaches them the coordination skills they'll need to catch their meals when she eventually takes them out on the hunt. The variety of prey the Queen introduces to the kittens will be what they'll hunt when they're finally on their own.

The hunting sequence has 4 parts:

  • Stalking
  • Catching
  • Killing
  • Eating

The sequence is stimulated by vision, or the sighting of prey; noises that may be made by prey; or the familiar scent of prey. Successful completion of each step leads to greater stimulation for completion of the following step. If a cat sights a mouse she will then begin to stalk it. If stalking is successful, she might catch her mouse, and if she does, then with stimulation of the tactile hairs and the close scent of the prey she will be further encouraged to kill the mouse and with that she will be driven to eat her catch. She needs to act when the initial stimulation occurs because 2 out of 3 times she will not be successful in her hunt. And she can't wait until she's hungry or she may be too weak to catch any prey. So, with constant curiosity, she patrols her territory in the off chance that she may find food even if she isn't particularly hungry at that moment.

To understand the concept of stimuli begetting a particular cat behavior reaction, take the example of the stimulus to kill. This is the step where biting comes into play. When prey has been properly caught, its natural instincts to escape cause it to make movements which stimulate the cat to bite harder to complete the kill. Now replace a mouse with your hand as you play with your kitty. At some point she will wrap her front paws around your hand and initiate a single bite. The more you move your hand, the harder your cat will bite, even moving the position of her mouth for a better bite grip. If you want to get free without a mosaic of scratches, you will have to relax your hand and keep it immobile until kitty decides to release you. If you try to pull away, she will only be stimulated to bite harder (and scratch with her rear paws, too).

If a kitten has been raised in a domestic situation, the Queen may not be so reliant on the hunting sequence as her wild cousin is. Yet your domestic cat is driven by the same stimulations. Even if she depends on you for regular meals, she'll patrol her territory, including the kitchen where her food bowl may be kept. In the wild a cat will coordinate her activities with her prey's habits. She'll place herself in the area where she knows the mice usually travel, at the times they usually travel. At the sight, smell or hearing of her prey she will be stimulated to initiate the hunting sequence. Your domestic cat will nonetheless arrive at the usual times when the 'magic can' gets opened (stalking) and she becomes stimulated when she sees you enter the kitchen and open the pantry door (catching); hearing the familiar can opener at work increases her anticipation (killing); and then she'll smell that creamed tuna as it's scrapped into her favorite bowl. All the while she's vocalizing extra loudly and walking figure 8's around your legs (eating at last).

I watched my cat the first time she caught sight of some wild turkeys immediately go into stalking mode. As she crept closer, I couldn't help but wonder what she was thinking because I knew the nearer she got, how much larger the turkeys must have appeared. I wondered when she should call off the hunt when she realized she was never going to bring down a bird 10 times her size. She only called off the game when the birds turned to face her and she realized her stealth had been compromised. Sitting up she donned a facial expression with half closed eyes that said, "I could've if I really wanted to".

It may be a bit of a stretch to compare the hunting sequence in wild cats with the opening of a can of tuna. The point is that predation is an instinct well embedded in the nature of a cat. Undoing this cat behavior trait is something akin to turning tin into gold. Anyone is amused at the graceful antics of cat play, either with toys or each other. Yet people want to draw a line between the cat behavior of playing with strings & toys, and bringing home a 'helpless' mouse or bird. The fact is that play for a cat is no more than a fine tuning of the hunting sequence to catch prey in the wild. And you may wonder that whenever you play with your cat, and provide her with toys, if you're just encouraging her to one day bring home a freshly caught critter, much to your dismay.

If one looks at predation with an objective eye, it can be realized that this particular cat behavior is normal for cats. Not hunting or displaying the hunting sequence is abnormal for a cat. So, what's one to do? The best advise is to accept it. If you try to eliminate or prevent the cat behavior, i.e. keeping kitty in at night, she will probably transfer the instinct to some other activity. Such as chasing your toes around as they move under the covers at 3:00 AM in the morning. Or she may give up chasing mice at night to take up hunting in the day time for squirrels or groundhogs. Most likely, if she is a well-adjusted and happily fed domestic cat, her caught prey may still be alive when she brings it home to you. Then you can praise her for being such a good huntress, accept her gift, and then release it... somewhere outside of her territory. But, keep in mind she isn't doing it for fun or to be mean. It's just in her nature.

