Cat behavior

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Cat behaviour includes body language, elimination habits, aggression, play, communication, hunting, grooming, urine marking, and face rubbing in domestic cats. It varies among individuals, colonies, and breeds.

Communication and sociability can vary greatly among individual cats. In a family with many cats, the interactions can change depending on which individuals are present and how restricted the territory and resources are. One or more individuals may become aggressive: fighting may occur with the attack resulting in scratches and deep bite wounds.

A cat's eating pattern in domestic settings are essential for the cat/owner bond to form. This happens because cats form attachments to households that regularly feed them.[1] Some cats ask for food dozens of times a day, including at night, with rubbing, pacing, and meowing.

Communication[edit]

Kittens need vocalization early on in order to develop communication properly. The change in intensity of vocalization will change depending on how loud their feedback is. Some examples of different vocalizations are described below.[2]

Purring or a soft buzz, can mean that the cat is content or possibly that they are sick. Meows are a frequently used greeting. Meows occur when a mother is interacting with her young. Hissing or spitting indicate the cat is angry or defensive. Yowls can mean that the cat is in distress or feeling aggressive. Chattering occurs when they are hunting or being restrained from hunting.[3]

Body language[edit]

Cats greeting by rubbing against each other; the upright "question mark shape" tails also indicate happiness or friendship

Cats rely strongly on body language to communicate. A cat may rub against an object, lick a person, and purr. Much of a cat's body language is through its tail, ears, head position, and back posture. Cats flick their tails in an oscillating, snake-like motion, or abruptly from side to side, often just before pouncing on an object or animal in what looks like "play" hunting behavior. If spoken to, a cat may flutter its tail in response, which may be the only indication of the interaction, though movement of its ears or head toward the source of the sound may be a better indication of the cat's awareness that a sound was made in their direction.[4]

Scent rubbing and spraying[edit]

These behaviors are thought to be a way of marking territory. Facial marking behavior is used to mark their territory as "safe". The cat rubs its cheeks on prominent objects in the preferred territory, depositing a chemical pheromone produced in glands in the cheeks. This is known as a contentment pheromone. Synthetic versions of the feline facial pheromone are available commercially.[5][6]

Cats have anal sacs or scent glands. Scent is deposited on the feces as it is eliminated. Unlike intact male cats, female and neutered male cats usually do not spray urine. Spraying is accomplished by backing up against a vertical surface and spraying a jet of urine on that surface. Unlike a dog's penis, a cat's penis points backward. Males neutered in adulthood may still spray after neutering. Urinating on horizontal surfaces in the home, outside the litter box may indicate dissatisfaction with the box, due to a variety of factors such as substrate texture, cleanliness and privacy. It can also be a sign of urinary tract problems. Male cats on poor diets are susceptible to crystal formation in the urine which can block the urethra and create a medical emergency.

Body postures[edit]

A cat's posture communicates its emotions. It is best to observe cats' natural behavior when they are by themselves, with humans, and with other animals.[7] Their postures can be friendly or aggressive, depending upon the situation. Some of the most basic and familiar cat postures include the following:[8][9]

  • Relaxed posture – The cat is seen lying on the side or sitting. Its breathing is slow to normal, with legs bent, or hind legs laid out or extended. The tail is loosely wrapped, extended, or held up. It also hangs down loosely when the cat is standing.
  • Stretching posture – another posture indicating cat is relaxed.
  • Cat yawning posture
    Yawning posture – either by itself, or in conjunction with a stretch: another posture of a relaxed cat.
  • Alert posture – The cat is lying on its belly, or it may be sitting. Its back is almost horizontal when standing and moving. Its breathing is normal, with its legs bent or extended (when standing). Its tail is curved back or straight upwards, and there may be twitching while the tail is positioned downwards.
  • Tense posture – The cat is lying on its belly, with the back of its body lower than its upper body (slinking) when standing or moving back. Its legs, including the hind legs are bent, and its front legs are extended when standing. Its tail is close to the body, tensed or curled downwards; there can be twitching when the cat is standing up.
  • Anxious/ovulating posture – The cat is lying on its belly. The back of the body is more visibly lower than the front part when the cat is standing or moving. Its breathing may be fast, and its legs are tucked under its body. The tail is close to the body and may be curled forward (or close to the body when standing), with the tip of the tail moving up and down (or side to side).
  • Fearful posture – The cat is lying on its belly or crouching directly on top of its paws. Its entire body may be shaking and very near the ground when standing up. Breathing is also fast, with its legs bent near the surface, and its tail curled and very close to its body when standing on all fours.
  • Terrified posture – The cat is crouched directly on top of its paws, with visible shaking seen in some parts of the body. Its tail is close to the body, and it can be standing up, together with its hair at the back. The legs are very stiff or even bent to increase their size. Typically, cats avoid contact when they feel threatened, although they can resort to varying degrees of aggression when they feel cornered, or when escape is impossible.[10][11]

Grooming[edit]

Cat grooming itself.

