To understand the behavior of your sweet, crazy, angry or scaredy cat, you have to learn about her naturally wild heart.
I’ve been following some interesting trails so you can learn how we modern felines think and see our world. Then you can understand better why we behave the way we do.
Whether in your house or out in the wild, we all have the same instincts. Let’s see what I’ve found so far…
CATS ARE NOT LITTLE DOGS…they DON’T BEHAVE the same
First, let’s state the obvious…we aren’t little dogs!! (a horrifying thought, being compared to those awful beasts!) Dogs do things to make their masters happy. Cats do things because we get something out of it. If you want us to behave a certain way, make it worth our while. (Big tip for you…we don’t respond to “discipline” of any kind…including that nasty spray bottle. We just learn to fear and avoid you.)
People have bred dogs for thousands of years to fit certain jobs. They’re bred for physical and behavior traits that benefit people. Dogs are a great help to farmers, hunters, police, disabled people, and others. OK, ok…they can be sweet companions and fun to have around (great heating pads too!). Shhh, don’t tell my buddies I said that.
Cats Haven’t Been Bred for Behavior Traits
It’s different with cats, though. People have only bred us for a little while in comparison to dogs, primarily for physical traits, not behavior. Humans breed cats for eye and coat color, length of fur, variations of head and face shape, tails, and legs. They also work to remove genetic defects liked crossed eyes and tail kinks in Siamese.
All of us house cats descend from the African Wildcat (felis silvestris lybica). This wild relative still lives in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and western Asia. Some of us even still look (and behave) like them, tabby cats in particular.
But there’s been no need to change our primal cat behavior beyond getting us to trust people and be friendly. We’re naturally great mousers and don’t need any human training if we learned from our mothers (well, most of us anyway).
That’s important because it means we’re still wild at heart…even the lazy kitty lounging on your sofa! It doesn’t take much for our natural instincts to come out and our true feline behavior to show itself.
Cat Behavior is about territory, territory, TERRITORY!
Securing, patrolling, protecting, sharing territory (our world) as peacefully as possible…that’s what it’s all about for us.
To humans, territory is the four walls of your house and what’s in it. You may have other outside boundaries to mark territory you own but you usually stay on terra firma, whether walking, sitting, or lying in bed.
We cats see everything vertical as our territory, too, not just the ground, so that means anything we can jump or climb on. This affects how we act in your house. Furniture, shelves, cabinets, narrow ledges, curtain rods, and many other things are all fair game. Look up, I love a good tree to climb!
Just to make it more fun, we see your yard and anything outside the house as our territory, too! That’s true for indoor-only kitties as well as those that go outside. So any critters, especially other cats who wander by, instantly alert us…INTRUDER ALERT, INTRUDER ALERT, TERRITORY UNDER THREAT!
We even act the same inside in our territory as we would outside. Our daily activities are exactly like our wild relatives. We sleep, hunt, catch prey and eat, groom our wonderful selves and sleep again to have energy to hunt. Our behavior is never random. It’s always related to this routine and territory. See “The Territorial Cat” for more on this topic.
How does this relate to my cat being a picky eater, scratching my sofa, or peeing on my bed?
Actually, knowing the way your cat sees her world is the basis for creating any change in behaviors you don’t want. Understand what she’s doing and change things you’re doing to fit what she needs.
These unwanted behaviors are signs that there’s something you need to change in her world. Perhaps she has a bladder problem that needs vet attention. Maybe she’s scratching the sofa because you haven’t given her a usable scratching post nearby that she likes. Or she’s insecure because you’ve changed something in her world and she has to mark her territory to feel secure again.
Use what you learn here to think about how your cat behaves in her world…your house. Remember, to her it’s the same as if she were outside. She sleeps, hunts, kills and eats her prey, grooms and sleeps again.
Check the related pages below to find out how to live peaceably with your favorite feline. Often changing your behavior, as you understand her needs, changes her behavior too. Your cat is then happy, content and secure in her world and you are too!
Related Pages of Interest
Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary. Primary are always preferable and have the most reliable information because primary sources are original and directly referenced. Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.
Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own. However, sometimes they refer to primary sources. Thus, when I use secondary sources most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.
LIST OF SOURCES
77 Things to Know Before Getting a Cat, by Susan M. Ewing, Companion House Books, Fox Chapel Publishers International, Ltd., 2018
“African Wildcat”, Wikipedia
Cat Calls: Wonderful Stories and Practical Advice from a Veteran Cat Sitter by Jeanne Adlon and Susan Logan (c), Used by permisson. Square One Publishers (www.squareonepublishers.com), Garden City Park, NY, 2012, page 60
The Cat Whisperer by Mieshelle Nagelschneider, Bantam Books, The Random House Publishing Group, New York NY, 2013, www.bantamdell.com
CatWise, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2016
The Inner Life of Cats, The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions by Thomas McNamee, Hachette Books, Hachette Book Group, New York, NY, 2017, www.hachettebooks.com
Think Like a Cat, How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat – Not a Sour Puss by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Group (USA) Inc, New York, NY, 2000, 2011
The Tiger on Your Couch, What the Big Cats Can Teach You About Living in Harmony with Your House Cat by Bill Fleming and Judy Petersen-Fleming, William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, NY, 1992
Total Cat Mojo by Jackson Galaxy with Mikel Delgado, PhD, Tarcher Perigree, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2017
What Your Cat Wants by Francesca Riccomini, Thunder Bay Press, Octopus Publishing Group, San Diego, CA, 2012