15 Weird Cat Behaviors Explained

Weird cat behaviors explained

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, your cat surprises you by performing an impossible maneuver, or emitting a sound you would never have expected to hear from an earthly creature, or by contorting into a position even a double-jointed Yoga guru would struggle to repeat.

Sometimes you laugh, sometimes you can’t help but wonder what is going through its mind. It’s what I love about cats the most.

Some people believe cats are cool, aloof creatures – people who haven’t lived with a cat that is. As owners, we know cats can be attention-seeking clowns and provide us with hours of entertainment.

Let’s take a look at 15 examples of common weird cat behavior.

Siamese cat squinting

1. Sprinting Through The House

Owners often refer to this behavior as the zoomies or the crazies.

Why do cats sprint around the house? Ours appear from nowhere, sprint up the stairs as if being pursued, tear along the corridor, complete a u-turn without losing any speed whatsoever and race back downstairs. They then stop as if nothing has happened and act all cool and calm.

What is this all about?

It could be related to their crepuscular instincts. Cats are naturally active at dawn and dusk, which is when their prey is the most active. Their natural instincts tell them it’s time to expend some of the energy they have stored up during their numerous cat naps.

We have noticed it often happens with our cats immediately after they have been outside for a ‘number 2’. It’s as if they want to get as far away from the toilet site as possible. I’ve heard they follow an instinctive urge to get away quickly so that predators can’t track their scent. This seems like a very satisfactory explanation to me.

2. Kneading Your Lap

Have you ever wondered why your cat sits on your lap and pummels you with its front paws? Some cats even use all four paws and extend their claws. We know they could do this till the cows come home and our laps will not change shape. So why do cats Knead our laps?

Your cat is trying to plump you up to make a nice comfortable sleeping place. You may have noticed how it turns in circles before settling down. Basically, you are being turned into a cat nest. It’s a sign that your cat really trusts you and is preparing you as a place for a lovely snooze.

Cats learn to knead as kittens as they suckle from their mothers. They press their paws into her mammary glands to release milk. Doing this amongst their siblings is safe, calming and comforting. When mature cats knead it helps them to feel calm and relaxed as they used to feel when with their mother.

3. Roosting In The Smallest Box

cat in small box

Why do cats squeeze into spaces that are too small for them? How can this be comfortable? The basic reason why cats do this is that it makes them feel secure. They don’t care if it’s a big box, a small box; a basin, drawer or anything they can contain them will do. As long as they feel they are safe and hidden, all is well.

For much more information on this subject see our article Why do Cats Like Boxes?

4. Knocking Things Over The Edge

Cats often feel compelled to push things off of tables, counters, and shelves. Sometimes they try to make it look like an accident as if they are just stretching and then something accidentally falls. At other times they watch curiously as the object falls to the floor. Owners soon learn to move things we value somewhere safe.

If your cat does this regularly it may be feeling bored. Instigate a good play session and swap your cat’s toys regularly to keep it interested in them. It’s recommended that you engage your cat in play every day, especially if its an indoor cat.

5. Bringing You Little ‘Presents’

Don’t be offended when your cat places a dead mouse at your feet as this means you are considered one of its gang and worthy of a share the spoils of your cat’s hunting success. When you leave the house, your cat might believe you go hunting as you often provide it with food on your return. It’s just reciprocating.

Next time your cat brings you a ‘treat’ act thankful not cross. Only when your cat isn’t looking should you dispose of whatever you’ve been brought. After all, you don’t want to cause offense!

6. Chattering At The Window

It’s hard for a human to replicate the sound I mean, you know, the one a cat makes as it watches birds through a window. It’s often referred to as chattering. The cat’s mouth is slightly ajar and the bottom jaw vibrates rapidly up and down. I think this cute noise is a result of excitement and frustration evoked by watching prey they can’t get.

Sometimes they emit a little squeaky meow at the same time that can sound almost like the birds they are watching. Maybe they are copying the sound in the hope they can pass for a bird. If you have ever seen a cat kill it’s captured prey, you may have noticed it pins it down with its front paws and swiftly bites the back of its neck and as it does so its bottom jaw vibrates. So maybe the chattering at the window is just your cat going through the motion of the kill.

7. Releasing And Recapturing Live Prey

You may think this is your cat being cruel, tormenting little mice. It does appear that way. Often, though, this is the result of an inexperienced or clumsy hunter. Sometimes a cat grabs live prey in its mouth and carries it to a safe place to kill (into your house for example). It then has to release its quarry momentarily to pin it down in the correct position so as to apply the lethal bite. Some cats mess this bit up and the prey escapes. Of course, if this happens to be in your house your cat can get a bit excited when attempting to recapture the little creature and this can turn into a bit of a game, unfortunately.

8. Laying Belly Up

Maine Coon on its back

When your cat rolls onto its back in a flirtatious manner, giving you full eye contact and a view of its tummy, it’s a sign that it really trusts you. This is a cat’s most vulnerable position so if it does this in front of you then it is confident that you will not harm it. Of course, all cat owners know this is a display of your cat’s affection towards you and not an invitation to tickle that tummy! It may be in a playful mood and your hand could become a victim. Pick up a toy instead, such as a cat teaser, and enjoy a little play together.

