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Catfight (animal behavior)

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Catfight (animal behavior)

Cat behaviour generally refers to the behaviours and habits of domestic cats, including body language and communication. Cat behaviour may vary among breeds and individual cats as well as the Human culture and society it lives in. Many common behaviours include hunting techniques and reactions to certain events as well as interactions with humans and other animals, such as dogs. Communication can vary greatly depending on a cat's temperament. In a family with multiple cats, social position can also affect behaviour patterns with others. A cat's eating patterns can also vary depending on the owner's choice of food or eating times/quantities. In the case of a family having two or more cats, one cat may become dominant over the other cat(s).

Body language

Cats rely strongly on body language to communicate. A cat may rub against an object, lick a person, and purr to show affection. Through purring a cat can show extremes of any emotion, and may do so when hurt. For example, a cat in pain purrs to show humans it is ready to be helped. Kittens are able to purr shortly after they are born, and purr while nursing. A cat's main use of body language is through its tail. Cats will flick their tails in a relaxed manner or abruptly from side to side to express those respective feelings. If spoken to, a cat may flutter its tail to acknowledge the interaction.

Scent rubbing and spraying

This Feliway.

Cats also have scent glands towards the base of the tail. Unlike intact male cats, female and neutered male cats usually do not spray. Neutered males may still spray after neutering, if neutered late. Female cats often spray while in heat, so males can find them. Having female cats spayed may cause them to spray through loss of female hormones, which makes their behaviour similar to that of males. However, if female cats have started spraying before being spayed, it is most likely caused by female hormones, and spaying may correct the behaviour.


Kneading is an activity common to all domestic cats whereby, when in a state of ease, they alternately push out and pull in their front paws, often alternating between right and left limbs. Some cats actually appear to "nurse" or suck on clothing or bedding during kneading.


Multiple theories exist that explain why cats knead. Kneading may have an origin going back to cats' wild ancestors who had to tread down grass or foliage to make a temporary nest in which to rest. Alternatively, the behaviour may be a remnant of a newborn's kneading of the mother's teat to stimulate milk secretion. Since most of the preferred "domestic traits" are neotenous or juvenile traits that persist in the adult, kneading may be a relic juvenile behaviour that is not lost in modern adult domestic cats.

Kneading is often a precursor to sleeping.

Many cats purr while kneading. They also purr mostly when newborn, when feeding, or when trying to feed on their mother's teat. The common association between the two behaviours may corroborate the evidence in favor of the origin of kneading as a remnant instinct. Some experts consider kneading to "stimulate" the cat and make it feel good, in the same manner as a human stretching.


The cat exerts firm downwards pressure with its paw, opening its toes to expose its claws, then closes its claws as it lifts its paw. The process takes place with alternate paws at intervals of one to two seconds. They may do this while sitting on their owner's lap, which may prove painful if the cat is large or strong or has sharp claws (as the claws tend to dig into one's lap). Though cats sit happily on a hard surface, they only knead a soft or pliant surface, although some cats reflexively "march" on hard surfaces instead of kneading them.

Body postures

A cat’s posture communicates its emotions. It's best to observe cats' natural behaviour when they're by themselves, with humans, and with other animals.[1] Their postures can be friendly or aggressive, depending upon the situation. Some of the most basic and familiar cat postures include the following:[2]

  • Relaxed posture – The cat is seen lying on the side or sitting. Its breathing is slow to normal, with legs bent, or hind legs laid out or extended when standing. The tail is loosely wrapped, extended, or held up. It also hangs down loosely when the cat is standing.
  • Alert posture – The cat is lying on its belly, or it may be sitting. Its back is almost horizontal when standing and moving. Its breathing is normal, with its legs bent or extended (when standing). Its tail is curved back or straight upwards, and there may be twitching while the tail is positioned downwards.
  • Tense posture – The cat is lying on its belly, with the back of its body lower than its upper body (slinking) when standing or moving back. Its legs, including the hind legs are bent, and its front legs are extended when standing. Its tail is close to the body, tensed or curled downwards; and there can be twitching when the cat is standing up.
  • Anxious/Ovulating posture – The cat is lying on its belly. The back of the body is more visibly lower than the front part when the cat is standing or moving. Its breathing may be fast, and its legs are tucked under its body. The tail is close to the body and may be curled forward (or close to the body when standing), with the tip of the tail moving up and down (or side to side).
  • Fearful posture – The cat is lying on its belly or crouching directly on top of its paws. Its entire body may be shaking and very near the ground when it’s standing up. Breathing is also fast, with its legs bent near the surface, and its tail curled and very close to its body when standing on all fours.
  • Terrified posture – The cat is crouched directly on top of its paws, with visible shaking seen in some parts of the body. Its tail is close to the body, and it can be standing up, together with its hair at the back. The legs are very stiff or even bent to increase their size. Typically, cats avoid contact when they feel threatened, although they can resort to varying degrees of aggression when they feel cornered, or when escape is impossible.[3]