Nocturnal Hunting Behavior
In scientific biological studies we learn that any given species lives according to what is called the Circadian Rhythm. Simply stated this means that a species conducts the activities of life best at certain times of the day, and seasons of the year. Yearly seasons and the length of daylight hours have great influence on mating behavior and will be discussed when we look at mating and sexuality in cat behavior. Two major categories of Circadian Rhythm and the species who occupy them are diurnal and nocturnal, or animals whose majority of activities occur during the day (diurnal) and those who are active at night (nocturnal). Cats and their prey are nocturnal creatures and humans are primarily diurnal. If one learns anything at all in this life it is that laws are made to be broken. Therefore, examples abound that defy the premises of Circadian Rhythm with certain persons such as some entertainers becoming "night people", and cats adapting to the day-time activities of their human counterparts. But, on the whole it's the natural inclination of a cat to be a nocturnal animal.

It can be inferred that the shift to nocturnal cat behavior for our wild feline friends was done for two reasons:

  • It increased the chances for catching prey
  • It also decreased the chances for becoming prey herself

An undomesticated or wild cat left to freely develop a daily cycle will choose cat behavior that will place the most amount of food on her plate with the least expenditure of energy. The primary prey of cats, rodents such as rats and mice, are nocturnal creatures with their greatest activities being at dusk and dawn. You can therefore expect cats to be active at night, but experience their most animated behavior at dusk or dawn, also. Similarly, if your domesticated cat is used to being fed once or twice a day out of a can or bag, she will most likely display her most active cat behavior at those times you regularly feed her.
As the seasons change and hours of daylight vary, getting longer in the summer and then shorter in the winter, the activities of cat behavior change, too. With longer daylight hours in the summer, the period of nighttime activities of prey are decreased relative to their activities in the winter. During the winter they scamper about for longer periods of time, but they leave later after sunset and return earlier before sunrise. The resulting cat behavior adjusts to her prey's rhythms. In the summer she may enjoy long, leisurely hunting forays, leaving earlier in the evening and returning later in the morning. But, in winter she will want to go out later and come in earlier as she adjusts to the rodent prey's schedule, with a consequent compressed hunting period.

As stated above, rules are meant to be broken and the adaptability of any animal, including humans, bears this out. Just as some people can adjust their lifestyles to work and play all night long, cats have the ability to adopt the diurnal activities of the people they live with. She does this because the daytime activities of her human counterparts stimulates her curiosity, which is closely related to her need to maintain and be familiar with what's happening in her territory, and her food supply which is usually a diurnally timed function. There's also the fact that many pure bred species of cats are bred with specific cat behavior to be dependant upon people and human activities and their breeding requires them to stay up all day (or all night from the cat's viewpoint).

The nocturnal cat behavior of any feline can also be viewed as a result of her kitten-hood experiences. If a cat is raised in a well sheltered and caring environment with ample food sources and positive exposure to people, she'll likely adopt the daylight lifestyles of her human care givers. The more she's associated with her natural wild tendencies by her mother, such as predation training (especially the actual catching of prey animals at night), she will incorporate those activities into her lifestyle even if she lives in a loving home with well provided food at regular times. She will always be predisposed to act out the predation process of stalking, catching, killing and eating. She'll also have varying degrees of success at each step of the process depending on what she was taught as a kitten.

Consequently, the nocturnal cat behavior of any domestic cat may be a result of a few factors:
The evolution and heritage of the cat as a nighttime predator dependant upon nocturnal prey and using the night as an escape from her own predators.

What a kitten was taught by her mother, especially relative to catching prey, and whether or not she is raised in a sheltered, well fed human dominated situation.

