20 Universal Cat Behaviors All Owners Should Know

If you’re a cat owner, some of the things that your cat has done can be absolutely baffling. However, you should keep in mind that everything they do is done with a purpose. But how can you determine what exactly that purpose is? Most cat owners can tell when something is wrong with their cat. If your feline friend has been displaying some unusual behaviors, they could be sick, or they may just be in an odd mood. If you do notice that your cat is acting lethargic, is not using the litter box properly, or is refusing to eat or drink, contact a veterinarian immediately.

But what about those strange things that they’ve been doing ever since you first adopted them? Maybe you thought they’d grow out of some of their quirks as they got older. Or perhaps they haven’t even developed certain behavioral patterns until now. To truly understand a cat, you should always pay very close attention to body language and vocal cues. If you want to learn how to read these cues for yourself, consider going through this list. After all, the first step to understanding your cat is education. In this article, we will break down 20 Universal Cat Behaviors, and explain why it is that felines act the way they do.

Random Sprinting

Cat owners know the sound. It’ll come at about three o’clock in the morning – your cat has decided that this is an ideal time to tear around the house like they’ve gone mad. This can last for more than 30 minutes depending on your particular cat. But why do they do that? Well, generally, it is simply the product of bottled-up energy. Sometimes a cat has been laying down for so long that they must release that energy somehow. Of course, your cat could also be chasing some sort of bug or rodent – hopefully you don’t have these in your house, but you never know. They could also be suffering from some sort of mental disorder, such as Hyperesthesia syndrome.

Intense Staring

You’ve no doubt caught your cat staring at you in a way that can make you feel like they’re reading your mind. It creeps some people out – and who can blame them? A cat’s stare towards a small animal (such as a mouse) is usually an indicator that they are on the hunt. However, you should remember that your cat staring at you is almost always simple friendliness. They don’t really have a concept of, “it’s rude to stare”, so they just do whatever they want. Plus, you should feel flattered that your feline companion wants to keep an eye on you. More than likely, they are just wondering what you are up to.

Nibbling on Plants

Even the most inexperienced cat owner knows that cats are exclusively carnivores in the wild. So, this behavior is truly baffling, and doesn’t have a singular root cause. Generally, a cat that is nibbling at a houseplant is doing so out of boredom. However, they could also just be an odd cat. If so, consider purchasing some kitty grass for them to eat instead. It is rather dangerous for a cat to eat a houseplant, as many common decorative plants are incredibly toxic to felines. For example, a cat that eats any type of lily could suffer from a severe, painful death due to kidney failure. If they are not brought to the vet in time, there is really nothing you can do. So, it is in your cat’s best interest to keep household plants out of reach – and it’ll be easier on you too.

Laying on Things

We have all had it happen: you are working on a project, maybe even on a tight deadline, and your cat will come over and lay down on the keyboard. Or perhaps on top of the book you are citing in a research paper. They’ll also lay on other random objects around the house – if they can fit on it, they will sit on it. There is no clear-cut explanation behind this common cat behavior. One likely explanation is that your cat just wants your attention. They’re pretty smart animals, so they may have figured out that laying on certain objects when you are around is a surefire way to catch your eye. Of course, there could be other explanations – the object in question could be cool or warm, or perhaps there is a certain texture that your cat just enjoys laying on.

Swaying Tail

A cat’s tail can tell you a lot about how it is feeling. For example, a tail held upright indicates contentment and happiness. If your cat is holding it low, it can signal aggression or at the very least a serious mood. If it is a bit curved, somewhere between low and high, your cat is probably in a playful mood. But how about when your feline’s tail is swishing back and forth? This can mean different things depending on the speed. A fast, aggressive tail movement can indicate fear and aggression. On the other hand, a gentle swaying motion means that your cat is very focused on something. It is quite likely that you will observe this type of tail movement when they are about to pounce on their food or toys.

