Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.
Our world is much more fun with quirky individuals in it. They make us laugh and give us permission to stop trying to be so perfect all the time. Perhaps that’s why we love cats so much! Some of the quirky things cats do are unique to each cat, while others are typical feline behaviors. Here are 15 common kitty quirks with the reasons behind each of them revealed.
1. Twitching in their sleep
Like humans, cats experience different sleep stages, including rapid-eye-movement and non-REM sleep. Sleep researchers believe that all mammals dream, something that occurs during the REM stage. When cats twitch while sleeping, they are dreaming, and their muscles are reacting to the actions in their dreams. So if your cat’s whiskers are moving, perhaps she’s walking through a narrow opening in her dream. If she’s chattering, she might be dreaming about birds. Or if she’s moving her paws, perhaps she’s running up her favorite cat tree.
This is a throwback to kittenhood when kittens kneaded their mother’s belly to stimulate milk flow. Cats still knead as adults because it makes them feel cozier and close to mom before settling in for a nap. Cats only knead individuals with whom they are extremely comfortable, just like their own moms.
3. Walking in a circle before they lie down
This action before naptime accomplishes three things. First, their paws mark the area with their scent, so they can recognize the area as a safe place to sleep and immediately notice the strange scent of an intruder. Second, cats do this in tall grassy areas, and walking in circles over the grass flattens it into a nice bed. Third, it
enables them to feel for snakes and other creepy, crawly things that might be camped out in the area.
4. Nuts for catnip
About half of all cats get a buzz off of catnip. Nepeta cataria, the scientific name
for catnip, contains an essential oil called nepetalactone, which acts as a stimulant when cats sniff it and a sedative when cats ingest it.
It’s this stimulating effect through their sense of smell that makes cats roll around and act nuts. The effect lasts for about 10 minutes before cats lose interest. Catnip is safe for cats, and they simply stop indulging when they’ve had enough.
5. Hunting even though they have plenty to eat
Cats’ eyes are designed to detect movement, so it’s no wonder that they’re stimulated by anything that moves. Cats don’t just hunt for food. It’s natural for kittens and cats to play with each other without eating immediately following. They still find this to be a physically and mentally stimulating behavior. Food is an important part of their lives, but that doesn’t mean everything they do is about a meal. That said, cats do like to indulge in a meal after a play session. Incidentally, so do we. Who doesn’t like a nice dinner after working out at the gym or a long day at the office?
6. Crazy for smelly stuff
Have you ever noticed how interested your cats are in your smelly gym clothes, socks, or shoes? What they’re smelling is concentrated you. You might think it’s stinky, but they’re smelling you times 10, and, of course, they associate you with good things like food, love, and protection. Since they identify people by scent, why wouldn’t they want to sleep where they can smell their favorite person a hundredfold?
7. Staring at the wall when nothing is there
Some folks believe that animals can see into another dimension, like the spirit world of angels and ghosts. No kitty quirk makes me consider this possibility like my cat staring at a wall when there is nothing there, not even a bug. I know this strikes a chord with cat people. There’s even a Facebook page called “Cats Who Stare at Walls.” The fact is that cats’ eyes are drawn to movement. I’m guessing here, but it’s possible that cats might notice shadows on walls at various times of the day. They might stare at a wall where they remember seeing a shadow — maybe their own — and wait for it to return.
8. Showing attraction for the non-cat person or the person with allergies
Cats are predator as well as prey. Because they are prey to larger animals, they become defensive when a larger individual approaches them. If you want a cat to come to you, you need to wait for the cat to become curious, perceive you as a non-threat, and approach you. That’s exactly what people with cat allergies and no interest in cats do. Cats perceive these people as non-threatening and become curious.
9. Scaling to high places
Cats run up trees to escape predators, so it’s natural for them to climb to high places. From that vantage point they can safely look down on everyone and everything in their world without feeling threatened.
10. The zoomies
At certain times each day, cats get a wild look in their eyes and run around the house at full speed, jumping over obstacles and zooming up and down furniture and stairs. When our cats do this, we just stay out of their way so nobody gets hurt. Cats need explosive energy to hunt, so they conserve their fuel by sleeping 16 hours a day. At some point, all that pent-up energy explodes. Often that’s in the evening when they would normally do most of their hunting.
11. Tripping people
Sometimes when they’re having one of these energy explosions, it’s easy to get caught in the crossfire. How many times do cat people nearly trip over their cats? Other times your cat just wants to be near you and follows you everywhere — but right in front of your feet. Sometimes when I’m focused on doing something, like cooking, my cat is right there waiting for me, and I don’t even know it and nearly step on her. To keep from getting injured or from injuring kitty, we need to look around our feet before we take a step.
12. Squeezing into small spaces
How many of us watch our cats try to fit into spaces that are too small for their bodies and then post a video of it on YouTube? As entertaining as it is for us, cats do it to feel warm and safe. Their flexible spines enable them to squeeze into tight spaces.
This adorable vocalization, which is impossible for us to mimic, conveys a cat’s excitement and frustration all at the same time. Cats often chatter when they see a bird or bug flying outside, and they can’t get to it. One study by the Wildlife Conservation Society found that cats might actually imitate their prey, as scientists in this study discovered when wild cats made vocalizations that sounded similar to those of monkeys. Chattering might be their imitation of birds. After all, meowing is an imitation of human verbalization and is something they do mostly with people.
14. Stockpiling toys
How often have you moved the couch to sweep under it only to find a stash of your cat’s favorite toys? Trust me on this one. They know right where they are for safekeeping to play with next time. Just pretend you didn’t see them, and move on.
15. Giving the cold shoulder
We might take this as an insult, but it’s actually a compliment and a display of trust when a cat sits near us or on us with their butts in our faces. Cats are both predator and prey, so they need to watch out for predators and anyone they don’t trust. If our cats completely trust us, they’ll feel safe enough to turn their backs on us.
Extra: Readers respond
There are plenty more quirky things cats do, so we asked our readers to share their cats’ weird behaviors.
He steals potatoes from the bag, drags them under the dining room chairs, and snuggles with them.
— Melissa Trites
After returning from the store, my two cats wait patiently for their own paper grocery bag to crawl into and go to sleep.
— Fred Weisberger
He hides in the closet when it rains.
— Julie Moses
I have to keep the bathroom door closed; otherwise, Mr. Zippy will flush the toilet. If only I could teach him how to use it!
— Gwen Nilson
No matter where my kitty is, she comes to sit by me when I play the piano.
— Mary Brown Mitchell
She licks her image in the mirror.
— Lisa Cupp Vollenweider
My cat likes to spin on the office chair.
— C.R. Morin
My Stephen will stick out his back leg and hold it like he’s doing yoga.
— Carolyn Bradley
My cat sings with me. I’ll be singing, and every time I stop to take a break, she’ll meow in the gaps. She also loves to sing along to The Phantom of the Opera soundtrack.
— Kay Graves
Licorice loves to pull tissues out of the box and bring them to us in the middle of the night.
— Lorenzo Magno
Kimba likes me to rub his teeth while he goes to sleep.
— Priscilla Young
About the author: Susan Logan-McCracken and her husband are brushing their two cats, Sophie and Maddie, more regularly now that they have found a brush that their kitties love. Their Southern California home has less cat hair floating around in it now.