Bear in mind, if your cat cowers on its side, teeth bared, ears back and claws out, this is not a display of trust but a defensive position. Steer clear!

9. Rubbing You

A cat rubs its head on you as you enter a room to say hello. Cat aficionados term this bunting, but it can almost feel like gentle headbutts. As your cat bumps against you it is marking you with its pheromones (don’t worry you can’t smell them) and taking ownership of you as part of its territory (but you always knew it was the cat that owned you, not the other way around). Cats do the same thing with furniture – its nice to know you are as important to it as the chairs and the table!

10. Making Eyes At You

Close up of a Maine Coons face

Do you ever feel like your cat is trying to stare you out with large, round unblinking eyes? The best thing to do it not try to win but blink or look away instead. You should never stare directly at a cat as this is considered aggressive in the feline world and means you are spoiling for a fight.

On other occasions, your cat might slowly blink at you. A cat never blinks if it feels in any way threatened. Seasoned cat owners know that this is the equivalent of cat kisses and a sign of your cat’s affection and trust in you. You should blink back at the same speed to let your cat know the feeling is mutual.

One more thing to note, if your cat ever needs calming down slow-blinking at it can help. For more tips on this matter see our 10 tips to calm any cat.

11. Twitchy Ears

Your cat’s ears are not just for listening but can tell you how it is feeling. They are extremely sensitive to sound and I love the way just one ear can turn towards the slightest sound even when apparently sound asleep.

There are five ear positions and each conveys a different mood:

  • If your cat’s ears are facing forward it is content and may even be in a playful mood.
  • Ears go straight up when something alerts them such as a sudden noise.
  • If your cat’s ears turn sideways like the wings of an airplane, this is a sign of nervousness or even anxiety.
  • If they turn backward then your cat is irritated.
  • If a cat’s ears go flat back against its head it is angry or scared so take care not to make things worse.

12. Eating The Inedible

We’ve never had a cat with this sort of eating disorder, thank goodness, but some cats do seem to nibble at the strangest things such as cloth, cardboard, wood and even metal. No one’s quite sure why they do this but there are thoughts that it could be down to boredom or stress. If a cat is an indoor cat and is left alone then it may well be the cause. If you can’t discourage your cat from nibbling the wrong things, seek advice from your vet.

13. Laying On Your Stuff

Cat on laptop

If I walk away from my laptop and leave the lid up I usually find a cat on my keyboard when I return. Cats do love to lay on our stuff.

Here are my cat’s getting comfortable on my mother-in-law’s clothes which she’d laid out ready on the bed before going off for a shower.

Two Maine Coons cuddling

Why is it that cats have to lay on our stuff as soon as we start using it? Is it some sort of jealousy that you are lavishing your attention elsewhere? It’s more likely because your stuff smells of you and makes your cat feel secure. Sometimes though, I’m sure the cat knows you will have to stop what you’re doing and take notice of it. And of course, all your things are then marked with its scent!

14. Peeing On The Floor … And Worse!

Inappropriate elimination, some people call this. And it can be hard to cope with. There can be several reasons for this including:

  • A dirty litter box – some cats hate to use a dirty litter box. If you aren’t always around to clean it, try using two trays.
  • A shared litter box – this doesn’t always work out so one box per cat might be necessary.
  • A urine infection (UTI) – sometimes the pain can cause a cat to have to go there and then.
  • Old age – an elderly cat just might not be able to get to the box in time. Place a tray near its favorite sleeping spot.
  • Stress – if something unsettles your cat it may not use its litter box. Things such as a new baby, a new pet or a house move can have this effect.
  • The wrong litter – changing the type can cause issues. Revert to the old stuff and see if things get better.
  • The smell at a previous ‘accident site’ – a cat may repeat offend at the same spot because of the smell. Try to remove all traces of smell or even place the litter box over the spot.
  • You moved the litter box! – put it back where it was.

Try to remember your cat is not being naughty or doing this out of spite and never punish it as it won’t understand.

15. Waking You In The Small Hours

cat on a pillow

It’s the middle of the night, you’re sound asleep but your cat is not! It visits you in bed with a bright and cheerful meow then sits and purrs loudly on your stomach. Or it thunders up the stairs and finds something noisy to bat about on your bedroom floor.

The problem is that your cat often sleeps a lot during the day, especially if you are out at work. Then suddenly it just has to use up that energy. If it were allowed out at night, it would use up this energy hunting, after all, that’s what it conserved it for.

As most of us don’t want our cats stalking about outside at night (or any time in fact), the best thing to do is help your cat to expend its energy during the day with plenty of play sessions. A bedtime meal (just before you retire) can also help.

If your senior cat wakes you up with meows it could be a sign of a cognitive problem – elderly cats can get feline senile dementia, also known as cognitive dysfunction system (CDS). Try installing a few night lights as this can help but if things worsen seek advice from your vet.


Cats are lovely but often weird!

cat in a box


I'm Jane Pettitt, co-owner of Pets Knowledge Base with my husband, Matt. I have a grand total of 50 years’ experience as a pet owner. It all started with a guinea pig called Percy when I was 5 years old and since then I’ve lived with two more guinea pigs, a hamster, mice, a rabbit, a tortoise, a dog, and 11 cats. I’ve learned so much about pet care during this time and many of my articles are based on my personal experiences plus those of my family and friends.

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