Oral grooming for domestic and feral cats is a common behavior; recent studies on domestic cats show that they spend about 8% of resting time grooming themselves. Grooming is extremely important not only to clean themselves but also to ensure ectoparasite control. Fleas tend to be the most common ectoparasite of cats and some studies allude to indirect evidence that grooming in cats is effective in removing fleas. Cats not only use their tongue for grooming to control ectoparasites but scratch grooming as well may aid in dislodging fleas from the head and neck.[12]

Kneading[edit]

Classic kneading of a cat

Kittens "knead" the breast while suckling, using the forelimbs one at a time in an alternating pattern to push against the mammary glands to stimulate lactation in the mother.

Cats carry these infantile behaviors beyond nursing and into adulthood. Some cats "nurse", i.e. suck, on clothing or bedding during kneading. The cat exerts firm downwards pressure with its paw, opening its toes to expose its claws, then closes its claws as it lifts its paw. The process takes place with alternate paws at intervals of one to two seconds. They may knead while sitting on their owner's lap, which may prove painful if the cat has sharp claws.

Since most of the preferred "domestic traits" are neotenous or juvenile traits that persist in the adult, kneading may be a relic juvenile behavior retained in adult domestic cats.[13] It may also stimulate the cat and make it feel good, in the same manner as a human stretching. Kneading is often a precursor to sleeping. Many cats purr while kneading. They also purr mostly when newborn, when feeding, or when trying to feed on their mother's teat. The common association between the two behaviors may corroborate the evidence in favor of the origin of kneading as a remnant instinct.[14]

Panting[edit]

A cat panting

Unlike dogs, panting is a rare occurrence in cats, except in warm weather environments. Some cats may pant in response to anxiety, fear or excitement. It can also be caused by play, exercise, or stress from things like car rides. However, if panting is excessive or the cat appears in distress, it may be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as a nasal blockage, heartworm disease, head trauma, or drug poisoning.[15] In many cases, feline panting, especially if accompanied by other symptoms, such as coughing or shallow breathing (dyspnea), is considered to be abnormal, and treated as a medical emergency.[16]

Reflexes[edit]

Righting reflex[edit]

Chronophotography of a falling cat by Étienne-Jules Marey, 1894

The righting reflex is the attempt of cats to land on their feet at the completion of a jump or a fall. They can do this more easily than other animals due to their flexible spine, floating collar bone, and loose skin. Cats also use vision and their vestibular apparatus to help tell which way to turn. They then can stretch themselves out and relax their muscles. The righting reflex does not always result in the cat landing on its feet[17] at the completion of the fall.

Freeze reflex[edit]

Adult cats are able to make use of pinch-induced behavioural inhibition to induce a 'freeze reflex' in their young which enables them to be transported by the neck without resisting. This reflex can also be exhibited by adults.[18][19]

Food eating patterns[edit]

Cat eating "cat grass"

Cats are obligate carnivores, and do not do well on vegetarian diets. Felines in the wild usually hunt smaller mammals to keep themselves nourished. Many cats find and chew small quantities of long grass but this is not for its nutritional value per se. The eating of grass seems to stem from feline ancestry and has nothing to do with dietary requirements. It is believed that feline ancestors instead ate grass for the purging of intestinal parasites.[20]

Cats have no sweet taste receptors on their tongue and thus cannot taste sweet things at all. Cats mainly smell for their food and what they taste for is amino acids instead. This may be a cause of cats being diagnosed with diabetes. The food that domestic cats get have a lot of carbohydrates in them and a high sugar content cannot be efficiently processed by the digestive system of cats.[21]

Cats drink water by lapping the surface with their tongue. A fraction of a teaspoon of water is taken up with each lap. Although some desert cats are able to obtain much of their water needs through the flesh of their prey, most cats come to bodies of water to drink.[22]

Socialization[edit]

Socialization is defined as a member of a specific group learning to be part of that said group.[23] It is said to be a continuous learning process that allows an individual to learn the necessary skills and behaviours required for a particular social position.[24]

Cats, domestic or wild, do participate in social behaviours, even though it is thought that cats (besides lions) are solitary, anti-social animals.[25] Under certain circumstances, such as food availability, shelter, or protection, cats can be seen in groups.[25]

The social behaviours that cats participate in are colony organization, social learning, dominance and social conflicts, and socialization with humans.

