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Why do cats raise their tails when you pet them? ...and other kitty curiosities.
Revered for thousands of years for their companionship and their utility as exterminators, domestic cats are the most popular pets in the world. The ancient Egyptians considered cats to be sacred. This is evident in their art as well as the fact that they even mummified the remains of their cats. In 2004, a grave in Cyprus was discovered with both human and feline remains which dates our relationship with cats back some 9,500 years. Some believe that the Romans were responsible for introducing cats from Egypt to Europe. During the Age of Discovery, cats became sailors for both good luck and on-board pest control thus furthering their world domination. This "ship's cat" tradition has stood for centuries.
Cats have not always been cherished though. Throughout history, there have been many negative myths and superstitions surrounding cats. To some, cats are an omen of bad luck and that cats have "9 lives." During medieval times, cats were associated with witches which led to a mass extermination. Unfortunately, this meant that there were more rats which happened to carry the Black Plague.
The Endless Enigma
It often seems that there is more that we don't know about the enigmatic cat than what we do know. Perhaps that's the way that they would prefer it. They are very intelligent but fiercely independent creatures, generally having a mind of their own when it comes to getting them to do something we want them to do. There's even an old legend that the question mark
(?) symbol originated from a flippant cat strutting away from a farmer with its tail up, leaving the man to wonder what in the world is that cat thinking. You get the idea...
There is no doubt that domestic cats are full of curiosities, just as they are curious creatures themselves. So, why do cats do the things they do?
Why do cats purr?
Purring is widely accepted that it's an indication that the cat is content, however there are many theories offered to why this phenomenon occurs. Purring is not limited just to relaxation. Females purr when giving birth. Cats may purr when they are injured or sick which suggests that purring is an overall response to strong emotions. It may be a form of a mother cat to communicate with nursing kittens. Some argue that purring communicates submisiveness; they mean no harm and do not wish to be harmed. Others argue that it may release a hormone from the brain that helps the cat relax and alleviates pain. Even with all the reasons of why, the physical mechanism that causes purring is still a mystery.
Along with purring, kneading is another one of 9 live's great mysteries. Kneading often accompanies purring and is a consistent behavior before cats go to sleep. It's a common belief that kneading, along with suckling, indicates that a kitten was weaned too early. While kneading may occur because of premature weaning, almost all house cats knead. Some suggest that it is an inherited instinct from their wild ancestors to knock down grass as a form of nesting. Others believe that cats adopt a "security blanket" whether it's a lap, pillow or blanket. It will always be soft and the kneading may be marking it as theirs since they have scent glands in their paws.
What's with all the rubbing, scratching and grooming?
You may notice that cats rub against inanimate objects in a seemingly affectionate manner as they do with our ankles. They are spreading their scent more than they are spreading the love, staking what's theirs, human or territory. Along with paws, they have scent glands around their mouth and tail.
While it may seem that a cat scratching on a post, tree or... furniture is to sharpen its claws, it's actually both grooming and marking territory. This keeps the claws trimmed and clean and removes any dead outer layers from the claws as well as leaving scent from the paws.
Cats are among the most fastidious groomers in the animal kingdom. One of the first things a kitten learns is the constant grooming from the mother. Cats share the affection with their human companions as well, which can be a little unsettling knowing that they leave no corner untouched. The "sandpaper" tongue acts as a brush of sorts to keep tangles out of their fur.
Why do small dead animals keep appearing at the door?
Anyone that has an outdoor cat has probably found a dead mouse, bird or lizard etc. by their door. There are different theories to this behavior but the most accepted one is that your cat is bringing you a peace offering or sharing their catch with you. You provide for them so they are doing the same for you. Others suggest that since cats see us as inferior hunters and therefore are teaching us how to hunt. Either way, it's a good gesture on their behalf. Everyone would probably agree that cats do believe that they are superior beings though.
One of the favorite past times of cats is sleeping. On average, cats sleep twice as much as humans: upwards of 16 hours or more a day. Indoor cats tend to sleep more than outdoor cats. By nature, cats are hunters so they are most active at dusk and dawn when the animals they hunt are also active. This pattern is known as crepuscular and can vary with indoor cats. Cats experience Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and deep sleep phases however they can't really tell us if they are dreaming of canaries, mice and mackeral. Along with their extended sleep cycles, cats do take short naps which are not unlike our power naps.
So... Why do cats raise their tails?
More than anything, it just feels good to them. The nerve rich area on the back closest to the tail could be considered an "erogenous zone" of sorts. Feline sociologists also say that they are offering a chance to get the scent of their backsides. No thanks. In some some case, it could mean that a female is in heat and is receptive for mating.
Love them or not, cats are among the most complex creatures on the planet. Although they are independent to the point of arrogance, they are also very social. Regardless of the reason, cats have been and will continue to be revered companions for generations.