Cat behaviours explained

cat - outside - garden

Far from the enigmas many believe them to be, we can learn a lot about cats by watching their behaviour. Many behaviours we might consider ‘problematic’ are very natural and normal, and by understanding why these behaviours occur we can understand what is going through our cat’s minds. Read on to gain an understanding as to why cats scratch, bite and spray urine.

Why is my cat scratching the furniture?

Although it might seem as though some cats refuse to use the scratching post, much preferring to fray your couch or armchair, scratching vertical surfaces is a normal cat behaviour. Cats have scent glands in their paws which ‘mark’ surfaces when they scratch them, communicating a whole range of information to other cats who can sense the pheromones released.

Additionally, scratching helps keep cat claws healthy much as we might trim or file our own nails. Problems arise, however, when your cat scratches a surface you would rather stay intact. If you find your cat is scratching the carpet or your couch, rather than punish them by yelling or spraying water on them, offer alternative scratching posts (both vertical and horizontal), show them where to scratch and reward them for scratching the right place with treats.

Why is my cat biting me?

If you’ve ever watched two cats interact antagonistically, you might have seen them bite or scratch each other during the altercation. Biting is a behaviour generally used to stop something from happening or to end an unwanted interaction with another cat or human.

If you find your cat bites you sometimes, take note of their behaviour in the lead up to the bite. Most cats will give plenty of warning signs before they bite. Are their ears flattened, their face pulled in tight and their tail flicking? They are telling you they need space. If you keep interacting with them in this state, they will be forced to use their one last remaining tool – biting. If you have a kitten, you can train them to not bite humans.

Never ‘play wrestle’ them with your hand, particularly if they try to bite and kick it. It might be cute when they are little, but it will be very painful when they are older. Rather, play with your cat through toys to engage with them without any painful consequences.

Why is my cat spraying urine?

Particularly unpleasant if performed indoors, cats spray urine as a way of marking their territory. This behaviour increases if they feel threatened or anxious, such as a new cat in the neighbourhood or if they are fighting with a companion cat they can’t get away from. Urine spraying can also be a sign of an underlying medical condition. Always seek veterinary attention if your cat begins spraying around the house.

All problematic behaviours require a careful plan to resolve the issue and not cause undue stress or harm to your cat. Always seek the advice of a veterinarian, particularly a veterinary behaviourist, before starting behaviour modification activities on your cat.