Why does my cat do that?

Posted: Friday, April 04, 2008

Why does my cat butt his head against my shins when I come home?

He loves you and wants to refresh the scent markings that tell the world you're his. Scent glands on the top of his head make you a marked man - or woman - when he butts.

Why does my cat thread her way through my legs when I'm trying to carry a fresh bowl of food to her dining spot?

Ankle-rubbing is another display of affection. It often occurs at meal time, when she is showing appreciation for your feeding her. She also is marking you with the scent glands along the side of her face, telling other cats that you belong to her.

Why does my cat rub his chin against the corners of furniture, cabinets or walls?

He is refreshing scent markings that define her home. It is comparable to a prospector staking a claim that he will then register in his name. Lacking claim registry offices, cats must continually mark not only the boundaries, but also within their home range.

Why does my cat knead my lap and stomach with her front paws?

This is a throwback to infancy, when kittens knead their mother's belly to make milk flow. A mother cat invites nursing by lyingon her side, exposing her soft underbelly. As kittens nurse, they purr with pleasure and knead and suckle and drool.

When you give your lap to a cat, he regards it as your soft underbelly. Securely settled on it, he starts to purr. Recalling the security of the nursery, many cats begin kneading. Some even suckle and drool.

Why does my cat make that funny "ak-ak-ak" sound when watching birds through the window?

All cats are predators by nature. Even though your cat may not be a hunter, she chatters her teeth when she sees prey that is beyond her reach. Instinct is prompting her to practice the killing bite a cat delivers as soon as she's captured prey. Think of it as the feline counterpart of armchair spectators whooping and hollering during a game on TV. They are practicing the civilized counterpart of intimidating war cries.

Why does my cat open his mouth when he smells something interesting?

He can smell better with his mouth open. There is a very small organ high on the roof of the cat's mouth that traps odor molecules and joins the nose in sending scent signals to his brain.

Why does my cat drink water from the bottom of the shower or from a dripping faucet?

Cats choose the freshest water available to them. What's dripping from the faucet or left behind after a shower is probably fresher than the water in Kitty's bowl. To encourage healthy consumption of water, empty the old water from the cat's bowl and wash out the bowl before refilling it each day.

Why does my cat suddenly ignore what has been a favorite sleeping spot?

Faint echoes of instinct inherited from wild ancestors urge him to move to a new place. The instinct tells him that if he stays too long in one spot, predators will discover he is there and make a meal of him.

Why does my cat stare fixedly at the wall or into space, as if she's in a trace?

Because she's a cat. Cats do that. No human knows why.

• Linda Daniel has spent her life in the company of cats, most of whom simply showed up at her door. She's a believer in spaying and neutering to reduce the number of homeless cats. E-mail: lindadaniel@gci.net.

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