Domestic Cat Behavior Explained

Cat behavior is a fascinating world. A cat’s behavior ranges from body language to elimination habits with so many topics in between. All cat behavior can be different depending on breed and of course personality.  Below you will find a short introduction to each topic of domestic cat behavior and on the following pages, you will find domestic cat behavior explained from my experiences.


Body Language

Body language is how a cat positions it’s body depending on its feeling and mood. Each cat may show signs different but for the most part, cats all share the same body language. Let’s take a look at some of these:

domestic cat behavior explainedShow Me Your Belly!

All my cats do this but all for different reasons. They all turn over on their stomachs for one reason or another. Zoli is usually in a playful mood when he does it. Gyula is being affectionate and wants to be pet. Feri does it to say I love you. When cats go into this positions, they are usually very content, relaxed and trust you a lot!

Blinking

This is another sign of affection. When a cat blinks at you, it is the ultimate sign of trust. This is how Gyula tell me he loves me. He does it a lot!

Arched Back

When a cat does this it means he feels threatened and is trying to make himself look bigger to ward off any predators. Zoli did this when he was a baby and it was so darn cute! He was still a baby at three months old but Feri and Gyula were already full grown. I know he was anxious to meet them because I allowed them to play through the door but when he first met them, he just wasn’t prepared. I wish I had taken a picture!

Tail Straight Up

When you see a cat walk up to another cat or a human with his tail held straight up high he is simply saying “Hello!”. I didn’t realize it for quite some time but after all my research I found out that his is what it means. Feri does this to me when he comes into the bathroom to see what I am doing. I’ll say “Hi” and he usually gives me a quick meow before leaving. Every time!

Staring and Growling

Staring and growling aren’t very good but it isn’t necessarily bad either. It really depends on the cat. For some cats, this might mean they are about to attack but for more passive cats like Gyula, this is a warning. Gyula does this when he is approached by Zoli. He tolerates Zoli but not too close as Zoli is known to bully him. I usually have to push one of these cats along so that nothing escalates at this point.


Elimination Habits

domestic cat behavior explainedInappropriate elimination is probably the most common behavior problem. Inappropriate elimination can be caused by sickness, pain, anxiety, a dirty litter box or a slew of other reasons. Gyula has had this problem because he has constipation stemming from Zoli bullying him. It was painful for him to use the bathroom and so he associated his pain with the litter box. It didn’t help that Zoli would bully him while he was trying to use the bathroom.


Aggression

 

Cat aggression is the second most common behavior problem seen by behaviorists. Cats have weapons (their teeth and all four paws filled with tiny sickles!) which they are not afraid to use. In order to understand cat aggression, you also need to understand cat body language. Look for offensive and defensive postures. There are 10 basic forms of cat aggression and I’m going to touch on them here.

Between cats

This is usually aggression between unneutered males, because of size or activity, a clash of personalities or because of bad memories from other cat encounters. This is what I deal with between Gyula a Zoli. I think it is personality based.  You can read about cat bullying here.

Fear

There is a perceived threat and the cat is scared

Territorial

If a new cat is brought into the home, a kitten grows up, there is a change in the environment or a stray in the neighborhood

Playdomestic cat behavior explained

The most common type. Play aggression starts in kitten-hood. Feri does this when he’s had enough of me playing with him. He’s not too bad most of the time but sometimes he really loses control!

Redirected

The most dangerous and very common. Redirected aggression is when a cat gets aggressively aroused and agitated by another but can’t get to the thing in question. This happens when there is a window or wall block the cat from getting his thing. Because he can’t get what he wants, he will lash out at whatever is nearby, a dog, cat or a human. Sometimes this can happen hours later! People sometimes say that these are out of the blue or unprovoked. But we all know cats can walk around pissed off for hours! Lol. The thing is that it isn’t malicious or intentional and the cat doesn’t go looking to strike. It’s more of a reflex.

Feri was famous for this. Out of nowhere, he would attack my ankle and it would scare the daylights out of me. Not to mention, he wasn’t being gentle and broke the skin many times. It hurt a lot and I would get scared of him. He would kind of snort and I knew that he was pissed off for some reason but I could never understand why! Once I did my research and found out where it was all coming from, I was able to catch the signs and calm Feri down before it got too escalated. He’s much better now but it still does happen once in a while

Petting Induced

Most cats love to be pet but some don’t. Gyula will sit for hours if you pet him. Zoli loves a good chest rub. Feri, I think, likes it but has his limits. He definitely lets me know when enough is enough. Most of the time it is a gentle reminder to lay off. Other times he lets me have it!

Pain and/or Irritation

Sometimes a cat in pain will lash out and that’s understandable. My Mom’s cat did this to me when I had to get her into the carrier after she had gotten bit by another cat. Other times a cat can be frustrated or feel deprived and will show aggression because of it.

Maternal

domestic cat behavior explainedThis is probably a very well know form of aggression. Everybody knows not to bother a mother cat as she is just protecting her babies.