Her positive experiences with human diurnal activities. How closely she relates to her human counterparts and the degree to which she includes humans into her territory.
As a rule of thumb, giving a kitten the most positive domestic experience possible will go a long way to controlling her nighttime cat behavior:

  • Limit the kitten's, and the Queen's, living environment away from their natural prey. Raising them inside a well cat-appointed home is best when accompanied with the right training devices such as litter boxes and scratch poles.
  • Wean kittens onto a variety of well chosen foods that will supply them with the essential nutrients they need to grow on. Using a variety for weaning will also prevent finicky cat behavior when they grow older.
  • Handle the kittens when they begin to move around by stroking, bathing and grooming them regularly. Talk to them with a soothing voice.
  • Acknowledge their presence in the daylight hours and put them on a regular feeding schedule. At night, ignore any of their rambunctious activities to the best of your ability. Lock them out of your bedroom if you have to.
  • Forget about punishment for what is their normal cat behavior. Cats don't understand punishment and probably never will. They associate punishment with you, not their natural cat behavior.

So, if you're awakened in the middle of the night with your kitty leaping at your feet under the blankets, you might want to check your shoe size... they could be the same size as her favorite prey. My tendency is to use my feet to play with her. But, I know this only encourages her to do the same thing nightly. If she prowls and scratches at the door to get out, she's only acting out what is normal for her. If you yell at her... she'll only become afraid of you. The choices are limited and your responses say a lot about the kind of person you are. The bottom line to remember is that when we decide to bring home a nocturnal pet, namely a cat, to live with us, we are going to run up against her natural cat behavior characteristics. Our ancestors brought cats into their lives to help protect their food stores from the predation of rats and mice, the cat's natural enemy. Today, we are looking for some sophisticated company from cats as pets. Some people's lifestyles can accommodate the cat's nocturnal habits. For the rest of us, tolerance is a virtue.

Territory and Marking Behavior
As seen above, nocturnal cat behavior is based in part by natural Circadian Rhythm phenomena. Activities are regulated by the time of day, the length of daylight hours, and the seasons of the year. With territorial cat behavior a different set of variables comes into play. Trees, rocks and bodies of water are generally not predisposed to their presence by the time of day or season of the year, except that any may be a nice sunny spot one day and covered with snow sometime later. But, trees, rocks and lakes or rivers offer only the physical trappings of a defined territory. Beyond that, there are a set of rules which must be obeyed for territory to be observed in cat behavior.

The single most important element that determines a cat's territorial limits is that of the availability of food. For a woodlands wild cat the territory she claims for herself is going to be significantly larger than a domesticated house cat who is used to regular feedings showing up in her food dish. A barn cat with a plentiful supply of mice isn't going to need as large a territory as a wild cousin who lives in a barren, arid environment. Along with the availability of food supplies, the cat's solitary nature requires that she has enough personal space to not feel crowded. Herd animals require little personal space and are considered to be social, whereas cats require larger personal space, and hence are considered to be asocial or solitary. It's these social or solitary needs that determine how much psychological space is needed by any creature, including people. And as usual, there are the exceptions to the rule. Sometimes our solitary cat craves company so much that she'll sit in your lap or sleep with the family dog quite comfortably and for what seems like hours. The rule is not to confuse a loner or solitary person (or cat) with a misanthrope. A misanthrope is a hater of other people (or maybe other cats).

A cat will mark her territory with scent glands located in her feet, cheeks and anus. Stronger markings are made with urine scents and visual markings are made with scratches from her claws. All of these markings combined serve her as a road map around her territory, and as warnings to other cats and predators alike. As she patrols her area, she'll rub against prominent objects, leaving her scent. This works best for her at night when she's hunting and light is limited. Since her sight is activated by movement, her nose is going to tell her where she is within her territory. If she has to make a fast escape from a predator, the scents will guide her far better than the blending shades of grays in the night. The drawback to this system is that the scents have to be refreshed regularly and any changes to her environment will need to be identified, such as a newly fallen tree. Now her territory has to be large enough to provide adequate food resources, but small enough to be maintained with her scents. She doesn't want to be saddled with constant marking at the expense of not having enough time to hunt.

