Got a cat question? Whatever your feline related query, we’ve some fascinating answers for you
Cats certainly have their funny little ways, often doing things that we humans find baffling. Whether you have a question about ‘Why does my cat lick me?’, ‘Why does my cat bite me?’, ‘Why does my cat stare at me?” or want to know ‘What’s a female cat called?’ or ‘How long is a cat pregnant for?’ we’ve some interesting and informative answers – and you may see your favourite feline in a whole new light...
Q: Why does my cat lick me?
A: Cats often lick other cats and animal family members to show their affection. According to animal behaviourists, your cat is most likely licking you because it’s their way of showing they really like you.
Vets Rachel Nixon and Lawrence Dodi of Vet Help Direct explain it like this: “Mother cats whether domesticated, feral, wild or big cats will lick their kittens as a sign of affection. Similarly, adult cats both familiarly related and unrelated individuals, groom each other (known as ‘allogrooming’) to strengthen their social bonds. If your pet cat is licking you, then it could indicate that they see you as part of their social circle. They want to express their affection towards you. Congratulations, this is a high honour in the cat world.”
It could also be because they like the way you taste. Nixon and Dodi say: “Some cats develop a penchant for the taste of the salts that build up naturally in human sweat.” However, the vet duo warn that it could be sign of anxiety: “Cats can react to the simplest of things such as a change in food or litter brand, moving house, a new animal in the household or stress in their human servant hierarchy. However, it may also indicate an underlying health issue including physical pain.” So, if your feline friend is constantly licking you or themselves, it’s advisable to get them checked out by your vet.
Q: Why does my cat bite me?
A: Kittens, like many young animals, play fight to test out their speed, agility, claws and teeth. If they become a little too carried away in their rough and tumble games, mummy cat usually intervenes so that the young cats learn to inhibit their biting.
However, when humans attempt the same kind of games, using their hands, they unwittingly reinforce the excitable behaviour and encourage kittens to grow up biting and scratching in the name of play. Feline welfare charity International Cat Care advises: “The cat’s preferred target of hands soon generalises to bare feet and, as an adult, the cat will pounce on hands and feet at every opportunity. You need to address this now to ensure your kitten doesn’t grow into a cat that plays roughly and gets labelled as ‘aggressive’. Play aggression is easily prevented by ensuring that human body parts never form part of any games with your cat. There are numerous toys on the market, many of which are attached to rods or sticks to enable easy manipulation from a distance. Hands are then associated with gentle stroking, holding and feeding rather than predatory play.”
If your cat bites you when you’re stroking or petting it, this is something that is referred to by feline behaviour experts as the ‘petting and biting syndrome/threshold’. International Cat Care explains this further: “Many cats enjoy the sensation of being stroked since it is like being groomed by their mothers when they were tiny kittens. However, the adult cat has a strong instinctive survival mechanism and they can feel vulnerable to attack if they allow themselves to become too relaxed and comfortable. They develop a sense of conflict between pleasure and potential danger and this can result in a sudden aggressive gesture to escape from the situation. Cats can often be seen running away a few steps and then stopping to groom their paw quickly as if they are rather embarrassed by the incident!”
Find out more in Why some cats aren't cuddly >>
Q: Why does my cat keep meowing at me?
A: Cats communicating with other cats use a combination of scent signals, body postures and a range of vocalisations including yowling, hissing and growling. However, meowing isn’t one of them. This is something they’ve adopted just for humans. Feline experts believe this is because cats have figured out that that their human guardians are not great at noticing or understanding cat body language. Although kittens meow to their mothers, adult cats don’t meow to other cats – probably because their mothers stopped responding once they were weaned. Grown up felines reserve this vocalisation purely to communicate with humans.
“Cats vocalise so well to us because they’ve learned that we humans are really not all that on the ball in figuring out what the tail swish means, what the ear twitch means,” says Gary Weitzman, president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society and author of How to Speak Cat. It’s a strategy that works. Essentially, meows are demands: Let me OUT. Let me IN. Pet me. Play with me. FEED me! As a cat becomes more insistent, his meows may grow more strident and lower-pitched until he gets the response he requires from his human.
