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home : columns : columns May 22, 2015

4/1/2014 1:06:00 PM
What's up with your cat's quirky behaviors?
Punkin  the resident feline at LaPaw Animal Hospital where I interned  is always in trouble for trying to drink water from the faucet in the back. photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee
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Punkin the resident feline at LaPaw Animal Hospital where I interned is always in trouble for trying to drink water from the faucet in the back. photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee

By Jodi Schneider McNamee

It's almost dawn - with an hour to go before your alarm goes off - and suddenly you wake with a start, only to find Kitty meowing two inches from your face, ready for action. Most likely Kitty wants to play while you're sleeping because cats are actually crepuscular.

Cats often surprise us with their unpredictability and, at times, they may even seem downright eccentric. Weird cat behaviors may look unusual to humans, but for the most part it's completely normal for them.

You've probably heard it before, that cats are nocturnal; they stay up all night while we sleep ... but how true is that? While each cat is different and individual experiences may vary, most cats are really crepuscular, which is a fancy way of saying they're raring to go at both dawn and dusk. Since cats have adapted to domestication they now fall under the crepuscular category. Outdoor cats might lean more toward nocturnal behaviors, due to their natural hunting instinct. If they can't catch food, they'll starve, and most small prey scurries about at night.

Just when you turn on the faucet for some water, does Kitty come dashing in for a drink? Some animal behaviorists think that it may have to do with the fact that cats prefer their water to be cool and fresh. Running water is very pleasing to many felines because it's clean and flowing. Large cats in the wild usually drink from a stream. Your feline friend may not like the fact that her water tends to warm up in her bowl as it sits all day. Though, there is no real definitive answer to why your cat fancies drinking water from the faucet.

There's nothing quite like the sound of a cat purring. Each cat has a distinctive purr; some cats have a faint, demure purr while others purr so loudly you can hear them in the next room. Although it is tempting to say that cats purr because they're happy, it is also possible that cat purring is a means of communication and a potential source of self-healing.

Scientists at the University of California, Davis, have hypothesized that a cat's purr can be used as a healing mechanism to offset long periods of rest and sleep that would otherwise contribute to a loss of bone density.

The vibrations and contractions of a purr show a consistent pattern and frequency around 25 Hz; these frequencies have been shown to improve bone density and promote healing in animals and humans. Since cats have adapted to conserve energy for long periods of rest and sleep, it is possible that purring stimulates muscles and bones without expending a lot of energy.

Have you ever noticed how your feline friend perks right up when you start unpacking a boxed delivery?

Cats love to hide, and a box creates the perfect opportunity just for that. When cats explore, one thing they are looking for is a potential hiding space, plus the experience of jumping and sliding into a box resonates with their instinct to find protected spaces out in the wild where they are able to see their environment without being seen. Part of being a cat is being able to hide and then stalk and pounce on a predator.

Boxes also provide an enclosed, secure space where your cat will feel safe. So bring on the boxes! It's free fun for you and your cat.

Have you ever been massaged by your cat?

Kneading is the motion Kitty makes by rhythmically alternating her paws, pushing in and out against a pliable, soft object. Cats start to knead as kittens, before they're even able to get around on their own, while nursing from their mother. A nursing kitten instinctually kneads to help stimulate the mother's milk production.

Adult cats associate the motion of kneading with the rewarding comfort of nursing. So if Kitty is curled up and kneading your lap while you're petting her, she's returning the affection.

Cats are territorial creatures, and one of the ways they safeguard their turf is to scent-mark what is theirs (yes, including you). By kneading their paws onto the surface of an area, (usually a soft area, like your stomach or lap) your feline friend is activating the scent glands located inside the soft pads on the bottom of her paws.

Most of these behaviors may be normal in the cat world, but others may be due to emotional or medical problems, so it's a matter of understanding behaviors to know what's really going on.

For instance, if you find your cat drinking out of the faucet continuously, she may need medical attention. Any significant increase or decrease in your cat's daily water intake could be a sign of illness.

Cats have many unique and amusing behavioral traits, so if you find your feline friend purring loudly in your ear or hiding in a half-opened box, it's just part of their day as a cat.

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