The establishment of territory in cat behavior derives certain benefits:

  • The solitary nature of a cat guarantees fewer predators of her species will stalk a particular area. Rodent prey are more social and this simultaneously guarantees a plentiful food supply within the territory.
  • Defined territories contribute to population control since the need to communicate a desire to mate is made difficult over the greater distances between partners. Within herds it's much easier because everyone's so close.
  • With an intimate knowledge of a fixed territory, it becomes much easier to defend, or hide in. When a cat marks her territory, it tells other cats, as well as predators, that this land belongs to her and everyone else should move on. With this knowledge she'll know where the best hiding places and escape routes are that predators won't be privy to.
  • The cat behavior of burying their waste (and doing so away from their nests) aids in disease control by limiting infection or passing parasites. It also eliminates identifying scents which predators can use to track them. You might notice that if you place your domestic cat's food and bed too close to the litter box, she may reject sleeping or eating within your ill-thought set-up. Conversely, if you place her food and bed in an area she shouldn't be using for urinating or defecating, she may stop in order to not go hungry and get some rest.
  • Psychological benefits result from owning an established territory, also. Animals function much more decisively and confidently on known ground versus one in changing or unfamiliar territory. They are more apt to defend their home turf vigorously against larger foes with creative tactics than in unknown lands.

Personal space and cat behavior is uniquely intertwined with the mating and maternal habits within the species. A wild male cat who normally doesn't distinguish between it's personal space and territory will vigorously enforce the lines as being the same during breeding seasons. They will drive other males out and only welcome breeding females. A Queen and her kittens will share her personal space and she will be intolerant of intruders. When she stops nursing and weans her kittens, she'll exclude them from her space and allow outsiders to come in as she goes back into heat. The contraction and expansion of personal space allows for mating and the raising of young without over-taxing a territory by limiting an increasing number of adults vying for the same food supply.

Domestication and human involvement in territorial cat behavior can cause distorted feline development. Cats relate to people as kittens do to a Queen. The result is a cat that can have some kitten characteristics and some adult instincts. A mix of social and solitary cat behavior with a variety of territorial responses.

Let's look at an example. Your cat may protect her personal space but allow visitors into her physical territory which would be the house you share with her. If these visitors press themselves on her she may feel threatened enough to defend her personal space. If they arrive with another cat, she may not tolerate anyone in her physical territory (the entire house). In the wild she most likely would not allow anyone anywhere in her physical territory. Since she's responding to domestication and the presence of people other than you, her reactions will run the full gamut of social to asocial cat behavior. With you she shares the whole house and there's no distinction between personal and physical territory. As others enter into the home, the lines between personal and physical territory are drawn and expand or contract depending upon how much she trusts the visitors. Although she responds to you as a kitten would to a Queen, an unacceptable intruder would elicit an aggressive response like that of a wild cat protecting her marked and well defined territory.

Early kitten experiences affect how an adult will successfully define her personal space and physical territory, as well as how easily she will move between social and solitary cat behavior. A kitten raised in a small confined space without the interactions of litter mates might, as an adult, be unable to shift easily from solitary to social behavior while at the same time keeping a small, limited personal space and territory. The result is a cat that fears any contact and shows defensive displays often (ears flattened, crouched low to the ground and ready to lash out).

It's worth repeating. Early kitten-hood experiences are critically important to the way cat behavior in an adult develops. The relationships between the Queen and her brood, and the relationships between siblings are designed to socialize the kitten, teach her the role of solitary cat behavior, and how to set boundaries, both personal and physical. When the kittens are very young, the Queen shares her personal space with them. As they grow older and are weaned, she will close off her personal space to them. Meanwhile the siblings at the early age roll around as if they were a single ball of fur. But, as they grow older they will set themselves apart from each other. Eventually, in the wild, they'll all go their separate ways to establish their own territories and requisite food supplies. The Queen's territory and its limited food supply won't support all these now adult cats.

