General Cat Behavior

Sharing your life with a cat can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Cats are wonderful pets and great companions, but in order to fully appreciate your cat, it helps to understand a few general behavioral characteristics.


You may see your cat rubbing his or her face on the corner of your coffee table or up against your leg. This behavior is known as marking. Cats have scent glands on the sides of their faces, as well as other areas on their bodies. Rubbing on objects, or on your legs, lets other cats know that your cat has claimed that territory or laid claim to you!


Cats love to play and stalk make believe prey, which is why they enjoy chasing mice, toys, balls, etc. If cats aren’t stimulated with play, they may try to get your attention by excessively meowing or acting out in other ways. It’s very important to play with your cats and keep them stimulated. The best cat toys are those that dance, jump, or move in a way that looks like they are alive. Cats can act out their predator roles by pouncing on these toys. Try to avoid using your fingers as toys, as this may initiate biting and scratching behaviors.

Some cats get over stimulated by play and will get so excited that they “play bite.” When cats play bite, they mean no harm. They just get so wrapped up in their play that they do not realize that biting can hurt. If your cat or kitten does bite, freeze immediately, as movement will encourage the cat to continue biting. When he or she lets go of you, redirect the cat to a toy. If the cat continues to bite, give him or her a “time out” by placing your pet in another room for one to two minutes.


Scratching is a normal behavior for all cats, even if they’re declawed. They scratch for a variety of reasons, including exercise, play, agility, stretching, and most importantly, to remove the outer nail sheath that sheds routinely. By trimming your cat’s nails every two to three weeks, the nails will stay blunt and are less likely to harm your skin or furniture. Provide your cat with a sturdy scratching post that allows him or her to stretch out completely when scratching. You may need to try a few different types of posts (textures and shapes) to find the perfect post for your cat.


Cats groom themselves to keep their fur clean. Most cats do a great job of grooming, but longer-haired or older cats may need to be brushed frequently. Many cats enjoy this activity.

Litter Box

Most cats have a specific preference about where they want to eliminate. Your cat’s litter box should be placed in a quiet, accessible location where your cat can feel comfortable eliminating. A bathroom or utility room is often a good place. In a multilevel home, it is recommended that you provide your cat(s) with one litter box per floor. Cats are sensitive creatures, so try to avoid moving the box unless it is absolutely necessary.

Keep the litter box clean. Cats won’t use a messy, smelly litter box. Spot clean it daily and completely clean and refill the box as needed. Don’t use ammonia, deodorants, or scents (especially lemon) when cleaning the litter box.

If you still have questions, or are having problems with your cat, please call our free Behavior Helpline at (312) 644-8338, ext. 8253, or email us at We are here to help you work through any behavior problems and/or answer questions you may have.



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