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Q: Why does my cat stare at me?
A: Rather than challenging you to a staring contest, this curious behaviour is actually something you may have trained your cat to do without even realising it. Cats Protection reveals: “As a solitary species, cats don’t naturally feel the need to hold eye contact with others to communicate but if they think they can get something out of it, then they might be willing to give it a go. For example, if your cat has stared at you in the past, you may have taken it to mean that they want food or maybe attention and given them a tasty treat or a bit of a fuss in response. Your cat will then have learnt to associate eye contact with an enjoyable reward and will want to try it again to see if they get the same result. The more you reward this behaviour over time, the more likely your cat is to stare at you to get their way.”
What’s more, as well as being a way to communicate with you, staring is also a sign of a close bond between you and your favourite feline – cats are highly unlikely to hold eye contact with someone they don’t like. Cats Protection says: “If they slowly blink while looking at you, then that means they love you even more, as they trust you enough to close their eyes in your presence. If you want to show them you love them too, try returning the gesture by slow blinking back.”
Q: Why does my cat scratch the furniture even though she has a scratching post?
A: For your cat, scratching stuff is really, really important and it’s an activity that plays a large part in health and wellbeing. When a cat scratches they are stretching muscles and keeping their claws in optimum condition. Cats also have scent glands between their toes in the pads of their feet, so they’re also leaving behind their personal scent. You can try, however, to encourage them to use a scratching post rather than the table leg.
Find out more in Scratch that! >>
Q: Why does my cat like to drink from the tap?
A: A cat’s motivation to drink is not connected to hunger, so many find it confusing when water bowls are provided next to their usual feeding area. Some cats adapt to this strange set-up relatively easily, but others reject this water as unsuitable and seek other more acceptable sources. Taps, glasses of water, vases and goldfish bowls are all potential thirst quenchers, but the best option is to provide dedicated drinking vessels in alternative locations well away from your cat’s food. Some cats also prefer running water, so pet drinking fountains can be a more practical solution than a constantly dripping tap.
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Q: Why does my cat rub around my legs?
A: For cats, it’s all about smell. Everyone within your cat’s social group, as well as objects, will be anointed by his unique scent signature via glands in his face, body and tail. When your cat rubs around your legs to greet you, he is doing it in the same way as he would greet another feline by mutual rubbing of the face and body. As your cat can’t reach your face, your legs will do. Once you have been suitably rubbed, you’ll notice that your cat will then take himself off to groom his body and check out your scent.
Q: Why does my cat like to sit on top of the wardrobe or the bookcase?
A: Felines often gravitate toward high perches. This is because cats are both predator and prey and climbing to a high location provides a cat with a better vantage point to spot prey and predator alike, while staying safe. While there may be nothing to prey on or escape from in your lounge or bedroom, it’s a hardwired survival behaviour that makes a cat feel safe and secure.
Find out more in Cat about the house >>
Q: Why does my cat seem to take great delight in knocking everything off my desk?
A: Cats are very adept at using their paws – you can see them batting and pawing at objects and sometimes, with a twist of their little paws, hook items and toss them in the air. Cats are notoriously curious, so it’s likely they start off just being intrigued by an object, pawing at it to see if it moves, or how it moves, and inadvertently knock it off the desk. Once the cat has seen the object fall, he may be attracted by the speed of the falling object, the sound the object makes when it hits the floor and maybe even the attention, both good and bad, he receives from his human. When we hear something hitting the ground, we invariably come to see what happened. Some cats have learned that this is a failsafe way to get their human’s undivided attention. Home working has no doubt provided hours of fun for the nation’s cats...
Find out more in Feline behaviour – strange, but true >>
Q: Why does my cat like to sleep in the sun, even on a hot day?
