They knead you

Kneading refers to a cat’s habit of using its front paws to massage a person’s chest or stomach. It goes back to kittenhood, when a nursing kitten uses its tiny paws to massage its mother’s udder while sucking. Kneading is inevitably accompanied by purring, and both adults and kittens are clearly in cat heaven while kneading.

Some cat owners love this evidence that cats can pet their owners as well as be petted. On the other hand, kneading can be downright painful to people, because a cat’s claws are definitely out while kneading. Owners of declawed cats (including the author) find kneading to be a perfectly painless and delightful aspect of cat ownership.

There’s a name for it: “bunting”

There’s a fabric called “bunting,” and you can “bunt” a baseball. Likewise, your cat will “bunt” you and your furniture as part of a familiar habit: rubbing the side of his head against a person or an object.

This isn’t just affection; the cat is actually leaving behind some glandular secretions from his face as a kind of “I was here” signal to himself and other cats. We can be thankful that this form of scent marking is practiced on us instead of the much more obnoxious spraying of urine.

Mad dashes

It amuses us as much as it mystifies us: for no apparent reason a cat suddenly makes a mad dash through the house. Many cat owners claim cats do so after using the litter box, perhaps to express a sense of relief and release. Conversely, some do it right after eating.

But often the cat’s mad dash is connected to no other event. Experts in animal behavior suggest that running fits might relieve tension, but tension doesn’t seem to be much of a problem for many cats. Perhaps the best and most satisfying explanation is that it just feels really good to run and frolic, even if it’s just for a few seconds.

The “I see you” call

Cats vary greatly in their “talkativeness,” but most of them will give an “acknowledgment” call to people with whom they are familiar. This is a very short, soft “meow” uttered when, for example, you walk through a room where the cat is sitting.

The acknowledgment call isn’t urgent or pleading, and you won’t hear it if you’ve just walked into the house after being gone for two weeks. Cat owners find it to be a pleasant part of owning a cat, for it seems to be the cat’s way of communicating, “Yes, I see you,” rather than ignoring the person.

Allogrooming and autogrooming

Yes, we all know that cats are fanatical groomers (that is, lickers) of themselves, but every cat owner also knows that a cat will also groom his owner, and other cats as well.

Naturally there are technical terms to employ here: autogrooming refers (of course) to the cat’s grooming of himself, while allogrooming refers to licking other cats or humans. The cat spends less time and attention on you than on himself for the obvious reason: he assumes (correctly or not) that you are responsible for keeping yourself clean.

So much primp time

If a human spent one-third of his waking hours on grooming, you would call that person vain and self-obsessed (unless the person was you, of course). But it is estimated that cats do indeed spend about one-third of their waking hours in grooming, and no cat owner would argue with that.

Covering their traces

The fact that cats use their litter boxes (usually) is one of their finer traits. Owners assume that covering up their wastes is another sign of cats’ fabled cleanliness. It is, in part, but it’s also part of their wild genes: by covering up their traces they are acting in the role of wild animals who do not want to leave anything behind that will lead to their being trailed.

High as a cat

If you’ve ever given your cat the herb known as catnip, you know how much pleasure it gives. The cat rubs his face in it, licks it, then stretches, rolls around on the floor and in general gives the impression of being in extreme ecstasy. If you’ve ever seen a female cat in heat, you know that a “catnip high” appears very similar to a “heat high.”

However, these two highs aren’t quite the same; plus, male cats respond to catnip exactly as females do. Catnip is available in stores everywhere, and lots of people grow their own. As with drugs and alcohol for humans, catnip can lose its zip if given too often to your cat.

The urine-catnip common bond

To the human nose, catnip has only a faint smell, but obviously cats respond to it in a flamboyant way. Curiously, cats can also get a high by sniffing a concentrated extract of tomcat urine, which humans respond to in quite a different way.

It appears that the chemical compound nepetalactone, which is the pleasure-inducing ingredient in catnip, is similar to something found in tomcat urine. (Here’s a hint: If you want to please your cat—and yourself—stick with catnip and avoid the urine extract.)

Privacy, please

Dogs are notoriously “public” animals, perfectly willing to urinate and defecate in a busy area with lots of people observing. Cats are more reserved, and while they don’t object to being watched, they do object to having their litter box placed in a high-traffic area.

One way they show their displeasure with this situation is that they cease to use the box and find their own spot somewhere else in the home. A litter box, to satisfy both the cat and the owner, ought to be in a quiet, low-traffic zone in the home.
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