Cats aren’t dogs; they’re not man’s best friend. But while it may seem like your cat is an a-hole, they’re an a-hole with excuses at least. From treating you like crap to torturing wildlife, here are 10 things your cat does explained.
10. Sleeping All Day
Cats sleep an obscene amount of time by human standards. After the 24-hour sleep of early kittenhood, the average cat will sleep 16 hours a day (until they get old, when they start sleeping more). Why are they so damn lazy? Because they don’t sleep as deep as us humans.
Unlike us with our clearly defined cycles of rapid/non-rapid eye movement in sleep, culminating in deep REM sleep, cats nap in short periods of slow wave. In other words, they spend most of their time in the shallows of sleep, sleeping deeply for only five minute periods throughout the day.
Of course, as crepuscular animals, they also have to sleep all day to be active at dawn and dusk. Another explanation, given they evolved in hot climates, is that cats sleep all day to regulate their body temperature.
Be it the world outside the window, the wall, or just into space, cats are big starers. It doesn’t help that their eyes are enormous in relation to their bodies, or that they blink at a fraction of the rate we do (twice per minute vs. our 15-20 times per minute). It’s an unnerving quality to have in a pet.
But cats’ vision differs from ours in ways that sheds light on this question. For one thing, they have a slightly wider field of vision (200 degrees vs our 180 degrees), and an ability to zone in on the tiniest movement. Meanwhile, their visual acuity isn’t as good as ours, meaning we can see more detail at a distance.
Explanations vary for why cats stare so much. Maybe what to us looks like a wall is, to cats with their super hearing, a complex and stimulating soundboard of pipes, insects, and rodents. It could also have to do with hunting practice, for which patience and focus are key. Probably the least assholey reason, however, is love. Based on multiple studies, Japanese researchers concluded that cats only stare at humans they trust. They also found that, like dogs, cats can notice and follow your gaze.
8. Peeing Outside the Litter Box
There are some truly jerky reasons for peeing outside the litter box. Your cat may feel better smelling more of its urine, or maybe they don’t like the litter (kind of like you pooping on the floor because you don’t like the toilet paper). Alternatively, if you have more than one cat, maybe the one who doesn’t pee on the floor is the real asshole for aggressively hoarding the tray. But even these reasons have excuses. If your cat needs to smell more of its urine, for example, it’s probably a sign of anxiety. And if they don’t like the litter, maybe it just hurts their paws.
There could also be other, more serious explanations. These include urinary tract infections, kidney or thyroid diseases, diabetes, digestive problems, and age-related health problems.
Or maybe you’re the jerk for not emptying the box enough?
7. Meowing Through the Night
If your cat’s meowing more than usual, it may be a sign of disease. But, in general, it’s their way of getting what they want—from you. Cats very rarely meow at each other. It’s another behavior reinforced by human responses, which we’re afraid means it’s your fault again. Say your cat meows and you feed it, for example; you’ve taught them that meowing gets food. Many of us condition our pets in this way without really giving it thought.
Cats may even learn to associate different meows—different lengths, different pitches—with different rewards (food, attention, etc.). It’s no coincidence that cats of deaf owners tend to meow less, and that studies suggest mimicry between meowing and the sound of human babies.
Still, as mentioned, meowing may be a cause for concern. A good way to rule out underlying disease is to look at your cat’s ears and eyes. If their ears are turned sideways or back and/or the pupils are dilated, there’s a good chance your cat is sick or anxious about something.
6. Ignoring You
Why does your cat seem content to ignore you? Unlike dogs, who come running when they’re called, cats don’t even look up. We know they can hear us; studies have shown they can recognize your voice and even their names (at least as precursors to rewards).
One eight-month study, for example, found that up to 70 percent of the cats involved turned their heads when they heard their human’s voice. It’s just that cat responses are extremely subtle, especially compared to dogs, whose responses are intentionally communicative.
