Image via iStock.com/sjallenphotography
By Dr. Wailani Sung
The life of a cat appears to be idle and indulgent. Looking over at my cats as they lounge in their cat tree or in a cozy spot on my bed, sometimes I wish I could live their lives. I will admit that my cats live a pampered life. They are treated like royalty.
They have plenty of comfortable spaces to sleep on, tons of nooks and crannies to explore in my house, meals prepared four times a day, and their toilets cleaned multiple times a day. They receive frequent body massages and have endless opportunities to amuse themselves.
I find it amusing to watch them as they look out the window, captivated by the sights and sounds outside. Do you ever wonder, “What do cats think about?” Let’s take a look at some common cat scenarios to see if we can demystify your cat’s behavior.
No Warm Welcome
Scenario: When you come home after a long day at work, one cat runs up to greet you and tell you about their day. The other cat may just wait in their warm location until you seek them out. Why does that occur?
Could it be that one cat is more attached to you and missed you more than the other? Or could it be that the other cat is tired after a day of chasing cat toy mice around the house and was in a deep sleep when you came home?
Like a person, some sleeping cats may need a few minutes to fully wake up, and by then, you have sought them out. If this scenario occurs in your house, then your cat may have learned that there is no need to greet you at the door because you will come looking for her.
It does not necessarily mean that your cat is not bonded to you, just like you may not always go running to the door when your partner returns home. If you are busy, you may continue working and wait for them to come greet you.
If you want your cat to come greet you, try waiting for her to come find you, and once she does, reward her with a warm greeting and a few tasty cat treats. If you reinforce her greeting behavior with treats and pets, she is more likely to be waiting eagerly by the door for your return home.
Your take of the situation: “My cat didn’t miss me; if he did, he’d greet me at the door.”
What your cat might actually be thinking: “My person is home! They’re going to come greet me!”
Eliminating Outside the Litter Box
Scenario: “My cat is mad at me! I went out of town for the weekend, and, when I came back home, she had urinated on my bed.” Have you ever said this?
While it is normal to feel upset when your cat has urinated on your bed, keep in mind that animals do not behave out of spite—that is a human motivation. The first thing to do is to take your cat to your veterinarian for a physical examination. Underlying medical causes such as a bladder infection, kidney disease or bladder stones can cause pain and discomfort.
Urinating on your bed may be your cat’s way of attracting your attention to her illness. If your veterinarian has determined that your cat is physically healthy, then we need to explore some behavioral factors that may be contributing to your cat’s problem.
There are several factors to consider in regards to the cat litter box setup that may be affecting her desire to use it. Ideally, cats should be provided with an open litter box that’s one and a half times the length of their body. It should be filled with an unscented, fine and granular cat litter. The litter box should be cleaned at least twice daily. It should also be placed in an area your cat has easy access to.
Another behavioral cause for urinating on your bed may be anxiety. When your on a daily basis or from a specific experience, sometimes they may urinate in an area where their scent or the owner’s scent is the strongest. They are not trying to be spiteful or dominant. It is speculated that cats find comfort in their own scent. This is also their way of communicating to you that they need help.
Your take of the situation: “My cat is getting revenge on me by peeing on my things.”
What your cat might actually be thinking: “Please help me; something is wrong with me/my litter box.”
The Fake Out
Scenario: “He asks me to stroke his belly by rolling over, and when I pet his belly, he bite and scratches my hand!” Does this sound like you?
Before you get upset and do something that ruins the bond you have with your cat, learn to read his body language. When a cat is relaxed and comfortable around a person, he may roll over to show you his abdomen, the most vulnerable, unprotected part of his body. This is the ultimate sign of trust from a cat, but it is not an invitation to pet him.
Your cat may not enjoy a belly rub, just like you may not enjoy someone reaching over to pat your belly. Cats typically enjoy being petted on their head and the sides of their body. Next time your cat rolls over, you can simply talk to him or give him a quick rub on his ear or neck instead of upsetting him by rubbing his belly.
Your take of the situation: “Kitty wants me to pet his belly!”
What your cat might actually be thinking: “I trust you! But don’t pet my belly.”
The Sneak Attack
Scenario: Every night as you prepare for bed, right on cue, your cat ambushes you. It could happen as you walk down the hallway, or when you come out of the bathroom or when you’re getting into bed. Whack! Your cat swats your ankles. It was cute and funny when your cat was a kitten, but she is no longer a kitten, and her claws hurt.
Why is your cat sneak attacking you? At the end of the night, you may be tired, but your cat may still have plenty of energy. While you have been hard at work, she has been sleeping all day, waiting for you to come home. Provide your cat with plenty of cat interactive toys and 10 to 15 minutes of play to work out her energy before bedtime.
Your take of the situation: “My cat is attacking me!”
What your cat might actually be thinking: “Let’s play! I’ve waited all day to play with you!”
My Cat Is “Mr. Destructo”
Scenario: “My cat knocks my stuff off the bookshelf on purpose! He has broken so many of my glass figurines. He is being bossy and does not want me to decorate HIS shelf.”
How often have you thought that your cat was being spiteful because he appears to enjoy pushing items off your counter, table or shelves? What many people do not realize is that cats are curious and like to explore.
They use their paws to help them explore by touching and manipulating objects that interest them. Sometimes they may push too hard, and items are moved. When objects fall and bounce around, your cat may be fascinated by the movement of the object.
For cats that are confined indoors, there is a lot of monotony and routine in their lives. Pushing objects around and making them fall down may give them more mental stimulation. If your cat likes to bat and push things around, provide him with nonbreakable objects and cat toys that he can interact with.
Try filling up a cat puzzle toy with his cat food for mealtime so that he learns to work for his meals. Make an effort to engage him in at least one 10- to 15-minute play session daily. By providing more mental and physical stimulation, you can reinforce good behaviors and allow the more undesirable behaviors to fade away.
Hopefully you have more insight into the inner workings of your cat’s mind. Many cats are often misunderstood. If you take some time to learn about their needs and motivations, it will strengthen the bond between you and your cat.
Your take of the situation: “My cat is trying to tell me that he’s the boss around here.”
What your cat might actually be thinking: “That was fun! Let me push something else over, because there’s nothing else fun to do.”