If the kittens are raised in a closed domestic situation, it's imperative that the people of the house play a role in the socializing of the litter. Handling the kittens by caressing, stroking, grooming, bathing and giving them physical examinations all contribute to socializing the kitten with people. As the kittens are weaned, they still learn to define personal space, and will include the people's house when they are establishing territories. With a dependable food source, the need for solitary cat behavior yields to personalities that are more social. Human intruders will most likely be welcome. But, that Tom from down the street may only be grudgingly tolerated, or get chased off.

One thing's for certain. All that time you spent socializing those kittens will be wasted if the litter isn't neutered. All of the territorial squabbles will return as the sexual drives develop in the young kittens. The females come into heat. The males personal spaces expand to match their physical territories. Lines overlap. No one seems to be able to get along with anyone else. It's then you'll know it's time to neuter these kids and find everyone a new home.
Nocturnal cat behavior, predation, territorial marking and defense, social vs solitary cat behavior, and mating all intertwine. One aspect may show predominance over any other at any time, then ebb away as another aspect gains hold. Such is the nature of personality. With the cat and human relationship, we have to consider the natural survival instincts of cats as they conflict with the idea of a harmonious domestic home life for humans. No one said this was going to be easy.


The Solitary Cat
One of the most noticeable cat behavior characteristics is the cat's solitary nature. This quality is closely related to a cat's socialization and territorial instincts. All of which are a result of eons of evolutionary development designed to perpetuate the species.

Wild kittens are anything but solitary. They romp and play with each other, rolling around as a single ball of fur, sleeping together and eating with one another. Mom's personal space is theirs too, though intruders to the nest should beware. She's solitary, but social with her own brood as she trains, feeds and protects her kittens. At that time of life, the Queen's territory can provide the food necessary for all to survive. As they grow older and the Queen weans her kittens, the ability of her territory to support the larger kittens and herself diminishes and eventually she chases all of them away to survive on their own. They take her example and establish territories of their own and become solitary creatures themselves until the mating call brings them together again.

I could drone on and on about the reasons for solitary cat behavior. Ultimately, though, defining the sources or reasons for solitude as a function of cat behavior could never explain what solitude is to a cat. Whole religions are built around the benefits derived from contemplation practiced in the solitude of the spirit. I sometimes wonder if the cat has somehow found the secrets hidden within contemplative solitude given their calm, purposeful nature and ease with life. Maybe a little prose can help us to better understand solitary cat behavior.

"The solitary cat. Tempered by eons of survival, she has been taught to eat alone. After months of defending a small space she calls her own, it's almost a relief when the heat of mating calls. The immodest, natural act of giving in to a procreative urge will, in a few weeks, yield the birth and kinship of button-nosed children... who then eventually must leave, or no one will survive.

Amongst those who study cat behavior are some who speculate that cats are one of only a few animals that find sexual enjoyment in the mating act. And why not? Spending all one's time marking territory, defending it, reaping its small bounty makes for lonely days and even lonelier nights, which are spent searching for the slightest movement. It's not a search for entertaining movement, either. Then again, she doesn't miss what could be confusion, crowding and bickering over things as small as a mouse. She really appreciates her solitude when the dark predator shape-shifters, hiding in the gray of dimly lit nights, track her. The game is simple. Just her and the one hunting her. They're easily slipped since she knows her domain so well... and he doesn't.

When her belly swells, she recalls that short sweet moment when she gave in so easily. Afterward, she had felt a slight disgust remembering the rogue Tom's not-so-gentle and insensitive bite on her neck, and his burning, wretched exit.

In any case, the kittens that would soon come will be darlings and deserving of all her attention. She will give them that... and more. They'll learn everything from her. At first she'll suckle them and even motivate them to go to the bathroom. Later she'll show them what food is, how to stalk, catch their meals, and the merciful way to subdue their prey. While she's out making her rounds around her territory, they'll play with each other to sharpen their skills and develop the necessary coordination needed to make it through their eventual adult life. They'll also learn how far they can go with each other; when enough is enough; when to stop, pull back and leave well enough alone.

She knows before they eat all the food in her territory, though, she'll have to send her children on their way.

Then she will be alone again. Until the heat of the night calls once again. In the meantime, she'll get a well deserved, albeit short, rest.

Such is the solitary life."

