Decoding Kitty: 24 Common Cat Behaviors and What They Mean

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Figures show that there are around 350 million pet cats across the world. At some point, every owner must have stared at one of those pets and thought, “Why are they doing that?” Cat behaviors follow a pattern, most of which is taught to the animals by their mothers when they are kittens. So, if you’ve ever wondered what your animal is up to, their actions can be easily explained.

1. Purring

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Most owners think their cats are content when they are purring, which is often the case. They often purr when stroked or sitting on your lap because they are settled and relaxed. However, if hurt and distressed, the cat can also use purring as a soothing mechanism.

2. Tail Wagging

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This is another common behavioral trait that most cat owners will be aware of. Unlike dogs, cats usually wag their tail when angry, and it’s a sign that they are ready to attack. It can also be an expression of frustration or over-stimulation.

3. Burying Food

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Having owned many cats over the years, I was surprised when our latest feline friend dragged his leg over his food as if they were burying it. I’ve even found a loose towel over his food bowl. While I’ve never seen any other cat do this, it’s a habit learned in the wild and keeps the leftovers safe from others.

4. Kneading

Cat sleeping on blanket, kneading
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Also known as “making biscuits,” cats will knead when they are about to settle down for a nap. Often, they will do this when they are on your lap, and this is because they trust you and feel safe with you. Cats will have kneaded their mum as a kitten, and it’s an endorsement of you as their new pet parent.

5. Chasing Tails

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I'm back to my pet for another weird behavior I haven’t seen in many other cats. We all know that dogs like to chase their tails, but what does it mean if your furry friend does it? Usually, it’s just a sign of boredom, and they want to chill out and play for a few minutes.

6. Bushy Tails

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If that tail becomes erect and fluffs out, your cat has spotted another animal, usually another cat, on their territory. They want to make themselves look as big and aggressive as possible, and an arched back often accompanies the fluffy tail. It’s a pity that this is a sign that danger may be imminent, as the bushy tail in cats is so comical.

7. Blinking

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Cats often blink slowly at their owners, another sign of trust. I’ve always blinked back at my cats, but I’m not sure they understand me.

8. Hissing

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This is a sign that your cat is unhappy, and it’s obvious to decode. Nothing good ever comes out of a hiss, so be aware of what’s happening in their world when it happens. Specifically, a hiss suggests that the animal feels threatened, so look to calm the situation if possible.

9. Missing the Litter Box

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Have you come downstairs in the morning to find that your cat has missed the litterbox and hit the kitchen floor instead? We have two cats, and this is common in our house. It simply means they like a clean bathroom, so remember to use a scoop and change the litter before another accident happens.

10. Rubbing Around Your Legs

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This frequently happens at feeding time, so I’d wrongly assumed that our cats were happy to see dinner being served. They are marking their territory, so rubbing around the legs means they own you!

11. Showing Their Bellies

Gray Cat showing belly
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This is strange: Your cat rolls onto its back and exposes their tummy. It appears to be an invitation, so you go in to rub it, only to be scratched in return. Cat behavior experts say this is a sign of trust, but it’s only a communication and not one to be followed up on.

12. Chirping

Cat chirping, meowing
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One of the oddest things for cat owners to experience is the chirping and chattering sound they make. My cats have always done this while sitting at the window watching the birds feeding outside. It’s a sign that they are aware that prey is nearby, but they are frustrated because they can’t approach it. 

13. Knocking Things Over

Orange cat knocking over Christmas tree
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This is one of the most annoying cat traits, especially if it’s carried out in the early hours of the morning. Leaping onto a surface and knocking items onto the floor is merely a sign that the cat is curious and looking to explore its environment.

14. Those Unwanted Gifts

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This is one habit that owners wish would stop. Cats are predators; most will retain those hunting instincts even in a domestic environment. That’s why we are presented with dead mice and birds, especially in their younger years. There are conflicting stories as to why this happens. It could be that they think we’re hungry, or maybe they are just showing off. I prefer a friend’s theory that it’s a warning, and the cat says, “Feed me, or you’re next.”

15. Getting Into Boxes

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If you buy your feline friend a present, such as a new scratching post, chances are they will be more interested in the box. Cats like to squeeze into small spaces as it makes them feel safe and protected, and a cardboard box is a perfect option.

16. Scratching Furniture

Cat scratching couch
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Speaking of scratching posts, most cats I know prefer to use the base of your couch for scratching instead. They are sharpening and maintaining their claws for ongoing use. Experts also state that this is another way of marking their territory.

17. Staring

Scottish fold Cat
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It’s unnerving when a cat stares at you for long periods. Even my most affectionate animals have done this, and it’s a sign of anger and anxiety. Experts suggest avoiding getting involved in a staring contest when the cat is agitated.

18. Dilated Pupils

Cat dilated Pupils, staring
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A cat’s pupils will often dilate to the point where all you can see of their eyes are black voids. It’s a common expression of stimulation, and it could express that the animal is fearful or about to hunt down some prey.

19. Flopping

Cat laying on laptop
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If you’re reading a newspaper or using a laptop while a cat is in the room, there is a good chance that they will flop right in front of you. Attempts to read or work become futile. This is attention-seeking, pure and simple.

20. Licking 

Cat licking hand
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Being licked by a cat’s rough tongue may not be the most pleasant experience, but it is intended as a sign of affection. The animal learns this as a kitten and receives love and affection from the mother cat. Siblings will also give each other affectionate licks, although I’ve often seen this descend into a fight.

21. Ear Signals

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We can tell a lot about a cat’s mood by the position of their ears. If they are upright, the animal is on high alert and may sense danger. If the ears are forward, it means that all is calm, while flattened ears can be a sign of anger or fear.

22. Napping

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Cats sleep a lot, and more napping becomes evident as they age. While the domestic cat doesn’t need to hunt for its prey, this is a built-in instinct. Our furry companions will nap to conserve energy, which they intend to unleash when they search for their next meal.

23. Early Morning Wake-Up Calls

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All that conserved energy has to be used up, and that’s why cats love to wake us in the middle of the night. Those 3 a.m. wake-up calls are due to their nocturnal hunting instincts, and they are simply looking to attract your attention as they aim to use up all that excess energy.

24. Meowing

Cat meowing
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Your cat is simply trying to communicate with you when they meow. We just wish we knew what they were trying to say. It’s claimed that cats will only meow at humans, but I’ve spotted my cat meowing at other cats when he doesn’t know I’m watching him. By now, you will have guessed that our cat Moriarty is a feline freak.

Author: Matt Harris

Title: Writer

Expertise: Sports, music, travel, food, trending topics