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Cat Behavior

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Is your Cat Crazy or is it just my imagination?
Pam Johnson Bennett

As a feline behaviorist, I get countless calls from owners claiming that
their cats aren’t normal. My cat’s gone crazy! they’ll say, or “I have
the weirdest cat in the world!” Is it true? Are these cats abnormal?
No. Most of those cats are very normal, but that always surprises their owners.

Understanding ‘Cat Normal’
While there are cats out there displaying truly abnormal behaviors,
many of the problems we as owners label as out of the ordinary
are actually perfectly reasonable for a cat – not necessarily acceptable,
but what might be termed ‘cat normal’ all the same. An owner’s
understanding of what’s normal for a cat and what’s not determines
how successful he or she can be in changing a behavior.

Cat Logic
The most common behavior problem, the one that causes most owners to
stare bug-eyed at their cats and scream, “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?”
is when kitty stops using the litter box. The truth is, and this may be hard
to believe; the behavior is normal. In fact, it’s logical, looked at from
your cat’s point of view.

Why would he suddenly refuse to go in his litter box? For starters, it may be
a medical problem, such as lower urinary tract disease (common among
cats, especially males). The irritated bladder may cause him to feel as if it’s
more full than it actually is, and he’ll need to void right then and there.
If the litter box is on the other side of the house, he doesn’t have time
to reach it. He may even associate the pain he feels upon urination with the
litter box itself.

Another normal reason a cat may choose to eliminate outside of his box is
if it’s just too darn dirty, or if it contains an unfamiliar kind of litter. A
cat is a creature of habit, and abrupt changes are met with suspicion.

A cat who sprays can cause an owner unlimited frustration but, once again,
the behavior is normal. A cat is a territorial animal and spraying is, bar none,
the definitive calling card. A cat reaching breeding maturity will often spray
(this can be remedied with neutering), and a cat perceiving a territorial
threat may spray.

If your neutered cat has begun spraying, there may be a cat outside,
or perhaps you’ve added another pet to your family. Usually the
spraying is the result of something different – and perceived as a
territorial threat – in the home.

Looking at it from your cat’s point of view can usually help you find
the cause and eliminate it, modify it or gingerly desensitize your cat to its
presence. For a territorial animal, spraying is a perfectly reasonable,
assertive but relatively un-aggressive reaction to a threatening situation.

Scratch a Cat, find a Feline
What about scratching the furniture? Do you feel as if your cat is bent
on total household destruction? No, he’s not systematically demolishing
your furniture – he’s being a normal cat.

Felines have a need and several reasons to scratch: for claw conditioning,
for muscle stretching, as an emotional outlet and for territorial security.
Once again, the species’ territorial side needs expression and scratching
leaves a visual mark (much to your dismay) and a scent mark (through
glands in the paw pads). The reason he’s using your sofa instead of his
scratching post is probably because the post isn’t sturdy enough or the
right texture. In the wild, a cat uses a tree or a fence for scratching.

Understanding Aggression
A common aggressive behavior that owners find perplexing is called
redirected aggression. An example of this might be how your cat suddenly
lashes out at you when you innocently pet him while he’s looking out the

Your reaction to this seemingly unprovoked aggression is that the cat has,
for not reason, turned mean. The simple truth is, he might have seen a
strange cat outside and was already in a very agitated state when you
suddenly startled him. The overreaction on his part was merely the
result of the threat he was feeling from the presence of a cat in his domain.

This doesn’t mean that you now have an aggressive cat. In most cases,
he’ll calm down in a few hours and be back to his old self. Sometimes
it takes blocking access to that window until he forgets about the cat outside.

Moonlight Madness
Cats are nocturnal hunters, so it makes perfect sense for your kitty to prowl
around after dark. If the nightly noise gets to be too much, try playing
with him right before bed in order to work off some of his energy and
satisfy his hunting desire.

Cats display lots of funny, quirky, confusing, annoying, serious and even
dangerous behavior that often leave owners scratching their head in wonder.
Don’t assume your cat is weird. Find the cause of the behavior, whether
it’s physical, medical, emotional or environmental, and you’ll find it
makes sense in a strange, feline way.

Excerpts taken from article "Is Your Cat Crazy"
by Pam Johnson Bennett in 1998 Special Issue of Pet Let Magazine

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