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Cat behavior generally refers to the behaviors and habits of domestic cats, including body language and communication. Cat behavior may vary among breeds and individual cats. 

Body language

Cats rely strongly on body language to communicate. Rubbing against an object, licking, and purring (sometimes) show affection. Purring can also mean that they are hurt or in pain. A cat in pain will purr to show to humans that it is ready to be helped. A kitten will purr roughly three weeks into its life.

Scent rubbing and spraying

This behavior is used primarily to claim ownership of something, although unlike male cats, female cats do not usually spray. Some spayed females may spray to mimic males, but do not have enough scent to mark. Once male cats are neutered, the scent rubbing or spraying will, in most cases, decrease or stop. Some male cats continue to spray if not neutered early enough, though sometimes they continue to spray even if they were neutered early in life.

Vocal calls

  • 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, 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/interest – 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.

Righting reflex

Main article: Cat righting reflex

The righting reflex is the ability for 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.

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A cat kneading a soft blanket

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 will actually appear to "nurse" or suck on clothing during kneading.


Cats, compared to many other mammals, have a unique courting style. The first step in courtship is the female coming into season, or "heat". Male cats will be able to smell a female cat in heat miles away and will therefore seek her out. Males will fight mercilessly for the right to be the first to mate with the female. After the dominant male has left, the less dominant males will then each mate with the female in turn. It is therefore possible that even if a male cat loses first breeding rights, he can still be the father. This is also the reason that a litter of kittens can have two or sometimes even three fathers.

Body Postures

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

  • 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 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.

Food eating patterns

Cat eating frog

Cats are obligate carnivores, and can survive without vegetation. Felines in the wild will usually hunt smaller mammals regularly throughout the day to keep themselves nourished. Domestic cats, however, are used to a relaxed lifestyle and, therefore, will eat even smaller amounts, but more regularly. Many cats will 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