Understanding your cat's behaviour

Cats are intriguing pets, sometimes they want to interact and play with you and other times they’ll act like they don’t even know you – we love them, nonetheless. We’ve tried to answer some common questions from cat-owners about their cat’s behaviour.

1. Why does my cat hide?


Cats tend to hide when they feel stressed, this could be because their routine has been interrupted, it could be because of loud noises (e.g. fireworks or building works) or even just visitors in your home. Not all cats enjoy social interaction outside of their own family, they can be shy too.


When feeling like this, your cat will try to find a place to retreat where they won’t be found or disturbed. This will help them feel safe and secure and they’ll eventually emerge when they believe the coast is clear.


It’s worth considering a few options to allow your cat to hide easily: cardboard boxes are always a good bet, even better with a comfy blanket. They may also use the top of wardrobes or under beds – just make sure that their retreat room is safe with secured windows, and bathroom doors closed or at least toilet lids down. If your cat chooses a high spot, try and make sure that they have a safe route up and down.

2. What is my cat’s body language telling me?


Cats are complex creatures, but they are relatively easy to read if you know the signs. Often, they’ll be purring indicating play rather than aggression. Here are some common ones:

  • Approaching with tail in the air: this is a greeting, your cat is pleased to see you and would like a fuss
  • Tummy roll: this is a sign of trust; it doesn’t always mean you have permission to rub their tummy though, this will depend on your cat.
  • Nudging corners of furniture or people: you smell different and your cat is trying to make sure that you are familiar or simply showing you that they are pleased to see you / be home.
  • Ears flat/eyes wide: Your cat is worried about something; you should avoid trying to comfort them at this point.
    Purring: this is your cat’s way of letting you know they are content, and if you are fussing them, it means I like it and you can do some more of that please.
  • However, cats also purr when they are stressed, so it’s important to look for other signs; if your cat appears anxious, it probably is, regardless of whether they are purring or not.
  • There are some great videos on cat’s body language from the Cats Protection, you can watch them here.

3. Why does my cat ambush my feet?


A key reason why your cat may ambush your feet is that when it was younger, games and interaction may have involved playing with fingers and toes. This is often bearable when they are kittens, but as a kitten gets stronger it becomes pretty painful.


The best thing to do to stop this behaviour is to not react at the time, this may involve you having to wear claw-proof footwear for a bit. You can also identify the areas that your cat likes to pounce from remove any props that they are using to hide behind. Use a toy to distract them when they are in their pouncing place or position.


They may also ambush your feet when they believe that you may have forgotten about dinnertime, this is all about ensuring they have a good feeding routine.

4. How often should I play with my cat?


Cats are pretty independent, but most of them are willing to engage in a game or two. Playing with your cat is a really good way to bond and is also a lot of fun for both of you. When your cat is outdoors, they will find similar games to play themselves; chasing leaves and the like. When your cat plays their body releases endorphins, which make them feel good – so it’s good from both a physical and well-being perspective.


How often you play with your cat will depend on their age, a kitten will be happy to play around ten or more times a day. Whereas an adult cat will be happy with around 4 times a day. A couple of minutes at a time is fine for each session; enough time to have fun, but not long enough to get bored.


Indoor cats need more play than outdoor cats. One way to encourage them to move more is to use a puzzle feeder for meal times or treats. Your cat will enjoy the challenge of working out how to get at their food with the added advantage that if your cat tends to eat too quickly, this will slow them down. Always make sure that food and treats are part of a controlled diet to avoid overeating and weight issues for your cat.


Toys are great fun, try to mix it up with a variety of different toys; they don’t need to be expensive; all cat owners know that cats love a cardboard box or a rolled-up ball of tinfoil. If you buy a toy, a fishing rod option with feathers emulates them chasing their prey. Remember to let them win sometimes or they may become frustrated with the game. Catnip stuffed toys are almost always a hit; this herb has a euphoric effect on cats.


Cats enjoy climbing and, if you have the space, an activity centre can provide lots of entertainment as well as somewhere to sharpen their claws and have a catnap.
Don’t leave your cat alone with their toys as they may shred them and eat something they shouldn’t. It’s also important to remember to check toys regularly for loose parts.

Covid-19 update


The current pandemic probably means that cats that are used to having the run of the house are having to put up with families being at home a lot more. Or if you are needing to self-isolate, your outdoor cat may need to be kept in for a while. Cats can find a change to their routine pretty stressful, so you may see more of the behaviours above. Below are a few tips on helping your cat adjust to a new routine:

  • Buy a toy to entertain them with, something that mimics them chasing prey is a good option
  • Look into making or purchasing an enrichment feeder – a great way to relieve boredom
  • Investing in a scratching post is a must, there are many different types on the market from basic to palatial – go with what you have space for
  • Make sure your cat has somewhere to hide when it all gets too much, somewhere cosy and out of the way
  • Plug-in pheromones can also work well for stressed or nervous cats, ask your vet for advice

For advice on the health of your pet, speak to your local Medivet practice.

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