If I fits, I sits: Quirky cat behaviors explained
If you’ve been on the Internet, you know that cats do enough weird things to fill thousands of Twitter feeds. They sit in squares made of duct tape on the floor, they “knead biscuits” on your lap, they squeeze themselves into tiny spaces, they jump 10 feet in the air when they see a cucumber. But why? We have the answers to all – well, some – of your cat’s kooky behaviors.
Why do cats sit in squares on the floor?
Cats seek small, clearly delineated spaces because it makes them feel safe. Cats also make nests – small, discrete areas that provide sanctuary for themselves or their kittens – in confined spaces.
Because cats typically give birth in a small, confined space (such as a box), being back in a small space gives them the same feeling of comfort and pleasure that they experienced as kittens. It’s similar to the reason it feels good for humans to “burrito up” with a big blanket on the couch – no matter what age we are, it feels good to be swaddled.
Even though a taped square on the floor clearly doesn’t have the safe walls that a box might, it gives the illusion that it’s a small space, and cats instinctually seek it out.
It’s for this same reason that, if they fits, they sit.
Why do cats knead?
This one is a little more of a mystery. Kittens knead their mother’s belly instinctually when they are nursing – it stimulates the milk production. Once they stop nursing, it’s possible that cats continue to knead because they associate the gesture with the comfort of nursing.
Another theory is that cats knead when they are content. If your cat begins kneading your lap while you’re petting her, she’s simply returning the affection. Of course, this could get painful if you don’t have a thick blanket or pillow between you and her claws!
If your cat is kneading her bed or a toy, or kneading you when you aren’t paying her much attention, she may be marking something as her territory. By kneading, cats activate the scent glands located in their paw pads, and rub that scent all over the item they’re massaging, thereby marking it as theirs.
When cats knead just before going to sleep, they may be drawing on an instinct implemented in them by their ancestors. Wild cats would tamp down tall grass or shredded leaves to make a softer bed for themselves in places that were less-frequented and, therefore, less likely to be seen by predators.
Finally, female cats are known to knead when they are going into estrus – more commonly known as going into heat.
Why do cats love catnip?
The essential oil in catnip is nepetalactone, and many cats are sensitive to its effects. However, according to the Humane Society, about half of cats have no reaction at all to catnip. The trait won’t emerge until a cat is between three and six months old.
Catnip has different effects on a cat, depending on if it’s smelled or ingested. When smelled, cats become hyper – they roll, flip, rub, and meow. Cats who get a big whiff of this mint-family leaf may even become aggressive when you approach them.
When eaten, catnip makes your feline mellow – hence all the jokes about catnip being “kitty weed.” Usually, a catnip reaction of any kind lasts about 10 minutes, and once they’re over, it can take a couple of hours for your cat to have another reaction. While catnip is generally considered safe, be wary of overindulgence. While your cat is unlikely to overdose on catnip, too much can make them sick.
Why are cats scared of cucumbers?
In most videos of cats jumping sky-high when they see a cucumber, the cat is eating, turns around, sees the cucumber, and flips out. Cats only eat when they feel that they are completely safe and, long story short, the cucumber scares them because it wasn’t there before they started eating. If you’ve ever turned a corner or opened a door and unexpectedly ran into someone, you’ve experienced the same thing.
Some people theorize that the cat thinks the cucumber is a snake, which may be true, but either way, it comes down to the same thing: one minute the coast is clear, the next, something is there, and the cat gets a shock. As entertaining as it is, though, stick to videos of cats that have already been scared, rather than terrorizing your own cat!
Cats are funny animals, but they’re also intuitive and smart. If your cat is doing something silly, there’s likely a good reason behind it – you know, besides “the Internet thinks it’s funny!”