Liv Hagen, manager of Shelter Behavior Services for the Animal Humane Society in Minnesota, provides answers to some of our readers’ questions about their cats’ wacky behaviors.
Q: Darwin chews my hair at least once a day. Why? A: Darwin is grooming you! Grooming between animals is a sign of affection and acknowledgment of acceptance into their social circle. Our hair is the closest thing we have to a fur coat; some cats like to lick arms, eyelashes or eyebrows. Freshly washed, damp hair may elicit this reaction more, or the dog may get a lot of feline attention after a walk through the woods — when a family member smells “funny” to your cat, it’s a sign to your cat that they need to get to work licking, grooming and scent rubbing.
Q: Jax likes to lick the condensation on the side of glass, while Mo likes to scoop out the water with his paws and make a nice mess. Why do they do this? A: Licking condensation is a way to get water without having to leave the current action, and it might mean Jack doesn’t love his current water bowl or there’s possible tension in the house. Mo is also probably just more comfortable using his paw. He can still see and react to what’s going on around him, there’s no pressure or discomfort on his whiskers, and paws are helpful in testing the depth of the water.
With two cats finding alternate ways to drink water, there might be some conflict over the water bowl. Add more bowls around the house of different shapes and depths and at different heights, if possible, to encourage harmonious water consumption. Some cats also like to drink away from where they eat.
Q: My cat opens cupboards. She stands up on her back feet, puts her claws on top of the door and walks backward. She never goes in. Why? A: Hiding something? How dare you. A lot of cats open cupboards to sneak into the back for a secret hiding spot or to check out hidden-away items that clearly must be valuable if they’re hidden away.
Cats like to be “in the know.” How can they rule effectively if they don’t know what’s going on in every corner of their kingdom? Once the door is open, the mystery is solved — on to the next one!
Q: One of my cats leaves her poop uncovered in the litter box but spends 10 minutes scraping the floor around her food bowl after finishing. How come? A: Leaving poop uncovered can be a way of marking territory. Are other cats in the home or does a neighbor cat (or raccoon) visit the window or patio door? Sometimes the social dynamics in a multi-cat home or a perceived threat can cause some litter box quirks. It can also be a sign that your cat isn’t totally comfortable with the litter you are using. If you have litter that feels uncomfortable to sensitive paws, your cat may just want to get in, take care of business, and get out.
In the wild, cats bury leftovers to not attract other predators to their territory. Cats mimic this behavior in our home, even if it seems totally ineffective (some cats drag towels or paper over their bowls, some cats just paw around the bowl).
Q: My cat licks my clothes or anything that has fleece, like a blanket or hoodie sweater. Why is that?
A: There are a few reasons cats might lick or suckle fabric. When an animal is separated from their mom too early (i.e., when they would still be nursing), they may exhibit this behavior throughout their life. It’s a way to pacify themselves — like a child sucking their thumb — that they get habituated to.