Colony organization[edit]

In Lions[edit]

Lions are the most well known wild cat that form very prominent colonies, known as prides. The social structure of these prides are very interesting. Within prides, the female lions play a crucial role. They form the center of the pride along with their young.[26] They are also responsible for hunting and feeding the members of the pride.[26] Male lions are in small numbers, about 2 - 5, are present in a pride and are around for reproduction and defensive purposes.[26]

The number of members within a pride stay constant. Young male and female lions only get to stay in the pride to make up numbers that have dwindled from death.[26] Female lions that are kicked out of their original pride roam alone in search for territory to start her own pride or to find a pride low in numbers that will take her in.[26] Females within a pride are better protected and this protection allows for better hunting efforts[27] ensuring survival. Male lions that are kicked out usually stick together in groups and search for a female pride in need of males or they will compete with other males for their pride.[26]

In Free Living Domestic Cats[edit]

Free living domestic cats tend to form small to large colonies[28] Small colonies consist of one female, known as a queen, and her kittens. Large colonies consist of several queens and their kittens.[28] Male cats are present in both types of colonies and serve the purpose of reproduction and defending territory. Within these colonies altruistic behaviour occurs. This means that if an expecting queen helps another queen that just gave birth, then the helping queen will get help when she gives birth in return[28]

Although free living cats are found in colonies. Stable social order, like that of the lion, does not exist.[29] Free living cats usually are found in colonies for protection against predators, and food availability.[29] Although there are many advantages of group living, such as easy access to mates, and defensive measures to protect food, there are also disadvantages such as, sexual competitions for mates, and if the group becomes too big then fights may break out over food. [28]

Socialization between Cats[edit]

When strange cats meet, ideally they would cautiously allow the strange cat to smell its hindquarters, but this does not happen very often.[30] Usually when strange cats meet, one cat makes a sudden movement that puts the other cat into a defensive mode. The cat will then draw in on itself and prepare to attack if needed.[30] If an attack were to happen the subordinate cat will usually run away, but this does not happen all the time and it could lead to a tomcat duel.[30] Dominance is also seen as an underlying factor for how conspecifics interact with each other.

Dominance[edit]

Dominance can be seen among cats in multi-cat households. It can be seen when other cats submit to the "dominant" cat. Behaviours such as walking around the dominant cat, waiting for the dominant cat to walk pass, avoiding eye contact, and retreating when the dominant cat approaches.[31] Dominant cats present a specific body posture as well. The cat displays ears straight up, the base of its tail will be arched, and it looks directly at subordinate cats.[31] These dominant cats are usually not aggressive, but if a subordinate cat blocks food they will become aggressive.[32] When this aggressive behaviour occurs it could also lead to the dominant cat preventing subordinate cats from eating and using the litter box.[31] This can cause the subordinate cat to defecate somewhere else and create problems with human interaction.[31]

Social Conflicts[edit]
A display of two cats fighting

Social conflicts among cats depends solely on the behaviour of the cat. Some research has shown that cats rarely pick fights, but when they do its usually for protecting food and/or litters, and defending territory.[33]

The first sign of a tom cat duel is when both cat draws themselves up high on their legs, all hair along the middle of their backs are standing straight up, and they mew and howl loudly as they approach one another.[34] The steps the cats make become slower and shorter the closer they become to one another. Once they are close enough to attack, they pause slightly, and then one cat leaps and tries to bite the nape of the other cat.[34] The other cat has no choice but to retaliate and both cats are rolling aggressively on the ground, and loud intense screams come from both cats.[34] Before you know it both cats separate and stand face to face to begin the attack all over again. This can go on for some time until one cat does not get up again and remains seated.[34] The defeated cat does not move until the victor has completed a sniff of the area and moves outside the fighting area. Once this happens the defeated cat leaves the area ending the duel.[34]

Socialization with Humans[edit]

Humans and cats have a long history starting back with the ancient Egyptians, who were the first to domesticate cats.[35]