Sniffing Your Face

If your cat hops up into your lap, climbs up on you and sniffs your face, it can be a bit confusing. What exactly are they trying to accomplish by doing this? It can also occur at night – you might feel a feline snout nuzzling against you while you’re sleeping, sniffing you out. The easiest explanation for this type of behavior is that cats use their sense of smell for far more than humans do. They can likely recognize their humans with even just a trace of a scent. So, when your cat sniffs you they could be seeking comfort. If you are sleeping, your motionless form might have caused your cat to question whether you are still alive. Sniffing your face is reassurance that you haven’t yet passed away.

Attacking Your Feet

Sometimes, you may be minding your own business and just walking around your house when your cat suddenly bolts out from somewhere and attacks your feet. This can be painful, depending on whether they use teeth or claws. However, it tends to be a playful move. The ancient ancestors of modern housecats used ambush-type attacks to catch their prey. This instinct is still very strong in modern cats (which will become evident as you read further into this article). So, when your cat bolts out to attack your feet, they simply can’t help themselves. Feet look a bit like prey, and a cat that doesn’t have real prey to hunt needs a release for this instinct. You can redirect your cat’s ambush drive with enough training. Until then, your feet will be fair game.

Twitching Ears

If your cat seems to be a little wound up, you might notice that their ears are twitching as well. Cats have over two dozen muscles in each of their ears, enabling them to move them 180 degrees independently. Generally, this can be used for a sort of “radar dish” manipulation to better hear sounds from certain directions. A cat with twitching ears, on the other hand, is almost always in a state of anxiety. The best thing to do if you notice that your cat might be anxious is to try to calm them down. Whether you pet them, hug them, or simply talk to them, your cat will appreciate that you knew how to deal with their situation.

Note: If your cat’s ears do not stop twitching, you should definitely bring them to vet as this could be a sign of a medical problem.

Gift Giving

For those cat owners who allow their pets to be both indoors and outdoors, there is a high possibility that your cat might one day bring you back a dead animal. It could be a squirrel or a mouse, but it will be similarly gory. But why do cats feel the need to do this, especially if they have food in their bowl? First off, the hunting instinct mentioned earlier in this article is extremely strong in a cat still. They even still have the type of gut that allows them to digest raw meat. The other reason that your cat might bring you something dead is out of respect. They know that you are a clumsy and incapable mouse hunter, so they bring one to you to teach you how to catch your own.

Sleeping in a Tight Ball

When you come across your cat taking one of their naps, you may see that they have curled themselves up into a tight ball. Besides being one of the cutest ways for your cat to sleep, what is the functional purpose behind this behavior? A cat that sleeps curled up is likely after a feeling of security and warmth. When your cat curls, they are naturally protecting their vital organs (something that would have been important to their feral ancestors). Plus, this type of position retains heat much better than stretching out. You are more likely to see this type of behavior in the winter, unless you have a particularly paranoid cat.

Claw Biting

When a feline is grooming itself, removing the outer sheath from their claws is an essential part of the process. That’s why you may find your cat chilling somewhere, working on maintaining their claws by chewing on them. It is important to note that claw biting in cats can be for the same reasons that humans bite their own nails. If a cat is not grooming, but is still biting their claws, they may be stressed, lonely, or bored. Other factors could include feline pica, ringworm, infections, or psychological compulsions. This habit is an important one to monitor on your feline – letting it go unfettered could be harmful.


Many cats make a unique noise when they are faced with potential prey, especially through a closed window. Whether it is a bug, a bird, or a rodent, your cat could emit a warbling type of sound that almost matches the sounds created by the potential prey. One reason for this could be that they are attempting to lure the prey into a false sense of security. However, other explanations for chattering also exist. It could be a noise of frustration, as your cat can’t actually reach the prey through a glass window. On the other hand, it might be an expression of the extreme excitement your cat is feeling due to being so close to a potential snack. Whatever your cat intends with its chatter, it is certainly a funny and cute behavior to observe.