Question: Can a cat feel the singular uniqueness of its soul which people seem to think is reserved for humans only?


Mating and Sexuality
Nowhere does greater misunderstanding of cat behavior occur than when we come face to face with the mating and sexual activities of our feline friends. For people, understanding sexual behavior is pressured by a myriad of cultural inhibitions and taboos. The unfortunate result is that although we want to know about sex, most are afraid to ask. So, we end up with parents who know how to make children, but can't tell them why, or even how, they came to be. We wonder why males act this way and females act in another manner; what is lost is that it's individuals who act in unique ways determined by a complete experience including physiological, emotional and environmental influences. The mating drive is a biological sub-set the purpose of which is primarily for species survival. Finally, it's a fundamental error to equate 'different' with 'wrong' when people apply absolute ideals to male or female sexual behavior, then judge others accordingly.

To sum up the above paragraph, when it comes to understanding the mating and sexuality of cat behavior, we run into these three contradictions:

  • Though we should understand feline mating behavior, we feel uncomfortable around it and are fearful of it because it reminds us of our own sexual drives and the cultural restrictions that impede and limit our knowledge of sex between humans.
  • Witnessing sexual cat behavior quickly lets us know how much we don't know about the opposite sex, or what we don't understand about others of the same sex. Individual people express their sexual drive in their own unique way, as do cats.
  • Normal cat behavior mating is appropriate to cats. Judging it against what might be considered normal or 'right' for humans is a fruitless, irrelevant exercise.

How people resolve these contradictions has a far reaching effect in their relationships with cats. It's difficult to understand what your cat is responding to, regarding mating and feline sexuality, if the distinction between human sexual mores and the natural mating instincts of cats isn't made. Remember, a cat is a cat. You, on the other hand, have your own problems to deal with. So, there're only two realistic and valid answers to resolving these contradictions:
One can choose to not worry or be concerned with these contradictions and accept cat behavior as being normal to cats and not threatening to people.


One can submerge themselves in the knowledge available regarding the sexual and mating aspects of cat behavior. If this is the choice, then there needs to be a suspension of all negative emotions, such as disgust or embarrassment, as that knowledge is acquired.
That being said, let's look a little closer at feline mating, sexuality and how it affects cat behavior.

First, when all cats enter into the world, they'll show characteristics which are both similar to each other, and other traits which are uniquely different. They'll show specific displays such as greeting, grooming, play and stalking. They will also display characteristics unique to each sex. Females will go into heat and participate in maternal cat behavior. Males will mount, spray urine and react aggressively towards other males. But, the lines are not so clearly drawn as to be exclusively male or female. Females can spray urine with such exuberance that she could embarrass any Tom, especially when she is raising her kittens. And there are male cats capable of caring for kittens in their household as lovingly as their own mother did for them. Research has shown that the difference between male and female is not the result of the abundance, or lack of, testosterone hormones in any individual. The real determinant lies in the differences of the brains of cats as they are affected by early life testosterone hormonal surges. These surges prepare the brain and specific organs for male sexual development when triggered during puberty. If the surge doesn't occur, then the kitten tends towards feminine inclinations. Yet, until and after puberty, each and every individual is capable of displaying the cat behavior of either sex.

