Cat Behavior

Why Are Cats So Curious: Science Explains This Feline Trait

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Cats are definitely a species apart. To most people, cat behavior is the ultimate source of mystery. While dog behavior makes perfect sense most of the time, the majority of cat behavior often leaves owners confused and bewildered.

Even the cutest cat behavior traits – smelling shoes, chasing string, crawling inside shopping bags – don’t seem to add up to anything their humans understand.

Why are cats so curious? What could be driving these well-documented feline behaviors? Is there a reason or is it just your cat being a cat? Learn why cats are so curious now!

Why Are Cats So Curious

Cats are curious because this trait helps them survive. Feline curiosity keeps a cat’s senses sharp for hunting, finding mates, seeking out shelter, staying warm, and caring for the young.

Watch Cute Cats Being Curious

In this YouTube video, you can watch cats being as cat-like as it gets – these cats are endlessly curious about anything and everything in their environment.

What Curiosity Looks Like for a Wild Cat

According to Charlottesville Cat Care Clinic, the genome (genetic makeup) of the typical domestic pet cat is a whopping 95 percent, wild tiger!

When you think about cat curiosity this way, it becomes easier to assume that feline curiosity has a wild useful purpose even if you don’t yet know what that purpose may be.

For example, for a wild cat, exploring their world helps the cat know where resources are located and where danger lurks.

The curious wild cat is a cat with all instincts on high alert all the time. In the wild, a cat has to find food, water, and shelter daily and compete with other cats and many other animals for the best resources.

It is in captivity when these same curious instincts often don’t seem to make any sense. But if you watch your pet cat and imagine they are wild, you may start to see your cat’s curious behaviors differently.

What Do Curious Cats Think About Their Humans

According to Wired, pet cats pretty much think that human behavior is far stranger than their own behavior.

Pet cats also find human behavior stressful at times – so much so that feline researchers have been able to link some feline health conditions to living in a human family where there is a lot of stress.

Since the cat behaviors that often look so strange to humans actually serve a useful purpose for the cat, attempts to discourage these behaviors cause your cat stress.

And a stressed-out cat is more likely to become a sick cat over time.

Cats that claw furniture, spray mark their territory on table legs or walls, eliminate away from a dirty litter box or leap from the tops of cabinets, refrigerators or shelves are just being cats.

So when their human yells, squirts water, ban them to a separate room, or ignores them, this just causes more stress.

Match Each Curious Cat Behavior With Its Wild Equivalent

As ASPCA points out, researchers that study wild cat behavior can shed more light on some of the curious and crazy behaviors cat owners observe in their pet cats.

What would these seemingly crazy behaviors look like if we matched them up with their wild equivalent? Let’s find out!

Crawling into tiny bags and boxes or seeking out high spaces

When a wild cat crawls into a tiny space, there is a strategic purpose. That small space has only one narrow entry and exit point. It is easy to keep watch and impossible for any threat to go undetected.

Cats seek out high spaces for the same basic reasons. In a wild setting, a cat might choose to sleep up high in a bush or tree or even a spiky cactus. In your home, a high refrigerator, cabinet, or shelf will accomplish the same security purpose.

Smiling or sneering at nothing

PetMD explains the particularly perplexing behavior pet cats exhibit when they sneer or smile at nothing in particular.

When a wild cat makes this facial expression, there is a very important sensory reason. The smile/sneer, where the lips curl up and part, opens the mouth so air can travel in and up to the roof of the mouth where Jacobson’s organ is located.

The Jacobson’s organ sorts through the scent markers and sends the important data up to the brain. Important data can include who else has been in the area, whether there are any available mates nearby and what’s for dinner.

Head butting

The scientific term for head butting is actually bunting. As Cat Behavior Associates explains, wild cats use head bunting to deposit scent pheromones and mark safe individuals.

Your pet cat will butt heads with you to deposit these same scent markers as an indication you are part of their safe zone.

Tail wagging

Tail wagging is simple to understand when your pet dog is doing it. But in cats, tail wagging is a complicated behavior at best.

Cats use their tails like a standalone form of communication. Tail wagging typically either signifies irritation, curiosity, or aggression (as in predatory behavior).

Rarely, tail wagging may be a symptom of a rare neurological condition called hyperesthesia syndrome.

Drinking from a running faucet

Wild cats learn early in life that running water is likely to be safer to drink than stagnant water.

So when your pet cat ignores their water bowl in favor of an open tap or even the tub spout, they are likely just trying to choose the safest way to stay hydrated.

Some cats are also attracted to the movement of running water, which is a good tip to tuck away when you are struggling to get your cat to drink enough!

Bringing you stinky dead “presents”

Live Science explains one particularly unwelcome pet cat trait – bringing home presents in the form of dead birds, squirrels, mice, or rats.

Wild mother cats will teach their young to hunt by bringing home injured or dead prey so the kittens can practice.

Scientists theorize that pet cats have the best of intentions by presenting these prey animals so you, their person, can learn to hunt.

Waking up and getting active after nightfall

As Smithsonian Magazine highlights, wild cat will adapt their daily routine to optimize hunting success.

Many prey animals such as mice, rats, and small lizards will become more active under the cover of the dark in hopes of foraging for food undetected.

So when your house cat starts to get their second wind as the sun goes down, you can understand that this is simply an instinct left over from their wild cat days.

Chattering to themselves

As The Drake Center for Veterinary Care points out, chattering is thought to be a preparatory display to heighten predatory instincts while hunting.

When your pet cat does it while watching a bird or squirrel outside the window, it may be a sign of frustrated hunting instincts.

Did Curiosity Ever Kill a Cat for Real

Curiosity killed the cat is one of those overused cliches that no cat owner enjoys hearing.

As Interesting Literature highlights, the phrase originally had more of a “care kills the cat” connotation, with care meaning worry or sorrow.

In truth, a cat’s curiosity is a trait that evolved to help cats survive in the wild.

Why Are Cats So Curious

As a pet writer and blogger, Shannon is passionate about crafting knowledge-based, science-supported articles that foster healthy bonds of love and respect between people and animals. But her first and very most important job is as a dog auntie and cockatiel, tortoise, and box turtle mama.

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