Why do cats …? Four cat behaviors explained

Cats are full of mysterious actions, and for a lot of those actions, there are no explanations (like why do they knock glasses off tables? That one is still a head-scratcher.)

Other funny quirks, however, have perfectly reasonable explanations. Here’s why your cat sits in small boxes, kneads, goes crazy for catnip and that all-important question: why do cucumbers scare them so much?

Why do cats love boxes? cat-in-square
There’s one huge reason cats feel the need to sit in every box – even those without walls, made of tape – they come across: boxes make them feel safe.

When cats give birth, they make their nests in small, enclosed spaces to protect their kittens. Even past kittenhood, boxes continue to give cats a feeling of security. It’s the same reason humans find comfort in being wrapped in a blanket – it reminds us, perhaps subconsciously, of being swaddled as a baby.

So why are they attracted to a taped square (or circle, hexagon, triangle, or any other shape) on the floor? While a taped shape obviously isn’t a real container, it gives cats the illusion of a small, contained, space, and they automatically go to it.

Why do cats knead their claws into things (including humans)? cat-kneads-bed
Cats knead for various reasons:

  1. To self soothe.
    Kittens knead their mother’s bellies to stimulate milk flow. They associate the motion with feeling the comfort of nursing, and continue to do it as adults.
  2. To show contentment.
    Is your cat kneading your lap as you pet him? He may be “petting” you back! Never has “love hurts” been truer. Keep a pillow or thick blanket between you and your cat’s claws so you can both keep showing the love.
  3. To mark their territory.
    Cats have scent glands in their paw pads, and kneading activates those glands. They knead items, such as their beds, to mark them as their own.
  4. She’s in heat.
    Female cats knead when they are going into estrus, also known as going into heat. It’s a signal to male cats that she is ready to mate.
  5. It’s instinctive.
    Wild cats used to tamp down tall grass and leaves to make a soft, protected bed, and modern cats may still do this when they are settling down.

Why does catnip make cats either go crazy or mellow out?cat-hugs-catnip
Catnip has different affects, depending on whether your cat sniffs it or eats it. When inhaled, catnip makes cats flip out – literally. They flip, roll, rub, and meow. When ingested, it makes cats extra calm. Either way, the effects wear off after about 10 minutes, so whatever your cat is doing, it won’t last long.

However, don’t be surprised if catnip has no affect on your kitty whatsoever – only about half of cats have a reaction to nepetalactone, the essential oil in catnip, according to the Humane Society. The trait emerges when a cat is between three and six months old.

Catnip is generally considered safe, but like all good things, too much is bad, and if they eat too much, they can get sick.

Why do cucumbers scare cats?cucumber-scares-cats
“Cat scared of cucumber” will pull up plenty of videos, images, and animated .gifs on Google. We can all agree it’s amusing, but you’re better off watching the videos that already exist, rather than trying this on your own cat.

You’ll notice in almost every video, the cat is eating before they see the cucumber. When a cat eats, they make sure they are completely safe, so when they turn around and see something unexpected, they jump in fright. It’s similar to opening a door to find someone reaching for the knob on the other side. There’s a popular theory that cats think the cucumbers are snakes, which is possible, but either way, giving your cat a scare isn’t very nice!

Cats are funny animals, but they’re also intuitive and smart. If your cat is doing something silly, there’s likely a good reason behind it – you know, besides “the Internet thinks it’s funny!”

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