What Does It Mean When My Cat Does…
When you get home from work, Riley leaps up and greets you at the door, tail wagging and tongue ready to give you a good lickin’.
Meanwhile, Buster glances up from his place on the sofa, looks at you, blinks and turns away.
I don’t have to tell you who’s the dog and the cat in this scenario. Both dogs and cats are animals we’ve adapted from the wild to become our companions. And while they have similarities, they can also be quite different.
While each animal is an individual and may not fall into the stereotype, generally speaking, cats can be a little more subdued and less obvious than dogs when it comes to demonstrating needs or emotions. But that doesn’t mean they’re not communicating. In fact, they have plenty to say.
To help decipher the enigmatic feline, I elicited the help of animal behavior expert and veterinarian Dr. Jeffrey Levy, of House Call Vet NYC, and asked him for help in understanding cat behaviors. So what does it mean when my cat…
…Rubs Himself On Me, My Computer, Anything Near Me?
I’ve always found it odd how much cats seem to want to rub themselves on things. After hours of indifference, he may saunter over and rub his head on my laptop, anything I’m holding in my hand or me. Strange.
Well, not so strange, according to Levy. “Cats communicate with human beings and their fellow felines in various ways, including body language. Rubbing is your cat’s way of scent-marking its territory (scent glands are particularly abundant on the face and chin), claiming you as a friend or possession.”
…Kneads Blankets and Fleece?
Ever witness your cat enraptured in the act of kneading a fleece blanket? It’s quite adorable. But again, why?
“When cats knead objects—or people—they are recreating a neonatal behavior. When kittens are nursing, they use their paws to stimulate the release of oxytocin from the mother’s brain. The hormone relaxes the mother’s nipple sphincter muscles and facilitates milk flow. I believe it makes cats feel good to recreate this infantile behavior. And when my cats knead me, it makes me feel good too.”
…Slowly Blinks and Turns Away?
My late cat, Derby, would often respond to my calling out his name by looking at me, slowly blinking, then turning away. For a long time, I thought he was dismissing me, or ignoring me. I totally misread that.
“Not all cats exhibit this special behavior but I’m lucky to have spent many years with a favorite kitty companion who showed affection in this way,” said Levy. “We used to exchange slow blinks. Translated to human terms, it’s like exchanging smiles with someone. It’s a way to connect. If your cat does this, be sure to respond in kind.”
…Has Flattened Ears and Squinty Eyes?
There were a couple of situations when Derby did this: when the vacuum cleaner came out and whenever our dog, Guinness, did something displeasing (which in Derby’s mind, was quite often).
“When you see a cat’s ears flatten and square out, it’s a warning sign of anger and potential aggression,” said Levy. “It’s usually accompanied by tail switching. To defuse the situation, retreat momentarily to let the cat relax. Challenging a cat who is showing these signs is asking for a bite or scratch.”
…Dashes Out of the Litter Box After Pooping?
All the cats I’ve had have demonstrated this behavior. They go into the litter box, poop, then make a mad run for it. Hilarious, but yet another mystery.
“Many cats truly enjoy their litter box experience and feel a sense of accomplishment from this release,” Levy said. “Bounding out of the litter box most likely represents enthusiasm. However, there’s a chance it can be related to health issues. If the movement is erratic or your cat displays discomfort, it could be cause for concern.”
…Puts His Tail Straight Up with His Butt Up?
Often when Derby was seeking some kind of attention or food, he’d circle our legs with his butt and tail up.
“Female cats in heat exhibit this behavior, but it’s accompanied by moaning and rolling,” Levy said. “Most likely, this behavior is a sign of pride and confidence. You have a confident cat secure in its personal territory, eager for attention.”
…Kicks His Back Legs Out When Playing with a Toy?
Our kitten, Riot, is quite the little predator and enjoys attacking pretty much everything. To save our hands and feet, we’ve gotten him an assortment of toys, and he loves those too. When he goes after a toy he can wrap his front paws around, he’ll often kick with the back legs.
“Cats are fierce predators and kicking their powerful hind legs is literally and figuratively a form of flexing their muscles,” said Levy. “Notice that the kicking is accompanied by biting—simulating a successful hunt.”
I’ve always thought purring means cats are happy. But is that always the case?
“Purring is most often associated with contentment and happiness—for example, when grooming themselves,” Levy said. “Cats sometimes purr when nervous or ill, but generally it signals wellbeing. As a behaviorist, I would argue that it’s also a mechanism to bond with humans. People enjoy the sound of a purring cat on their lap (don’t you?) and a smart cat knows how to purr its way to success.”