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Why Does My Cat?

Why does a try to scratch around his food bowl?

Not all cats do this. This is an attempt to bury any uneaten food for later. In the wild cats will bury their uneaten food so that other animals can't steal their "catch".

Why does a cat eat grass?

There is no definitive answer as to why cats eat grass but some theories include:

  • Cat acts as a laxative and helps with the passage of hairballs through the system.
  • Eating grass can induce vomiting, which helps the cat bring up hairballs.
  • Grass contains some nutrients which aren't a part of their normal carnivorous diet.
  • They enjoy it.

Why does a cat purr?

The exact mechanisms of purring are still not known. People associate purring with a contented and happy cat, and certainly this is often the case. However cats will also purr when they are in pain or frightened.

One theory is that purring is a social signal, which sends out the message that the cat is either contented or in need of help.

Why does a cat have whiskers?

Also known as "tactile hairs" or vibrissae, whiskers are long, thick and specialised hairs on the side of the mouth. They are around 2 - 3 times thicker than "normal" hairs and are embedded three times greater than other hairs.  Cats have approximately 24 whiskers, 12 on each size.

They are highly motile and extremely sensitive and are supplied with a mass of nerve endings. Whiskers can move forward and backward.

Whiskers have several uses. They can detect air currents and vibrations and cats are able to tell the distance and shape of an object in the dark through the use of whiskers. It has been observed that cats who have had their whiskers cut are able to hunt and kill prey normally in daylight but in the dark they can catch the pray but misjudges where to place the killing bite.

Whiskers are as wide as the cat's body, therefore act as a guide to tell the cat if it is able to fit into a narrow space.

Whiskers are an extremely important sensory tool for the cat and they should never be cut.

Why does my cat vomit on the rug?

I have heard but can't confirm that cats prefer to vomit on rugs to smooth, slippery surface as rugs give them a better grip while they are convulsing.

Why does my cat knead me with his front paws?

Kittens knead their mum's belly when they are feeding. This is a sign of contentment to the kitten and also helps the mothers milk flow.

Why do cats chatter their teeth at birds?

Many cats will make a quiet 'chatter' sound while they are watching birds or other 'prey' from a window. There are two suggested theories as to why cats do this.

  • When a cat has caught it's prey it delivers a fatal bite to the neck. It may be that when your cat is watching birds from afar it is re-enacting that fatal bite.
  • It has also been suggested that cats make this noise out of frustration because they are unable to get to the prey.

Why does a cat suck/chew on clothing?

This is known as pica. The word pica comes from the Latin word "magpie", which is known to eat almost anything.

As to the cause, nobody knows exactly what causes it but several theories have been suggested;

  • Dietary insufficiencies, and possibly needing more fibre, minerals or vitamins in their diet.
  • Wool sucking may be a result of a cat being weaned too early, and takes to this as a self soothing mechanism.
  • Stress and anxiety.
  • Boredom.
  • Wool sucking is seen more commonly in Siamese and Siamese cross breeds, which suggests that there may be a genetic component to this behaviour.

Why does my cat bring home dead animals?

Hunting is a natural behaviour in felines. Our mollycoddled cats have no need to hunt for food as it is supplied by us. When a mother cat is teaching her kittens to hunt she will bring home dead prey for the kittens to eat. Once they are older she will bring home injured prey for the kittens and make the final kill in front of the kittens.

The school of thought with this one is that our cats think of their owners as somewhat incompetent hunters, and our cat is attempting to teach us how to hunt, as a female cat would teach her kittens.

Another theory is that they're offering dead animals to us as a gift. It is said that instead of a natural reaction of horror when presented with a dead animal on the doorstep we should heap praise on the cat. None of us wants to be met with horror when giving somebody a gift!

Why do cats always make a beeline for people who don't like them?

Direct eye contact with a cat is a sign of dominance and can be seen as threatening behaviour to our feline friends. People who dislike cats tend to avoid eye contact with cats, thus making them more appealing and "cat friendly".

Why do cats sleep so much?

Cats sleep on average 16 hours a day, which is twice the amount of sleep us humans average. When hunting for food, they use their energy in short, quick bursts to capture their prey and are highly efficient at this. In his book Cat World, Desmond Morris suggests that cats possibly sleep so much because they have time on their hands and they can.

Why does my cat walk sideways?

We've all seen it back arched, tail raised, hair on the back and tail puffed up and doing the sideways 'crab walk'. This behaviour is designed to make the cat look larger and more threatening to the other cat (or person).

Why do cats bury their food?

This is another behaviour which is a throwback from their wild days. What they can't eat in one sitting they hide, so nobody else can eat it in the meantime.

Why does my cat always want attention when I'm on the phone?

Your cat doesn't realise there is somebody on the other end of the phone and thinks you are talking to him.

My cat is chewing/biting his claws, is this normal?

Some cats will bite and chew their claws while they are grooming. This is to remove the outer sheath from the claw.

Nail biting can become a compulsive behaviour in cats, just as it does in humans, but generally it is just a normal part of their grooming routine. It is always a good idea to run such behaviours past your veterinarian.

My cat is nursing from herself, should I be worried?

From a personal standpoint, I wouldn't be worried unless the cat is actually causing physical damage in the process. I had a cat who engaged in this behaviour as a youngster. She would do it when she was stressed or content and it seemed to have a soothing effect on her. Eventually, around the age of 2 years old she stopped. I liken it to thumb sucking in children. But if you are at all concerned, or if your cat is causing damage to herself, do seek veterinary advice.

Also see:

Common cat questions

Cat World: A Feline Encyclopaedia - Desmond Morris