Idiopathic

Idiopathic aggression is when the cause of aggression is unknown and can not be explained

Predatory

Aggression that is natural and comes from instinct. Cats are natural born hunters.


Play

domestic cat behavior explainedCat play is very important. Your cat should have ample interactive play with you. You need to play with your cat but remember to match the toy with the personality. Zoli is a very active player and loves toys that have batteries and move on their own. Gyula loves these little pieces of fluff that I get from the pet store. He’ll throw them up in the air and then pounce on it. So cute! Feri loves to play with hanging toys so I usually have a few of those toys that dangle from a stick.

You need to schedule play time for them. Just as we need a play day, so do they! Be sure to end play slowly and avoid being abrupt and putting the toy away immediately. Instead, give them the toy to play with on their own for a while. However, you do want to put special toys away. Keep them as a treat and be sure to still have a variety of other toys readily available for them to play with.


Communication

Cats generally communicate with other cats with body language and scent but there are a ton of noises a cat makes as well. Below is a general list of sounds cats make.

Meow

Meows are for humans. It is there way to get our attention.

Purr

Most of the time this means that you cat is happy but it can also mean that your cat doesn’t feel well.

Chirps, Chirrups and Trills

This is sort of bird like but hard to explain. It sounds like a dove or pigeon cooing. It means they are happy. Feri and Gyula do this to me. Mostly Gyula before he gives me a head bonk. Here is a video of a cat trilling.

Chatter

It sounds like they are clacking their teeth. I catch Feri and Zoli doing this when they are looking out the window at a bird. It generally means they are excited by watching their prey.  Here is a pretty kitty excited by what she sees!

Hiss

Of course, we all know that when a cat hisses it means they are either pissed off or scared, possibly both!

Yowl

This is like a long, drawn out meow. It can mean that you cat is worried, uncomfortable, has a territory concern or mating issues. Sometimes it means that your cat isn’t feeling well or perhaps they are bored. Zoli makes this sounds a lot. It’s usually right after I stop his rough housing with Feri. I can tell that Feri is getting pissed so I make Zoli get off of him. He then paces the hallway for a minute or two making this noise. After that, he’s fine. Lol  This video is of two cats who have a territory concern.  The noise is quite alaming!  Zoli doesn’t get this loud when he does it so I know he’s bored.

Caterwaul

This is a noise made by females in heat

Scream

Females will make this noise when they are done mating and when the tom cat removes his penis, it hurts the female. Other times, when cats are in a fight you will hear this horrible sound. Gyula does this when Zoli attacks him. Every time, I nearly have a heart attack. I feel so bad for Gyula because it is truly a frightening sound and I know that he is terrified.  You will know this sound when you hear it!

Snarls & growls

These sounds stem from anger, fear or a territorial threat. When Zoli and Gyula are playing nice and tolerate each other’s presence, if Zoli approaches Gyula, even if it’s just to pass by, Gyula will growl to let Zoli know to keep it moving!


Hunting

domestic cat behavior explainedCats are natural born hunters and chasers. It is an instinct and you shouldn’t be afraid of this behavior. Feri has caught two birds this summer (although I am sad about it, I can’t be mad at him.) and Zoli has brought me two cicadas and numerous leaves. That is Zoli’s thing. I watch him and he stares up at the trees waiting for a leaf to fall. Then he’ll jump to get it as it is falling down. Autumn is definitely one of his favorite seasons because of this. He’ll bring so many leaves inside and piles them next to my bed. It’s so funny!


Grooming

Cat grooming behavior is necessary to felines. There are seven main reasons for a cat to engage in grooming behavior. They are:

It protects them from predators

By licking off food particles, it allows them to remain anonymous to predators

To Cool Down

Cats sweat a little from their paws but the evaporation from the saliva helps them maintain a cooler body temperature more.

For Fur Maintenance and Warmth

In contrast, during colder months, grooming helps a cat spread their natural oils over its body to keep the heat in.

To Stimulate Blood Flow

Have you ever heard the recommendation to scrub your head with your fingertips while washing your hair to stimulate the scalp? Well, the same if true for our feline friends.

To Keep Wounds Clean

If your kitty was in a tiff, they may have some scratches and will clean the area so that it can heal quicker.

Relaxation

Have you ever watched a cat groom themselves only to fall asleep promptly afterward? This is because it is relaxing and it puts them to sleep

Grooming another

This is a show of affection. Every once in a while, Feri will take my hand and groom the fingers.  Feri and Zoli are always grooming each as well


Urine Marking

Urine markings are messages for other cats. It can tell other cats what belong to him, what territory is his, when the last time he was here or when they will be coming back. Urine marking has 3 distinct characteristics. They are:

  1. Urine markings are deposited vertically usually on a wall, cabinet or inside a closet
  2. Have less volume than regular eliminationdomestic cat behavior explained
  3. They have a more pungent odor than regular pee

The most likely cat homes that a cat will mark will have a:

  • Unneutered male in the house
  • Have a multi-cat household
  • Change in the house like somebody moving in, moving out or new furniture
  • Conflict with another cat either inside or outside the house

The best thing to get rid of cat markings is an enzyme that destroys the urine like Nature’s Miracle. Bleach and household cleaners will not help at all.