Exposing Their Belly

It’s probably happened to you. Your cat comes over to you, and proceeds to flop over and show you their belly. Maybe you reached over to give it a pat or a rub, and your cat proceeded to claw and bite your hand. This is a behavior that could be quite confusing if you don’t know the reasoning behind it. Essentially, when your cat shows you their belly they are showing that they trust you. Cats rarely leave their tummies exposed, as many of their vital organs are only just under the skin and damage to any could be fatal. So, when you give your cat a belly rub and it attacks your hand, it’s because your cat trusted you to not touch their tummy.

Rubbing on Furniture or People

Most cats have a tendency to rub up on pretty much anything. Tables, chairs, people, other animals – literally anything they can get their paws on. It might seem like a pretty odd practice, but it does have a scientific basis behind it. You see, most cats have many scent glands located on their hands. These glands secrete a cat’s signature scent – which is used for marking territory and possessions. So, when your cat rubs up on something (or “bunts” it) it is marking that object as its own. If your cat is rubbing on you, then you should feel flattered; they have officially claimed you as their own.

Knocking Things Down

Most cats suffer from a desire to knock down whatever they can reach. It could be cups off the counter, trinkets off of a shelf, or pretty much whatever your cat can get its paws on. It can be really frustrating, especially if they knock down a plate of food or otherwise make a mess. But what compels cats to do this? Well, it turns out that it is actually due to a cat’s primal instincts. When they first see a new object, they treat it like it’s prey. When they reach out and knock it over, they’re testing to see whether it will run away and make for a good hunt. Naturally, your cat will learn about objects they see every day. But if you often come quickly when your cat knocks something over, they might just do it anyway.

Ignoring You

At times, you may try to get your cat’s attention and find that you are met with a cold shoulder. It can be a little heartbreaking, especially when you love your cat to bits like most cat owners. Plus, it can seem like they are being a little ungrateful – after all, who fills up their food bowl every day? But the feline cold shoulder has its roots in psychology. Cats tend to only want to display affection on their own terms. On the other hand, a cat that knows it will receive more attention from you if it ignores you might be doing it on purpose.


Most cats will hide in anything that they can fit in. It could be a box, a bag, or any other kind of container. As long as your cat can get inside of it, it will. This can be a pretty cute and endearing thing to see, but it has its roots in your cats hunting instinct. Because cats are ambush animals, your cat is trying to find a good place that it can hide out and observe the surroundings. Of course, a housecat is not likely to see any prey wandering around inside. So, your feline might attack toys or treats from its hiding place instead.

Sleeping on You

Some cats are quite affectionate, and may join you in bed at night or on a chair during the day to take a nap. This is one of the best parts about owning a cat, as they have a calming presence about them that can even have health benefits. Cats get many of the same benefits. They will feel warm, comfortable, and safe – which will reduce their stress and lead to a happier cat. Plus, your cat loves you, and this is one way that it shows you its affection.


Domesticated cats may display an interesting behavior that isn’t seen in feral and wild cats. You may have noticed this behavior, as it looks like your cat is trying to knead dough. A cat prefers to do this on soft surfaces, such as blankets and other animals. There is no set-in-stone explanation for why this behavior occurs. However, it has been observed in kittens, who will knead on their mothers to speed up milk production. So, it could be a relic of that time in a cat’s life. On the other hand, it may be a vestigial instinct as well. Ancient cats would pad down the area they would sleep in before laying down. One more explanation is that the cat is merely spreading its scent, as there are glands on their paws as well.

Being Up All Night

Have you noticed a lot of nighttime activity from your cat? Perhaps they are taking one of their famous midnight sprints around the house. They might also be knocking anything left on the counter onto the floor instead. Most cats will take these nighttime excursions, and it comes down to their basic biological wiring. Cats are nocturnal, which means they are most active at night. This is a trait that they have inherited from their ancestors, the African wildcats. While it is usually normal for a cat to be up, if they seem like they are in distress you may want to take them to the vet. This is especially prudent if your cat meows excessively during the day as well as during the night.

You can also read:

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.