A: The reason cats seek out the sun starts with genetics. Research on cat DNA has shown that domesticated cats evolved from a wild species, Felis sylvestris lybica (the African wildcat) which lives in Africa, Europe, and Asia. As their origins are as desert animals, it makes sense that they like it hot, but there’s a bit more to it than that. In fact, the reasons that cats like to bask in the sun reveals that they are extremely clever at using the energy it provides to support the physiology that nature gave them.
Part of a cat’s daily energy intake is used to maintain their body temperature – which is a couple of degrees higher than us (100.5 degrees Fahrenheit compared to a human average of 98.6 degrees). By lying in the sun, a cat needs to use less energy to maintain the correct temperature. If they start to get too hot, they lick their fur – when the saliva evaporates, it provides a cooling effect.
Then there’s the protein-rich diet of these meat-eating obligate carnivores, which plays a part. Protein doesn’t work in the same way as carbohydrates in terms of energy consumption. Essentially, cats don’t have much extra energy to spare to keep them warm if their environment is cooler than they were biologically designed for, so that’s another reason why they naturally seek out heat sources.
In addition, when cats sleep, certain body functions slow down, so by sleeping in a sunny spot it helps to slow the drop in their basal metabolic rate (the amount of energy required when at rest) – which means another green energy saving award for solar-powered felines!
Q: Why does my cat wake me up in the middle of the night?
A: Cats are, by nature, nocturnal animals. Their instinct is to hunt and eat primarily at night, just like their ancestor – the African wild cat. Even though studies have shown that domestic cats adapt their activity cycles to their environment and to human activity to become more diurnal (awake during the day), for many cats, the call of the night still dominates. Add to that that many cats are left alone for much of the day and probably spend the bulk of that time sleeping, and it’s no wonder that they become active after dark.
Find out more about The curious tale of the cat in the night...
Plus, here are some fun facts all about cats:
- A female cat that has not been neutered is known as a queen.
- A neutered female cat is known as a molly.
- Unneutered males are called toms.
- A neutered male cat is known as a gib.
- Cat pregnancy lasts for nine weeks and a female cat can get pregnant again just six weeks after giving birth – even more reason to get your cats neutered as soon as possible.
- Queens can have between one and nine kittens in a litter, although usually there are between four and six, and the kittens won’t necessarily all have the same father. Female cats may mate with more than one male to produce a litter, which explain why their kittens can be such a range of colours.
- A cat’s genes decide their fur colour and it’s extremely rare for a male cat to have the genes that give them a tortoiseshell coat.
- Female cats tend to be right pawed. Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast observed cats as they were reaching for food or stepping over objects and found that the female cats were more likely to use their right paw while male cats preferred using their left.
- Cats don’t only purr when they’re happy – they may also purr when they’re frightened or feeling unwell or in pain as a way of comforting themselves. If your cat exhibits this behaviour, it’s vital to get them checked out by your vet.
- If you’re a cat lover, you’re an ailurophile...
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Cats are ‘obligate’ or ‘true carnivores’, which means they must eat meat to survive and thrive. Obligate carnivores require nutrients found only in animal flesh and, while they might be able to ingest small amounts of plant matter, they’re not able to fully digest it.
- Cats have a very specialised digestion, with a small intestine that’s only about three times the length of their body.
- Their stomach secretes digestive juices that act primarily on meat.
- As strict carnivores, cats have high protein requirements and their metabolism appears unable to make essential nutrients such as retinol (Vitamin A), arginine (an amino acid), taurine (an organic compound found in animal tissue) and arachidonic acid (a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid).
- In order to get these essential nutrients, a cat has to eat meat.
The optimum diet for your cat is one that supplies the correct number of calories and balance of nutrients for their size, life stage and lifestyle. This means calculating the nutrient content and dietary components such as protein, fat, carbohydrate and vitamins and minerals required. This is what our expert team of nutritionists do when we create our delicious recipes. Burgess Cat Food is a complete food. This means, whatever variety you choose for your cat, it will contain all the nutrients they need in the correct balance.
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Sources: icatcare.org, rspca.org.uk, cats.org, catbehaviourassociates.com, pets.webmd.com, independent.co.uk, humanesociety.org, thespruce.com, wayofcats.com