Why do cats...?

1 August 2022 - 5 min read
cat with cucumber

Why do cats purr, lick humans, bring you dead animals, fear the sight of a cucumber and do other peculiar things?

We look into some theories that might explain these baffling feline behaviours.

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Pet training - dog jumping through hoop illustration
Pet training - dog jumping through hoop illustration

Why do cats purr?

Most people believe cats purr when they are happy and content. While this is true, there are other reasons they purr.

Cats may also purr when in pain, stressed or anxious in order to self-sooth.

According to Live Science magazine, cats may also purr to heal themselves because the frequency at which they purr "happens to be the frequency at which muscles and bones best grow and repair themselves".

Another reason for purring might be to get your attention or because they want to be fed, according to Professor Karen McComb's team at the University of Sussex. The research team found cats have a special kind of purr for when they're hungry.

Why do cats knead?

Kneading is believed to be an instinct left over from kittenhood or an ancestral legacy.

Many believe cats associate kneading with food and comfort because kittens instinctively massage the area around their mum’s teat in order to stimulate the flow of milk.

Another theory is that they’re making a comfy place to settle into. Wildcats often look for a soft spot to lie on. That may be a patch of tall grass or a pile of leaves that they have to knead to make it more comfortable.

Cats have scent glands on their paws which means they could also be marking their territory and declaring an object or person theirs by kneading before settling down for a nap.

Cat kneading

Why do cats like boxes?

Boxes provide a safe space from which cats can observe the world – giving them a hiding place from predators and a vantage point for stalking prey.

A study in Applied Animal Behaviour Science found that boxes reduce cats' stress levels. The research compared new shelter cats that were given a box to cats that weren’t. They found that cats that were given a box adjusted to their new environment quicker than the ones that weren’t.

So, a box would be a great way to get a new cat to get used to your home. For extra comfort, you can add a soft blanket or a towel.

Cat in a box

Why do cats sleep next to their owners?

It is possible that cats consider their owner's bed to be the safest place to sleep.

In the wild, cats choose the most secure place to sleep. Therefore, if your cat sleeps next to you it could mean it really trusts you.

Often, cats choose to sleep with their backside in their owner’s face. Even though people may find this situation unpleasant, animal behaviourists believe that an animal wouldn’t turn its unprotected back to a creature it did not consider family.

Why do cats sleep so much?

Cats sleep up to 20 hours a day. They are predators and are hardwired to devote a substantial amount of their energy to chasing, stalking and attacking prey – be it a mouse, a catnip toy or your feet fidgeting under a duvet.

They use a lot of energy while doing so and need a lot of sleep to recharge for the next hunt.

Unlike humans, cats don’t have long periods of deep sleep and may need longer downtime.

Why do cats bring you dead animals?

It is a cat's natural instinct to hunt. Some people find it's female cats that will bring home dead animals.

Female cats have a motherly instinct to teach kittens how to hunt and eat their prey. In order to do that they bring them dead or injured animals.

It seems that that instinct has not diminished. It is possible they believe they need to teach you this important survival skill.

Why do cats have twitches?

A slight occasional twitch may be nothing to worry about.

But cats can twitch because of flea-allergy dermatitis, feline epilepsy, a side effect of medication, toxicity, low blood sugar, a birth defect, kidney failure, a neurological disorder or for unknown reasons.

Your cat may also suffer from a rare condition called feline hyperesthesia syndrome, also known as twitch-skin syndrome. Little is known about the condition but it seems that nervous or anxious cats are more predisposed to it. A cat with FHS may excessively lick or bite its back, tail or back limbs causing fur to fall out.

If your cat is experiencing twitches that you are worried about, book an appointment with your vet.

It's a good idea to take out pet insurance for your cat as soon as you bring them home, so you're covered for any future conditions like this that they may develop.

Why do cats knock things over?

Cats are good manipulators and are adept at recognising what will grab a human’s attention. This means you may need to be alert if you leave a cup of tea on the side of the table while your cat is around.

Cats push things off tables to get your attention, to explore an object or to practice their hunter drive.

It is also possible they want to learn more about an object. Their paws are sensitive and patting and knocking things around might tell them more about what’s safe and what isn’t.

Cats enjoy playing with their prey and pushing and knocking things around may be their way of indulging in predatory behaviour in the absence of actual pray.

It's important to remember that the reason your cat is exhibiting a particular behaviour will often lie in the context of the situation and that although many theories have been put forward, not all have been confirmed.

cat patting food on a tableWhy are cats scared of cucumbers?

You may have seen videos of cats leaping into the air after suddenly spotting a cucumber.

The fruit is usually placed behind the cat while it is eating, which gives it a fright while it turns around.

One theory is that cats like to be aware of their environment, and anything that appears out of nowhere is likely to scare them. It means cats may not be specifically scared of cucumbers and are likely to react in a similar way if you place another object behind one while it is eating.

Animal experts advise against pulling such pranks on pets because the stress is not good for them and they could hurt themselves while jumping in fright.

Some people believe cats are hardwired to be afraid of snakes and the shape of a cucumber may awaken this primal response in them.

cat with cucumber

Why do cats eat grass?

Cats may eat grass to clean their gastrointestinal tract.

Cats lack the enzymes to completely digest grass, so they'll often regurgitate it, which can help remove other indigestible substances such as bones and fur.

Grass acts like a natural laxative and it’s a source of nutrients.

Cats may be able to extract some of the juice from grass that contains folic acid, which is also an ingredient in mother’s milk. It aids many metabolic processes including the production of haemoglobin.

cat-eating-grass

Why do cats lick you?

There's no definitive answer to why cats lick their owners and there may be more than one reason.

It could also be a sign of love. Dr Megan Maxell, an animal behaviourist, says that grooming is an important sign of affection for cats, they do it to each other when they live in a pack and they do it to their humans.

Some people believe they may be attempting to clean their owner or show them how to clean themselves.

Or if you're a messy eater and there are traces of food on your skin your cat might just be curious as to what it tastes like.

Cats usually only lick cats they’re related to, so if your cat is licking you then she might think of you as part of the family.

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A person high fiving a dog
A person high fiving a dog

Irina Wells
Content Marketing Executive