Face Rubbing

Face rubbing has a few meanings and can be interpreted as leaving scent marks or a time stamp as to when the cat was last in the area. However, it can also mean they are anxious or perhaps they are giving a sign of affection. Sometimes it is simply offered as a greeting. Feri and Zoli are big ones in this area. Feri rubs on anything and can make a table or chair leg dirty in no time! Zoli rubs on me a lot especially my legs.


So there you have it! This is a basic version of domestic cat behavior explained. There is so much information on each of these topics but it is important to have a basic foundation as well. Please let me know if you have anything to add to my lists. Cheers!

16 comments

  1. This is so interesting to read as a new cat owner. My kitty is only 1 year old. I rescued her from a dog attack and I think that bad memory stayed with her for a very long time because she hissed every time I try to pat her head.

    Now, she’s a lot better. She shows me her belly and blinks all the time – I didn’t know that it meant love. I thought she was tired of seeing me all the time 🙂

    Luckily she gets along with my dog just fine. She is very relax with her around, no aggression whatsoever. But only with my dog, not others.

    1. Aw, that’s so sweet that you resuced her. Thank you for that! She sounds like a sweet kitty. She probably does still harbor some fear but with time and love she will probably be fine. It sounds like she’s getting that alreasy! 🙂

  2. Wow! That pretty much covers it! Amazing detailed article. I have wondered what is your opinion on cats having aggression among other problems from the new trend of de-clawing your kittens? I fear we are moving towards a unnecessary cruelty that impairs a cats true nature. Again, you cover a lot about cats, I would love to get another one!

    1. Oh I don’t like declawing at all. It is uncesessry as long as you provide sufficient scratching areas. I think cats that are declawed do show more aggression becasue they have lost the majority of thier defense mechanism.

  3. Great information. I never knew this much about cats. You explained so well that anyone could understand. You really opened my eyes. It is really interesting!

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful information.

  4. I am a veterinarian and I can say that you are right and I love cats and I see them very cute.
    However, there are few things I hate about cats. Toxoplasma is a big problem. Cats can tear clothes and furniture.
    But they are very cute and very lovable.

  5. Interesting article. We have two at home. Two female. Both from the same carriage. But there are so different from each other. That’s what make me say that, there is some signs like you say, that they give us to communicate. But they also have all their own personality. They don’t like exactly the same things. They don’t exactly behave the same way. But they are both SPOILED 🙂

    1. All my cats have such different personalities. I find it interesting how they interact with me, each other and the world in general! They are all diffinetely spoiled too!

  6. Hi Cat,
    That’s a great review of cat behavior! I grew up with a cat so I can relate to a lot of the behaviors you talk about. I was interested in the redirected aggression. I’d never thought of it before as being related to an earlier incident, just thought it was random crazy cat acts, but I can absolutely see it now! Cats can certainly sulk for long periods so it makes sense that they could easily lash out later over something that I’ve forgotten about by then.
    Thanks for sharing your insights!
    Cheers, Rachel

  7. Thank you for such an informative post. I feel like I understand my cat so much better.

    My cat does something really funny. He likes to “play fight.” He gets all wild and runs across the top of the kitchen cupboards, arches his back and growls. Then he jumps down and goes running from room to room as I chase him around. He’s the only cat in the house so I’m his surrogate playmate. The first time he did this scared me half to death, but then I soon realized he was just wanting me to play with him.

  8. I don’t have a cat myself but I’ve run into many of them, especially more so now during summer and these domestic cats are roaming around on the sidewalk. I like cats, they’re always friendly to me. I’ve seen them roll over on their stomachs a lot, I’ve read somewhere that you shouldn’t pet their stomach though, is this true?

    1. No, it isn’t true at all.  A cats belly is it’s most vulnerable spot so if it’s showing you their belly then they trust and like you!  I few gentle rubs wouldn’t hurt but they usually don’t tolerate much more than that.  I always get a couple of rubs in on mine.  I just love that soft and fluffy floof of a kitty belly!  

  9. I don’t have a cat myself but I’ve run into many of them, especially more so now during summer and these domestic cats are roaming around on the sidewalk. I like cats, they’re always friendly to me. I’ve seen them roll over on their stomachs a lot, I’ve read somewhere that you shouldn’t pet their stomach though, is this true?

    1. No, it isn’t true at all.  A cats belly is it’s most vulnerable spot so if it’s showing you their belly then they trust and like you!  I few gentle rubs wouldn’t hurt but they usually don’t tolerate much more than that.  I always get a couple of rubs in on mine.  I just love that soft and fluffy floof of a kitty belly!  

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