There’s no doubt cats are bizarre, the bulk of their behaviors being an enigma for the average human being to witness. As such, it’s no surprise that there are a plethora of people online explaining the strangest, wildest, and weirdest of their behaviors back into human terms.
As useful as those are, I decided to share a different angle of cat behaviors today, explaining the behaviors that are my personal favorite — and how to speak a cat’s language back to them!
The first behavior on my list is often referred to as “head-butting” or “head-bumping” by the general public: bunting.
When a cat takes his head and rams it into your nose, chin, hand, or leg, the urge to pet them and shower them with love usually becomes irresistible. Cats do this to get your attention and your loving pats and scratches, but they’re also using it to mark you as their territory, and in turn, their family. Cats have scent glands in their cheeks and on their head that release their pheromones off onto you as they bunt into you, and even more when you pet them. These pheromones are used to mark territory among cats and other animals, thus marking you as “theirs.”
Bunting is seen in many animals, although most famously in cats. It’s been observed in kittens who will bunt or knead their mother to stimulate milk flow, so one could say the cat says you’re like their mother in your relationship. It’s also used when cats greet one another. When your kitty bumps their head against you, you can smile knowing they’re saying the love you, trust you, want you around, and are greeting you with affection.
Want to “bunt” your kitty back?
It’s no secret that our heads are much bigger than a domestic cat’s, so how to we “bunt” our kitties back to say hello? The easiest and best way I’ve found to do this is simply to put your forehead or chin at their head-level and they’ll do the bunting!
Most cats would be uncomfortable with our size and inexperience if we attempting to bump against them, but to offer our foreheads often gets the point across, as if to say “hello! I’m here and making it easy for you to bunt me.”
While there’s some debate as to the purpose of purring, it’s been widely observed that it’s primarily a happy or satisfied sound. All cats purr different amounts, with some purring a lot (like my late kitty, Mocha) and others only in specific situations (like Bucky, my new kitty), but cats aren’t necessarily unhappy if they’re not purring. A good way to tell is to see if they’re doing any of the other behaviors listed here. If so, they’re definitely content and feel safe, purring or not.
Cats also purr when they’re stressed, injured, or sick. Scientists have theorized that the frequency cats purr at helps to calm them and perhaps promote healing of muscles and bones. As Wikipedia says, “This purring may trigger a cat’s brain to release a hormone which helps it in relaxing and acts as a painkiller.” Cats have also been observed to curl up to their human when the human is sick or stressed, purring away while cuddled into their lap or their side, perhaps to help us to heal as well.
If you’ve ever caught your cat staring at you intently, only to blink at you once they have your attention, know you’re well-loved by your feline friend! Cats are always hyper-aware of their surroundings, so for them to close their eyes despite just having drawn your attention to them is a big trust-fall for them, so to speak.
How do I “slow-blink” back?
Mimicry is the best way to go about this one. Get into your cat’s line of vision and stare at them (nine times out of ten you’ll catch their eye in a few seconds). Then slowly give them a blink, lasting two or three seconds from start to finish. As Jackson Galaxy has said, you can keep track of your pace by mentally saying “I love you” as you blink. The best part? Your kitty will almost always blink right back!
Kneading, also called “making-biscuits” by some, is when a kitty takes their paws and “kneads” their toes and/or claws into your leg, belly, neck, blanket, etc. Despite it sometimes hurting us depending on how or where they knead (for example, Bucky kneaded my bare foot the other day), this is another behavior that is initially observed in kittens with their mothers, hoping to stimulate milk flow. It’s used by them to tell us how close they feel to us!
Showing Their Belly
A common misconception with cats is that, they want you to pet them whenever they expose their belly. While this can sometimes be true depending on your kitty, it is often our knowledge and understanding of dogs inaccurately being transferred over to cats in an assumption their behaviors mean the same things. I’m here to tell you that, while some cats like their belly rubbed, very few like it scratched, and even fewer like it touched at all for very long.
Rather, cats show their bellies for a few different reasons, the main one being trust. (That’s right, another trusting, loving gesture from our dear feline friends in this blog post.) In this way, they’re the same as dogs, but it’s different from dogs in that they’re showing you their belly while trusting that you won’t touch it. A belly is a vulnerable part of any animal, and instinct tells them to not show it to anything that could attack them or hurt them. When you dive in with lovies, even though your intentions are pure, they take it as an attack and react accordingly, biting, kicking, and clawing at your hand.
This dives us into the next reason cats show us their bellies: defense. While cats lunge, swipe, and chase, if your cat has ever attacked your hand or their favorite kick-toy, you’ll have seen the power they can put into the combo of feet, teeth, and claws! While their belly and throat are exposed to do this, cats are flexible and fast enough to use this maneuver with relatively low risk depending on their opponent — just make sure your hand doesn’t fall into that category!
Being the predator that they are, stalking is a natural instinct for cats. When hunting mice and other rodents, the mouse will often peek around corners to check that the coast is clear before darting from one place to another, especially if their destination is across an open space. As such, seeing a human or another animal mimic this kind of behavior seems to trigger their hunting instinct. This is why cats will attack their toys, pencils, fingers, and feet when they’re peeking out or around something a small bit, or even chase you into a room when they’re being playful.
How do I play peek-a-boo with my cat?
Whether you want to play using a toy or using yourself, the concept is the same: get your cat’s attention in some way, then hide yourself or the toy around a corner from the cat’s line of vision. Wait a short moment, then peak your head or a tip of the toy around, spot the cat, and vanish around the corner again. Do this again, this time staring at the cat for a touch longer (three or four seconds), and duck back behind the corner and wait. Count slowly to ten, and if the cat hasn’t attacked, peak again.
The key to the game is to mirror what the cat’s prey would do. Vanish around corners fast, then peak slow. Make as little noise as you can (this also helps to add a touch of mystery to you as we’re normally noisy creatures in their perspective, piquing the cat’s interest), and if all else fails, assume they’re not in the mood and try again some other time. Practice makes perfect, but this game has become my favorite way to play with my kitties!
Please note: I do not know this YouTuber and have only watched this one video from them for the purpose of the tutorial.
In conclusion, despite how crazy cats are, it’s difficult to deny that they’re truly loving, adorable little animals once you get to know them. It’s super rewarding to be able to gain their affections and trust, and the bonding you can do when you’re speaking the same language is undeniable. Whether they’re speaking “human” or you “cat,” you’re able to gain a life-long friend in them.