If you share your home with a feline family member, you’ll probably recognize at least a couple of the following oddball behaviors.
Refusing to drink from their water bowls
Some cats walk right by the cool, clean water in their own bowls, preferring to have a nice long drink from the toilet bowl instead – especially if there’s a chance they can watch the swirling water as the toilet flushes. Others enjoy perching on the kitchen or bathroom sink, waiting (often impatiently) to drink from the faucet.
A probable explanation for this is that as true carnivores, cats are designed to get most of their water from their diet (which in the wild consists of small prey animals). Your cat descended from desert dwelling felines, and there aren’t many water sources in the desert. Not only does she have a lower thirst drive than many animals, but according to the experts, cats also don’t see still water in a bowl all that well, and it also has no odour (especially if it’s filtered).
Another problem is that in the wild, cats are prey for other animals, and so they feel vulnerable in many situations, for example, drinking water from a bowl placed in a corner or against a wall. In this position, they have their back to the room and can’t see imagined predators sneaking up on them.
It’s also possible cats avoid still water because in the wild, standing water is often contaminated with toxins, whereas running water is usually fresh and clean. Running or dripping water can also be heard and is easier to see than still water.
Lastly, cats are very sensitive to subtle changes in smells, tastes and flavours. All plastic bowls leach BPA and other toxins into the water, which may cause kitties to steer clear of them. Poor quality metal bowls may have the same problem. Switching to glass water bowls, changing the water daily and using pure, filtered water are some suggestions for assuring your cat isn’t repulsed by her water source.
Sitting up on high
As I mentioned earlier, cats in the wild are prey for larger animals both on the ground and in the air. Even though your own kitty lives safe and secure under your roof, she retains many of the traits of her wild cousins, including a finely tuned survival instinct. This is why you find her perched atop the fridge, or on a high shelf in your closet.
Cats in the wild sit in trees because larger carnivores can’t climb them, and the leaves and branches serve as cloaking devices against flying predators. They can even sleep up there in relative safety.
High perches in your home offer your cat the opportunity to watch for predators that could be just outside the closet or flying from room to room looking for her. In addition, from on high she can also keep an eye out for small prey scampering around on your floor.
Another perk of being able to climb to high perches is your cat can put some distance between herself and other pets and/or people in the household when she feels the need. Nursing mother cats also sometimes do this when they’re weaning their kittens.
Knocking things off high places and watching them fall
If you’ve ever watched your little fuzzball do this, you’ve probably noticed he also watches, mesmerized, as the item falls, hits the floor, and (hopefully) breaks. To add insult to injury, if it breaks, he may jump down and slap at the broken pieces with his paws.
Here’s the deal. He doesn’t hate you and isn’t consciously destroying your property. According to a growing number of animal behaviour experts, a very important factor influencing cat behaviour is the unnatural and unstimulating existence of so many indoor kitties.
To put it more bluntly, most housecats today are bored out of their minds because they have no opportunity to participate in many of their natural behaviours like hunting. The tedium of life in captivity would certainly explain why many kitties develop the annoying habit of launching fragile objects off counters, tables and shelves.
“What many people do not realize,” writes veterinary behaviourist Dr. Wailani Sung, “is that cats are curious and like to explore. They use their paws to help them explore by touching and manipulating objects that interest them.
“Sometimes they may push too hard, and items are moved. When objects fall and bounce around, your cat may be fascinated by the movement of the object. For cats that are confined indoors, there is a lot of monotony and routine in their lives. Pushing objects around and making them fall down may give them more mental stimulation.”
Diving in and out of cardboard boxes
What’s not to love about the sight of a big fluffy floof stuffing herself into a tiny container of some sort, or diving headfirst into a cardboard box? Believe it or not, there’s actually a quite practical reason for this box-love.
A 2014 study of stress in shelter cats concluded that access to hiding boxes reduces feline stress. According to the researcher Claudia Vinke, an ethologist at Utrecht University and lead author of the study, this makes perfect sense since the universal feline response to a stressful situation is to withdraw and hide.
“Hiding is a behavioural strategy of the species to cope with environmental changes and stressors,” Claudia Vinke told WIRED. When cats in the wild feel threatened, they head for trees, dens, or caves to seek safety. Captive kitties don’t have that option, so hiding in boxes may be an adaptation.
In addition, boxes and other tight spaces preserve body heat, and cats like it hot. They feel most comfortable when their environment is 30-36 °C. However, most humans require a significantly cooler temperature range to be comfortable (around 18-25 °C).
The cats who live with us find ways to warm up their immediate environment. Cardboard boxes provide insulation, and small spaces in general require your cat to curl up, which preserves body heat.
Turning their back on you
If your cat jumps into your lap, then turns away from you before he settles in, or if it seems no matter where he sits, it’s always with his back to you, it’s not a sign of anger or disrespect. In fact, he’s actually showing you how much he trusts you.
As both predator and prey, your cat instinctively positions his body for safety. Non-threats (like you, his favourite human) will be to his rear as he positions himself to watch what’s going on in front and to either side of him.
Some kitties also do this when they’re looking for a nice scratch at the junction where the tail meets the back. This is an area of the body cats can’t easily reach. Other signs he’s looking to be scratched there include purring, twitching his tail, and arching his back.