When the sexuality of a cat develops, depending on whether they are male or female, they will display certain habits related to the sexual drive of their species. Males will begin to pursue females at around 18 weeks, reaching puberty at 24 weeks or so. Male sexual maturity is characterized by territorial urine marking, fighting with other males, and generally a lot of 'cat-in around', or roaming. Females become sexually mature around 6 months. This can vary since the 'heat season' is generally from January to October as the daylight hours lengthen and prey is more abundant. If a female cat comes into puberty in mid-winter, she may delay coming into heat until the next heat season. She will come into heat every 10-14 days until she mates. Female sexual cat behavior, more commonly known as 'coming into heat', is pretty obvious. She will exhibit strong vocalizing, urine marking containing sex stimulating scents and will allow males to enter her territory for the purpose of mating.
When female cats 'go into heat', they announce their receptiveness with mating calls and specific hormones which are secreted in their urine. Males will respond to those signals with their own yowling and scent cues. Remember the flehmen reaction which exposes the vomeronasal gland and blocks the facial nostrils when a cat sniffs the urine of a member of the opposite sex? This reaction allows for the processing of sex-related scents. For females, the odors are so potent that she may assume the sexual position even if a male isn't present. She will shift her weight to her front legs, crouching to elevate her rear quarters while holding her tail to one side. And she will tread with alternate steps with her hind legs. If a male cat is present, there may be nose-to-nose greetings, followed by genital examinations. If the pair finds each other acceptable physiologically and psychologically, then serious mating will ensue. The male will grasp the female's neck in a manner not unlike a Queen grasps her kittens to immobilize them. He will also begin treading as he positions himself a bit forward on her back. He will then gradually slide himself back until they are aligned for penetration. Upon climax the male will experience a decrease in excitement while the female's increases. Her eyes will dilate and she will emit a piercing cry as she pulls away. At separation she will lash out at the male, then begin to lick her genitalia. She will then begin to roll around in what appears to be genuine delight. Witnessing cat behavior during the sexual act between cats can be easily misunderstood by people. The stimuli of sexual scents causes the participating cats to engage an age old rhythm that propagates the feline species. To ethicists it might look like a dominate male taking advantage of subordinate female and when he's finished she strikes at him and tries to rub the whole thing away. In fact, both female and male cats are responding to scent stimulation and hormonal changes that occur before, during and after the sexual act is consummated. Mating cat behavior is a lot more complicated than mere human perfunctory morality meddling.

Cats who live undomesticated lives seem to have fewer problems with birthing than fluffy does in her human environment. Probably because nature weeds out those who are unable to go through the mating and birth process successfully. Shortly after birth the maternal instincts will dominate the new Queen's cat behavior. The kittens will select a teat and use it exclusively throughout the nursing period. The Queen will lick the tail area to stimulate the bodily waste functions of the kittens. In the wild, food supplies are usually limited and the pressure to wean kittens and get them out on their own is great. Weaning usually starts after about six weeks. In situations where food is in ample supply, as in a domestic cat's home, the pressure is far less and it can have the effect of delaying weaning, sometimes up to months later. The result can produce confused cat behavior and even bad habits such as:

  • Sucking
  • Dependency
  • Hostility towards strange people or events
  • Chronic health problems
  • Attacking when petted
  • Excessive grooming and licking
  • Fearfulness
  • Intolerance of other cats

In the wild, life stages and the development of cat behavior instincts follow a set path and time-line driven by evolutionary and environmental laws. Domestication interrupts those natural paths, and instinctual development, as well as psychological growth, can be incomplete or stunted. Thus the stage is set for problems between humans and their feline pets with the cat invariably and alternately seeing the person as a kitten one time and as it's Queen at other times.
The question now becomes, what does one do to ensure a kitten will grow into a happy adult with cat behavior that won't drive you up a wall? In the wild the Queen knows how to strike a balance of raising her brood to be successful adults by simultaneously being a loving mother, and, a stern taskmaster who insists on correct cat behavior while they are kittens in order to survive as grown-ups.


Cat Behavior and Human Response
When kittens are born into your home, it's impossible to not become involved with everything about their cat behavior. Whether it's during their birth, their complete vulnerability in the first days of their life, or their raucous play as they become active. Interaction is not only important, it's really unavoidable. The most important fact to remember is this:

  • Whether kittens are born in the wild or in a domesticated situation, the environment in which they interact and grow in is going to directly affect the cat behavior they develop.
  • Furthermore, they will live with this behavior for the rest of their life with little chance of changing it.

Kittens born in the wild most likely have the best chance to develop in a healthy manner, even though they may be at greater risk for disease and infections. The Queen will oversee their cat behavior growth which will give them the best chances of survival. When I say 'in a healthy manner', I mean in a way that has evolved over thousands of years of evolution proven to perpetuate the species.

