Domestic cats are closely related to their wild ancestors, who look like tabby cats, and currently live in Europe, southwest Asia, and Africa. Although your beloved cat may enjoy a sun-filled snooze on a pillow, they still have their wild cat genetic programming. The Highlands Veterinary Hospital team answers eight common cat behavior questions, and whether they could indicate illness.

#1: Why does my cat bring me their prey?

Cats have an innate predator instinct, and bringing prey home acknowledges that you are a family member. Cats can hunt for enjoyment, or for variety in their diet. Recent research at the University of Exeter found that playing with your cat for 5 to 10 minutes daily reduced the number of prey animals brought home by 25%, and introducing a premium commercial food resulted in a 36% reduction. If your cat goes outdoors, ensure they are up to date on all vaccinations, well-identified with a microchip, and current on their flea, tick, and heartworm prevention.

#2: Why does my cat hold their mouth open?

Cats may hold their mouth open and make chattering noises while looking out the window, which is an instinctive hunting response to seeing prey. An open mouth allows for smelling and tasting the world with oral receptors (i.e., Flehman response), but prolonged open-mouthed breathing can be a sign of feline asthma or respiratory distress.

#3: Is it normal for my cat to sleep so much?

Cats are programmed to sleep an average of 16 to 20 hours per day to recharge for a potential hunting spree. Cats are nocturnal by nature, but usually adjust their sleeping pattern to their owner. Excessive sleeping can signal boredom, pain, organ dysfunction, or gastrointestinal discomfort. Excessive night restlessness or vocalization may indicate an illness, such as hyperthyroidism or cognitive dysfunction.

#4: Why is my cat drinking so much water?

Drinking from the faucet may be a genetically hardwired response from the wild, when running water was safer to drink. However, if your cat is drinking excessively, or urinating large amounts in the litter box, they could have an illness such as hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, or diabetes.

#5: Why is my cat eliminating outside the litter box?

Wild cats naturally bury their waste to prevent detection by other animals, or leave it uncovered to mark their territory. If your cat is eliminating outside the litter box, ensure the box is placed in a quiet location and cleaned regularly, and there are multiple litter boxes for multiple cats. Cats may also avoid the litter box because of health issues such as pain, stress, bladder inflammation, urinary tract infection, bowel inflammation, or constipation.

#6: Why does my cat look unkempt?

Cats tend to be clean and hygienic, using their rough tongue as a natural grooming tool. Cleanliness reduces a cat’s scent, and helps them avoid predators and hunt more successfully. One of the first illness signs in a cat may be an unkempt hair coat because of decreased interest in grooming. A poor hair coat can also mean your cat has skin disease, parasites, pain, or is overweight and unable to groom themselves. 

#7: Does kneading and purring mean my cat is happy?

Kneading and purring are kitten habits that have carried over into your adult cat. Kneading is part of the nursing routine, and kittens find their mother during their first days of life through purring. Purring also has a physiological endorphin-secreting function that provides a sense of well-being and is a built-in healing mechanism. Cats don’t always purr when happy—they may also purr when anxious or in pain. 

#8: Why does my cat knock over objects and scratch the furniture?

Cats may knock over objects because of boredom, but they also practice hunting by watching movement. Play that simulates prey activity can help reduce this destructive behavior. Scratching reflects your cat’s innate need to remove the dead layer on their claws, stretch their body, and deposit scent from paw glands to mark territory. The best way to save your furniture is to trim their nails, provide a tall scratching post that allows your cat a complete stretch, and provide plenty of toys to keep them active.

If you have questions about your cat’s puzzling behaviors, or are concerned they may be associated with an illness, call our office for an appointment. The Highlands Veterinary Hospital team is here to help, and would be happy to check them out.