Hooked On Catnip.
Catnip is an innocent-looking herbaceous plant which belongs to the mint family. It doesn’t have much effect on humans (although it has been used as a medicinal herb), but it drives cats wild. Catnip contains a chemical called nepetalactone, which causes cats to roll around in a trance-like state of apparent ecstasy for ten minutes or so. A similar effect has also been observed in big cats. It’s not known exactly how catnip works on the feline brain, but it doesn’t do cats any harm. Not all cats get to experience this catnip joy – about half of cats don’t have a reaction and responsiveness to the plant is thought to be hereditary.
Time For A Catnap.
The big advantage of dining on hunks of meat instead of nibbling on blades of grass is that you don’t have to spend all day doing it. That leaves more time for one of the cat’s greatest pleasures – napping. All felines, big and small, spend most of their time sleeping. Domestic cats typically spend around sixteen hours a day asleep (longer for very young and elderly cats). They need to preserve their energy for all that hunting (at least their ancestors did) and it’s much more important that they’re alert at dawn and dusk than at any other time during the day, as that is when their traditional prey are most active. Cats are often just dozing, rather than in a deep sleep, so they can react instantly should anything untoward occur. Cats will often find somewhere warm. Snug and hidden away to sleep, but they can also baffle and amuse their owners by curling up for a snooze in the most unlikely and awkward-looking spots, from shopping bags to shoes and bathroom sinks.
Rather like small children on Christmas day, cats can seem more drawn to the cardboard box their present came in than the present itself. Cats love jumping into the box and then out of it and then back into it again and are often found sleeping in boxes (even when you’ve bought them a lovely cat bed). This is probably because cats feel safe when concealed. Cats are not naturally claustrophobic and generally love the feeling of being at least partially enclosed. Research on cats in re-homing shelters suggests that they settle in more easily and exhibit fewer signs of stress if there is a cardboard box in the pen.
Ten Everyday Cat Acts Explained:
- RUBBING AGAINST YOUR LEGS: Cats aren’t just saying hello when they rub against your legs – they are actually marking their territory. Cats have scent glands on their faces, and they use these to cover us with the (undetectable to humans) scent of their own pheromones. Once suitably perfumed, we are marked as a safe and familiar part of the cat’s universe.
- SNIFFING NOSES: When cats greet each other, they often sniff noses. This is another opportunity for scent exchange (this is also why cats will rub against our faces if they can get high enough) and getting up-to-date information about how the other cat is and what they’ve been up to.
- SCRATCHING POSTS (OR THE BACK OF YOUR SOFA): Scratching is an essential behavior for cats. It keeps the claws in good condition and releases scent from glands in the cat’s paws to mark territory and leave important messages to other cats (such as “Back off, this is my patch”).
- SPRAYING AROUND THE HOUSE: Generally regarded as the cleanest of animals, some cats – particularly unneutered toms – can develop the unfortunate habit of spraying around the house. This is normal territory-marking behavior outside, but it usually indicates some form of stress when a cat feels the need to do this in their own home.
- BURYING (OR NOT BURYING) POO: Cats tend to do their ‘business’ somewhere private and then cover it over with earth or litter. Sometimes, however, cats do something called maddening, which is when they deliberately leave their faeces exposed (just outside a litter tray, for example) as a way of asserting their claim to a territory.
- KNEADING ON YOUR LAP OR A PILLOW: This familiar behavior is often accompanied by loud and furious purring and may involve sharp claws. It’s not entirely clear why adult cats do this, but kittens knead when they feed from their mothers, and it may be a reassuring habit they retain into adulthood.
- STICKING THEIR BUM IN YOUR FACE: A bum in the face is actually a friendly gesture when it comes from a cat. They are allowing themselves to be in a vulnerable position because they trust you and think you might want to have a sniff by way of saying hello. Think of it as a kitty handshake.
- SITTING ON YOUR COMPUTER: Electronic equipment seems to have a special attraction for cats. Gadgets are often warm, which explains part of the appeal, but they also command a lot of your attention. Cats who try to sit on your computer while you’re working (or sit on your book or newspaper) are probably just after some fuss.
- FASTIDIOUS GROOMING: Cats may spend as much as a third of their waking hours washing themselves. A cat’s sandpaper tongue not only washes the fur, but also removes dead hair, skin and any other debris. Grooming also releases oils which keep the coat weatherproof and may help with temperature regulation.
- HAVING A ‘MAD HALF-HOUR’: Cats can sometimes turn into demons possessed and suddenly start zipping about in a frenzy for no apparent reason before, just as suddenly, curling up quietly again. The life of a cat in the wild is one of hours of idleness punctuated by brief but frenetic periods of roaming and hunting. The mad half-hour is just the way our more pampered domestic cats let off a bit of steam.