Kittens born in a domestic environment will be challenged to accept a more diversified cat behavior growth pattern because certain elements from their natural environment will have changed. Food will be plentiful and territories will be broadened to include humans, dogs and even other cats. Hours of activity will be daylight oriented and mating rituals could be entirely erased. The worst examples are cats who live on the fringes... feral cats who live in a nether world which lies between being totally wild and domesticity. They're the unfortunate losers as cats transition from completely wild domains to the comfort of peoples homes as pets.

So, the elephant in the room becomes the question, "what can people do to influence cat behavior to make this transition from wildness to domesticity a positive experience for both cats and humans". Here are some things to think about:

  • Given that a wild Queen balances 'do's' and 'don'ts' in her management of kitten activities, a person should follow her example.
    • The first example is that she never uses corporal punishment to correct her young. You shouldn't either. Cats don't understand punishment. If you chase, throw things at, or even throw your kitten or cat, she'll never associate your anger with her actions. She will only associate your anger with you. You run the risk of terrorizing her to the point of fearing you.
    • Kittens learn by watching. As the Queen goes through the day in her normal activities, the kittens will follow and mimic her. At first they may do so clumsily, which in itself can be a bit humorous. But, in time they will do things just like mom. This where your best actions are to take no action at all. Let her teach them.
    • Don't try to keep them from learning the basic instincts of being a cat. For example, scratching is as natural to cat behavior as watching football all day is to a Sunday sports fan. Both can be irritating habits. 'Diversion and replacement' are the best answers to both of these problems. For the sports fan, going outside to run for some long passes to show-off his high school athleticism and get more blood than beer flowing through his veins might be an appropriate diversion. For a kitten, placing sticky tape on the corner of her favorite couch then diverting her to a scratch post nearby with a treat reward is a good way to replace where she scratches without her having to give up an activity she truly enjoys.
    • Handling kittens is a good way for them to learn to accept habits that aren't natural to cat behavior. Habits such as taking a bath, grooming with a brush, cleaning of their teeth or accepting medication. Over-handling can make them too dependant. Nobody likes a whiner. If you run to them every time something goes wrong, they will come to expect that reaction from you and they'll play you for attention by creating a negative situation for you to react to.
  • Socializing a kitten with humans and other pets teaches them to not fear people or other animals or see them as prey. Introducing them as kittens won't stop them from stalking, chasing or playing (wrestling) with the family dog or your ankles. And, you shouldn't try to stop them. Eventually they'll grow out of the play stage where everything that moves is a possible target. Even in adulthood they should be encouraged to play these games. It will distract them from forays into the bushes looking for birds or squirrels. The hunting sequence is basic to cat behavior and for a cat to be sound mentally and physically she needs to express the activities associated with stalking. Remember, movement is the trigger for the hunting sequence. Movement will always capture her attention.
  • As for feral cats, we can do little to alleviate the sordid conditions under which they live. But, as we bring cats into our homes as pets, we create a responsibility for ourselves to eliminate the context that causes the feral cat situation. That is the need for neutering. The responsibility of cat population control lies fully in peoples laps. In the wild there are natural controls that keep cat populations from going out of balance. As soon as people enter the picture you can throw those controls out the window.
    • People take cats wherever they go which impacts any new ecology into which the cat is introduced.
    • Domestication removes the natural barriers for population control so that litters of cats literally explode.

    These two reasons alone are enough to require kittens born in our homes to be neutered as soon as the operation can be scheduled. Many veterinarians will perform these operations on kittens as young as six weeks of age. And, studies have shown that neutering at that age has no ill effects on any kitten's development. Neutering has the positive results of controlling both domestic and feral cat populations, as well as changing unwanted cat behavior such as urine spraying, male fighting & roaming, and midnight yowling.

Understanding cat behavior and why cats act as they do can help people to live with feline pets in a proactive manner. If you can predict how your cat is going to react, you can determine the outcome of any action, on your part as well as hers, in advance of any potential problems. Mostly, by understanding cat behavior, it becomes possible to share the cat experience with an appreciation of the very unique and extraordinary gifts nature has bestowed upon her. And marvel at her as she exceeds any our expectations.

Cat behavior. Why is a cat a cat?... because she is a cat.

Related Links: Cat Aggression

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