Vocal calls

Main article: Cat communication
  • Purring – Purring is often a sign of contentment. Some cats purr when they are in extreme pain, or in labour, simply to try to calm themselves down. Purring therefore can be a sign of pleasure or pain; usually it is the former. Scientists have not yet been able to discover how purring works, but it is suspected that it is caused by minute vibrations in the voice box.
  • Greeting – A particular sort of vocalization, such as a low meow or chirp or a bark, possibly with simultaneous purring.
  • Distress – Mewing is a plea for help or attention often made by kittens. There are two basic types of this call, one more loud and frantic, the other more high-pitched. In older cats, it is more of a panicky repeated meow.
  • Attention – Often simple meows and mews in both older cats and young kittens. A commanding meow is a command for attention, food, or to be let out.
  • Protest – Whining meows.
  • Frustration – A strong sigh or exhaled snort
  • Happy – A meow that starts low then goes up and comes back down.
  • Watching – Cats will often "chatter" or "chirrup" on seeing something of interest. This is sometimes attributed to mimicking birdsong to attract prey or draw others' attention to it, but often birds are not present.


Unlike dogs, panting is a rare occurrence in cats. However, some cats can pant when stressed, such as a car ride. Most commonly, cats pant in response to environmental changes, such as anxiety, fear, excitement, or heat. However, if panting is excessive or the cat appears in distress, it becomes important to identify the underlying cause, as panting may be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as a nasal blockage, heartworm disease, head trauma, or drug poisoning. Other problems, such as fatigue, weight loss, poor appetite, excessive drinking, vomiting, or diarrhea, may also be present. If the panting appears to be in response to heat or fear, the owner should remove the stimulation and continue to observe his or her pet. If panting continues, the owner should consult a veterinarian.[4] In many cases, feline panting, especially if accompanied by other symptoms, such as coughing or shallow breathing (dyspnea), is considered to be abnormal, and treated as a medical emergency.[5]

Righting reflex

Main article: Cat righting reflex

The righting reflex is the ability of cats to land on their feet with little or no injury. They can do this more easily than other animals due to their flexible spine and floating collar bone. Cats also use vision and/or their vestibular apparatus to help tell which way to turn. They then can stretch themselves out and relax their muscles. Cats do not always land unharmed. They can break bones or die from excessive falls.[6]

Food eating patterns

Cats are obligate carnivores, and can survive without vegetation. Felines in the wild usually hunt smaller mammals regularly throughout the day to keep themselves nourished. Domestic cats, however, are used to a relaxed lifestyle and, therefore, eat even smaller amounts, but more regularly. Many cats find and chew small quantities of long grass but this is not for its nutritional value, it is a purely mechanical function. The eating of grass triggers a regurgitation reflex to help expel indigestible matter, like hairballs and the bones of prey.


Kittens are naturally afraid of people at first, but if handled and well-cared for in the first 16 weeks, they develop trust in the humans who care for them. To decrease the odds of a cat being unsocial or hostile towards humans, kittens should be socialised at an early age.

Feral kittens around four to eight weeks old can be socialised usually within a month of capture. The process is made easier if there is another cat present but not necessarily in the same space as the feral. If you can get a cat to urinate in the kitty litter tray, then the others if you have a litter will usually follow. Initial contact with thick gloves is highly recommended until trust is established, usually within the first week. Supplying toys and climbing poles helps to keep them occupied while they are being slowly socialised.

It is a challenge to socialise an adult. Socialised adult feral cats tend to trust only those people they have learned over time can be trusted, and can be very fearful around strangers.

Cats can be extremely friendly companions. The strength of the cat–human bond is mainly correlated with how much consideration is given to the cat's feelings by its human companion. The formula for a successful relationship thus has much in common with human-to-human relationships.

Some people regard cats as sneaky, shy, or aloof animals. Cats have an inherent distrust for predator species such as humans, and often seek to minimise any contact with people they do not perceive as trustworthy. Feline shyness and aggression around people is often a result of lack of socialisation, abuse or neglect. Cats relate to humans differently than more social animals, enjoying some time on their own each day as well as time with humans.

Cats have a strong "escape" instinct. Attempts to corner, capture or herd a cat can thus provoke powerful fear-based escape behaviour. Socialisation is a process of learning that many humans can be trusted. When a human extends a hand slowly towards the cat, to enable the cat to sniff the hand, this seems to start the process, and can also remind a cat of a human they knew long ago.

There is a widespread belief that relationships between dogs and cats are problematic. However, both species can develop amicable relationships by reading each other's body language correctly. The animals can better read each other's language when they first encounter each other at a young age, due to the fact that they are learning to communicate simultaneously. The order of adoption may also cause significant differences in their relationship. Sometimes, the dog may be simply looking to play with the cat while the cat may feel threatened by this approach and lash out with its claws, causing painful injury. Such an incident may cause an irreversible animosity between the cat and dog.


The mirror test is a rough method of gauging animal intelligence, where only vision is required for the test. The least intelligent animals react to a mirror as they would to another animal of their species and gender, and never figure out that they aren't looking at another animal. Moderately intelligent animals soon determine that the image in the mirror is an illusion, then lose all interest in it. The most intelligent animals eventually conclude that the image is their own reflection, and are then fascinated by it, using it to view parts of themselves they can't normally see, like their face, the inside of their mouth, etc. Cats fall into the middle zone on this test, correctly determining that the image in the mirror is an illusion, not another cat, but failing to understand that is it a reflection of themselves. This indicates that they lack a well-defined sense of self versus others. See theory of mind.

See also


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