Cats between the age of three to nine weeks are sensitive to human socialization[36], after this period socialization can less effective.[35] Studies have shown that the earlier the kitten is handled, the less fearful the kitten will be towards humans.[35] Other factors that can enhance the socialization are having many people handle the kitten frequently, the presence of the mother, and feeding.[36][35] The presence of the mother is important because cats are observational learners. If the mother is comfortable around humans then it can reduce anxiety in the kitten and promote the kitten-human relationship.[36]

For Feral kittens around two to seven weeks old can be socialized usually within a month of capture.[37] Some species of cats cannot be socialized towards humans because of factors like genetic influence and in some cases specific learning experiences.[37] The best way to get a kitten to socialize is to handle the kitten for many hours a week.[37] The process is made easier if there is another socialized cat present but not necessarily in the same space as the feral. If the handler can get a cat to urinate in the litter tray, then the others in a litter will usually follow. Initial contact with thick gloves is highly recommended until trust is established, usually within the first week. It is a challenge to socialize an adult. Socialized adult feral cats tend to trust only those who they trusted in their socialization period, and therefore can be very fearful around strangers.[37]

Cats are also used for companion animals. Studies have shown that these animals provide many physiological and psychological benefits for the owner.[38] Other aspects of cat behaviour that are deemed advantageous for the human-cat bond are cat hygiene (cats are known for good hygiene)[39], they do not have to be taken outside (use of the litter box), they are perfect for smaller spaces, and they have no problems with being left alone for extended periods of time.[38] Even though there are a number of benefits for owning a cat, there are a number of problematic behaviours that affect the human-cat relationship. One behaviour is when cats attack people by clawing and biting.[40] This often occurs all of a sudden or could be triggered by sudden movements.[40] Another problematic behaviour is the 'petting and biting syndrome', which involves the cat being pet and then suddenly attacking and running away.[40] Other problems are house soiling, scratching furniture, and when a cat brings dead prey into the house.[39] It is because of these kinds of behaviours that puts a strain on the socialization between cats and people.

Cat environment[edit]

Cats like to organize their environment based on their needs. Like their ancestors, domestic cats still have an inherent desire to maintain an independent territory but are generally content to live with other cats for company as they easily get bored. Living alone for a longer time may let them forget how to communicate with other cats.[41]

Sometimes, however, adding a kitten to a household can be a bad idea. If there already is an older cat present and another cat is added to their environment it may be better to get another older cat that has been socialized with other cats. When a kitten is introduced to a mature cat, that cat may show feline asocial aggression where they feel threatened and act aggressive to drive off the intruders. If this happens, the kitten and the cat should be separated, and slowly introduced by rubbing towels on the animals and presenting the towel to the other.[42]

Cats use scent and pheromones to help organize their territory by marking prominent objects. If these objects or scents are removed it upsets the cat's perception of its environment.

Importance of space for domestic and feral cats[edit]

The domestic cat has become more sociable through contact of its own species through domestication. The domestic cat is more juvenile than the African wildcat; this promotes greater tolerance of other cats and domestic animals.

It has been documented that feral cat colonies have a social structure whereas the females of the group live together and help with each other's kittens whereas the males do not. There are also studies that cats do form hierarchies when housed in a limited space. It is known that cats show higher levels of stress during the first couple of weeks at a shelter vs. in a group house controlled together for 2–16 weeks.[clarification needed] This study showed that those cats housed in smaller spaces are forced to interact with each other while the more space per cat the less stress related behaviours.[43] The experiment approved by the Swedish Ethical Committee in Gothenburg, concluded “From our result we conclude that increasing the space for group housed cats, from 1 m2/cat to 4 m2/cat, increases the amount of play behavior. The amount of licking and body contact (i.e. positive inactivity) between cats, and the activity increases when cats are housed on 4 m2/cat compared to 2 m2/cat. Play has been used as an indicator of positive welfare in other species, and licking and body contact can indicate positive contact between individuals, we therefore argue that the increase in space given to these cats slightly increased their welfare. However, further studies are needed on the effect of space and density of cats when housed together in groups.”[clarification needed][43]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  3. ^ Anonumous (May 2015). "Interpreting feline vocalization patterns" (37). DMV360. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  4. ^ Pachel, Christopher (May 2014). "Intercat Aggression: Restoring Harmony in the Home: A Guide for Practitioners". The Veterinary clinics of North America. Small animal practice. 44 (3): 565–579. doi:10.1016/j.cvsm.2014.01.007.
  5. ^ Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM (22 April 2013). "Synthetic Feline Facial Pheromones: Making Recommendations in the Absence of Definitive Data, Part 1". petMD.
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