7 quirky cat behaviors and what they mean

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My cat-lady selfie with my spoiled cat, Harlem.
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Amanda Macias/Business Insider

Nearly 100 millioncats are kept as pets in the US.

My temperamental calico, Harlem, is one of them.

And while she’s the only one I have, she embodies many of the most common, and most perplexing, cat stereotypes.

So why does she – and the tens of millions of cats like her – act that way?

In honor of National Pet Day, here are some explanations, backed by cat researchers, for why our feline friends behave the way they do.


No. 1. Why do cats sometimes suddenly bite or scratch the person who is petting them?

According to cat expert Arden Moore, “your cat is trying to say, kindly stop petting me or I will bite harder.”

Dr. John Bradshawsays that your cue to stop petting a cat may include tail-lashing, flattened ears, dilated pupils, and tense muscles.

Bradshaw also notes that most cats like to be stroked on their heads and fewer than one in 10 cats like to be stroked on their bellies or around their tails.

Sources: “Cat Sense,”The Cat Behavior Answer Book,” Scientific American Special Collector’s Edition September 2015


No. 2. Why do cats intentionally knock objects off tables?

While some cats are clumsy, most cats intentionally knock items off surfaces as a ploy to get their owners’ attention.

“Sometimes they seem to do it for their own entertainment or because they have learned that this is a game that their owner seems to enjoy,” Bradshawsaid.

Source: Scientific American Special Collector’s Edition September 2015


No. 3. Why do cats look you straight in the eye and then slowly blink?

Even though cats are considered masters at concealing their thoughts and emotions, they do try to show affection by slowly blinking. Researchers call these slow blinks “kitty kisses.”

Next time you notice that a cat is giving you this feline eyewink, try and slow-blink back. More often than not, a cat will continue to slow-blink with you.

Sources: “Cat Sense,”The Cat Behavior Answer Book,” Petful


No. 4. Why do cats love computers so much?

Walking across your computer keyboard and attacking your screen may be the simplest way for your feline friend to get your attention. Then again, if your cat isn’t seeking your attention, researchers note these following reasons:

• Cats love the warmth of a computer.• Keyboards feel super interesting underneath a cat’s paws.• Could there be anything more intriguing to a cat than watching a computer screen?

Sources: “Cat Sense,”The Cat Behavior Answer Book,” Scientific American Special Collector’s Edition September 2015


No. 5. Why do cats suddenly freak out for no apparent reason?

Cats become frustrated with their inactivity and usually resort to running around in order to counteract their boredom.

“The slightest movement, perhaps just a speck of dust caught in a shaft of light, can set them off,” Bradshaw noted.

Source: Scientific American Special Collector’s Edition September 2015


No. 6. Why do cats lick plastic bags as well as other nonfood items?

Cats that lick plastic bags may either be bored or trying to alleviate stress.

According to Moore, some cats were removed from their mothers’ milk before they were completely weaned, and therefore cats “seek out wool blankets and other clothing as a way to compensate for their shortened nursing time.”

Sources: “Cat Sense,”The Cat Behavior Answer Book,” Scientific American Special Collector’s Edition September 2015


No. 7. Why do cats love boxes?

According to astudyconducted by the Utrecht University’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, some cats hide in boxes as a way to reduce short-term stress.

Cats crave protection, and a box is an ideal spot for a cat to observe its surroundings.

“Why some seem to prefer too small boxes over just right ones is a mystery though,” Bradshawsaid.

Sources: Scientific American Special Collector’s Edition September 2015, Utrecht University