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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. Some cats ask for food dozens of times a day, including at night, with rubbing, pacing, and meowing.
- 1 Communication
- 2 Grooming
- 3 Kneading
- 4 Panting
- 5 Reflexes
- 6 Food eating patterns
- 7 Socialization
- 8 Predatory Behavior
- 9 Cat environment
- 10 See also
- 11 References
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.
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. If you see your cat making quick chirps, and moving their mouths extremely quickly while their eyes are set and staring at one place, they are chattering, and channeling their inner urge to hunt. Big cats do this as well, but since domesticated cats are not in the wild, they still have their innate need to hunt. Grown cats also do not meow to other grown cats. Cats meow in adult form to talk to other animals, such as dogs, and more importantly humans. Meowing to humans has been researched as that they do it to manipulate humans into what they want and need.
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. When cats greet another cat in their vicinity, they can do a slow, languid, long blink to communicate affection if they trust the person or animal they are in contact with. It is a sign of trust. A way to communicate love and trust to your cat from a human perspective is to say their name, and get their attention, and then look them the eyes and slowly blink at them to emulate trust and love, and they may return the gesture.
Scent rubbing and spraying
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.
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.
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. Their postures can be friendly or aggressive, depending upon the situation. Some of the most basic and familiar cat postures include the following:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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 at the completion of the fall.
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.
Food eating patterns
Cats are obligate carnivores, and do not do well on vegetarian diets. In the wild they 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.
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.
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.
Socialization is defined as a member of a specific group learning to be part of that said group. 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.
Cats, domestic or wild, do participate in social behaviours, even though it is thought that cats (besides lions) are solitary, anti-social animals. Under certain circumstances, such as food availability, shelter, or protection, cats can be seen in groups.
The social behaviours that cats participate in are colony organization, social learning, socialization between cats, and socialization with humans.
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. They are also responsible for hunting and feeding the members of the pride. Male lions are in small numbers, about 2 to 5, are present in a pride and are around for reproduction and defensive purposes.
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. 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. Females within a pride are better protected and this protection allows for better hunting efforts 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.
In Free Living Domestic Cats
Free living domestic cats tend to form small to large colonies Small colonies consist of one female, known as a queen, and her kittens. Large colonies consist of several queens and their kittens. 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
Although free living cats are found in colonies, stable social order, like that of the lion, does not exist. Free living cats usually are found in colonies for protection against predators, and food availability. 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.
Cats are observational learners. This type of learning emerges early in a cats life, and has been shown in many laboratory studies. Young kittens learn to hunt from their mothers by observing their techniques when catching prey. The mother ensures their kittens learn hunting techniques by first bringing dead prey to the litter, then live prey. With the live prey, she demonstrates the techniques required for successful capture to her kittens. Once this is done, she then brings live prey to the litter for the kittens to catch themselves. Prey-catching behaviour of kittens improves over time when mothers are present over when they are not.
Observational learning for cats can be described in the terms of the drive to complete the behaviour, the cue that initiates the behaviour, the response to the cue, and the reward for completing the behaviour. This is shown above when cats learn predatory behaviour from their mothers. The drive is hunger, the cue is the prey, the response is to catch the prey, and the reward is to relieve the hunger sensation.
Kittens also show observational learning when they are socializing with humans. They are more likely to initiate socialization with humans when their mothers are exhibiting non-aggressive and non-defensive behaviours. Even though mothers spend most time with their kittens, male cats play an important role by breaking up fights among litter mates.
Observational learning is not limited to kitten-hood, it can also be observed during adulthood. Studies have been done with adult cats performing task, such as pressing a lever after a visual cue. Adult cats that see others performing the tasks, learn to perform the same task faster than those who did not witness another cat.
Socialization Between Cats
When strange cats meet, ideally they would cautiously allow the strange cat to smell its hindquarters, but this does not happen very often. 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. 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. Dominance is also seen as an underlying factor for how conspecifics interact with each other.
Socialization and Communication Between Cats and Humans
Cats have learned how to develop their vocals in order to converse with humans, in which they are trying to tell humans what they want or not. Cats do not vocalize to other cats unless it is a hiss; however, a hiss is less about the sound and more about the showing of teeth along with their stance. The only real exception to this phenomenon is that kittens do meow at their mothers for milk and attention, but that does go away as they don't have a need for milk anymore and become an adult. Animals such as cats tend to think of you as an equal or even one of their own; furthermore, the more you act like another cat would towards them, then the stronger the connection. For example, when petting a cat you should always go all the way from head to tip of their tail because cats greet each other that way as they twist their tails in together. Another way that cats and humans interact is through what people call "head bunting" in which cats are rubbing their head on you in order to leave their scent and mark to claim territory. A lot of people believe that head bunting is when the cat and human put their heads together, yet this could just be the act of the cat hitting its head against your leg.