Basically, we haven’t bred or trained cats in the same way as dogs, which means cat behavior is far more instinctive. Cats in the wild don’t communicate vocally even with their own kittens unless there’s an imminent threat. So unless your cat wants something from you at the moment you happen to call them, they just have no reason to respond.
5. Headbutting You
Also known as bunting or head rubbing, headbutting is when your cat nuzzles their head against you. They also do it to each other. But it can become a nuisance if it gets more aggressive.
Unsurprisingly, dominant cats tend to headbutt more frequently. And this is a clue to the reason. Cats have scent-producing glands all over their bodies—including the chin, mouth, temples, and ears—and the dominant cat in a household of many will headbutt more to spread its scent (the scent of the colony) to all members.
So, a-holey or not, when your cat headbutts you, they’re marking you out as their tribe—which, by the way, makes them your chief (at least to other cats).
4. Losing Their S*** On Catnip
Cats on catnip are like humans on coke: manic, aggressive, unpredictable, and stupid-looking. It’s just that in cats it’s not quite as hedonistic—or in any case they have an excuse.
As it turns out, there are chemicals in catnip, as well as in silver vine (another plant that causes the reaction), called nepetalactone and nepetalactol that act as mosquito repellants. In a study, researchers allowed cats to rub themselves on paper soaked in nepetalactol, then introduced mosquitos and counted how many cats were attacked. They found a clear correlation between rubbing and getting fewer bites.
It’s thought the drug effect—euphoria attributed to the ?-opioid system—is a response cats evolved to the plant to encourage them to engage with it. It’s not all cats, either; the trait is hereditary. 30 percent don’t respond to catnip and 20 percent don’t respond to silver vine. Tigers have also been found to be indifferent to catnip and even “disapproving” of silver vine.
3. Pushing Their Claws Into You
Kneading soft objects (as though making dough with their paws) is something all cats learn as kittens. It’s a way to stimulate their mother’s milk production by releasing oxytocin. It’s also a form of communication between kittens and their mother, as kneading releases pheromones from scent glands in the paws.
However, it’s common for domesticated cats to continue to knead into adulthood. This is where it gets painful, as many cats will also dig in their claws. In typical cat fashion, this just means they love you. And the more they do, the harder they’ll knead—so you become the a-hole if you punish.
But why do cats continue to knead long after mom is dead and buried? Again, it’s your fault. The retention of juvenile behaviors into adulthood (neoteny) in this case probably comes down to its advantage in socializing with you and other animals in the house.
2. Bringing Dead Animals Into the House
Even if you’re not disgusted, horrified, or guilt-ridden by your cat’s habit of bringing dead birds and rodents into the house, it can still feel like a passive aggressive comment on how much you feed them. The truth is, though, cats are simply born predators. It’s not a question of having to eat, it’s a matter of having to hunt. In fact, it’s the same drive that has your cat chasing laser pointers or feathers on a string.
But why, once they’ve killed their prey, are they so eager to show it off to you? Sometimes they won’t even just leave it somewhere for you to find but will hold it in their mouth mewing until you come and see. This is down to another drive, which is their instinctive pack animal nature. Female cats in particular are primed to teach their young how to hunt. In other words, they’re not trying to scare you, shame you, or make you throw up; they’re just treating you like a helpless kitten that can’t hunt for itself—but one that they love very much.
1. Playing With Their Prey
Perhaps the most a-holey thing your cat does by far is to play with its prey before killing it. Typically, they’ll bat at the victim with their paws, ensuring a slow and torturous death and leaving us to wonder: How could Mister Cuddles be so cruel?
According to a study in the 1970s, the answer is actually quite simple. Researchers found that cats given rats and mice to prey on played with their victims longer the larger they were. And of course the larger the prey, the more risk for the predator. Researchers therefore concluded that “playing” was actually a strategy to disable from a distance before going in for the kill. Researchers also observed that hungrier cats played with their prey for shorter periods of time. We see the same behavior among big cats in the wild.
But why do cats sometimes not bother killing their played-with prey? The answer here is a little more a-holey: practice.