How to get a cat to approach you- The first thing to getting a cat to approach you is to know when enough is enough. The last thing you want is to scare the cat by making it feel threatened or trapped, and this is done through not respecting their boundaries. Read the body language of the cat. Is it backed into a corner with its tail stiff up? Is it rolled on its back in the middle of the floor purring? Tips for reading body language of a cat can be found in the Body Postures section above. But what you as a human can do is respect those boundaries and wait for the cat to approach you. Some other techniques to get them to approach you though is something as simple as when you put your hand out for the cat to sniff, put your middle finger down a little so your other fingers are more raised. Another way, known as the "cat handshake" is to put out your hand with palm turned towards you and cup your hand back towards you as well. Then let the cat smell the back of your hand in order for them to get to know your scent and who you are, and follow with rubbing their cheek with the same hand formation.
What about non-physical socialization? Cats speak through body language as known from the section above; however, the eyes are a huge part of that. When cats and humans interact, cats have a tendency to not want too much eye contact. If you are new to a cat then don't make to much eye contact. When you do make that eye contact though, you can tell them that you love them by blinking really slowly from eye contact but then looking away after a slow blink. The reasoning behind this behavior is very similar to a cat turning its back on you, because it means that they trust you.
Overall, when trying to connect with a cat there are a lot of do's and don'ts, yet despite these, every cat is different. Some of the more common do's though include slow blinking, "cat handshakes", respecting boundaries, reading body language, and talking to them. Don'ts would include invading their personal space, aggressive body language, too much eye contact, trapping or cornering them, and approaching too abruptly.
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 past, avoiding eye contact, and retreating when the dominant cat approaches. 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. These dominant cats are usually not aggressive, but if a subordinate cat blocks food they will become aggressive. When this aggressive behaviour occurs it could also lead to the dominant cat preventing subordinate cats from eating and using the litter box. This can cause the subordinate cat to defecate somewhere else and create problems with human interaction.
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.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
Socialization With Humans
Humans and cats have a long history starting back with the ancient Egyptians, who were the first to domesticate cats.
Cats between the age of three to nine weeks are sensitive to human socialization, after this period socialization can be less effective. Studies have shown that the earlier the kitten is handled, the less fearful the kitten will be towards humans. Other factors that can enhance the socialization are having many people handle the kitten frequently, the presence of the mother, and feeding. 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.
For feral kittens around two to seven weeks old can be socialized usually within a month of capture. Some species of cats cannot be socialized towards humans because of factors like genetic influence and in some cases specific learning experiences. The best way to get a kitten to socialize is to handle the kitten for many hours a week. 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.
Cats are also used for companion animals. Studies have shown that these animals provide many physiological and psychological benefits for the owner. Other aspects of cat behaviour that are deemed advantageous for the human-cat bond are cat hygiene (cats are known for good hygiene), 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. 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. This often occurs all of a sudden or could be triggered by sudden movements. Another problematic behaviour is the 'petting and biting syndrome', which involves the cat being pet and then suddenly attacking and running away. Other problems are house soiling, scratching furniture, and when a cat brings dead prey into the house. It is because of these kinds of behaviours that put a strain on the socialization between cats and people.
Cats are rumored to have multiple lives but due to research it has been shown that they also have multiple personalities. Although they are not considered bipolar like humans, from research there are 52 measured cat personality traits. "Five reliable personality factors were found using principal axis factor analysis: neuroticism, extraversion, dominance, impulsiveness and agreeableness." The five traits listed are also known as the "Feline Five". Your cats personality is seen to be caused by its environment. For example, if you have an rambunctious household, your cat personality may resemble that of an "Impulsive" cat personality. Knowing and understanding the correlation between home and cat can even remedy a better environment for all parties involved.
A significant element of cat behavior is that they thrive on engaging their predatory instincts. When kept as an indoor pet, due to high-density living, traffic, or predators such as coyotes, they are essentially captives, like zoo animals. Understanding an indoor cat's personality can go a long way to satisfy their instincts and avoid potential schizophrenic behavior (such as sudden hissing, dashing around the house, or climbing the curtains). While there may not be common rules for providing a stable environment it appears that the following should be present:
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.
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.
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
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 when controlled together for 2–16 weeks. 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. 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.”
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