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Why do cats raise their tails when you pet them? ...and other kitty curiosities.

Updated on May 9, 2011

Curious Cats

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.

Making Biscuits

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.

Cat Nap

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.


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    • touristhaven profile image

      Tarik AArbaoui 5 years ago from Morocco

      very interesting; keep up :)

    • trish1048 profile image

      trish1048 6 years ago

      Hi Sean,

      Unfortunately for me, my cats don't go out, so I have to deal with it wherever she is.

      Back in the day when I had multiple cats, I'd often find a frog on the step to my laundry room, sitting there with two puncture wounds in its head :( Another time, I came home to find blood everywhere, even on the wall, only to find half a rabbit. Ewww! I only wish they weren't so approval seeking! I guess they didn't know I valued them regardless of their skills in hunting.

    • BigSeanR profile image

      Sean Reddish 6 years ago from Albany, GA

      Thank you for the comments Miss Mellie, truthfornow, leahlefler,and trish1048!

      I've noticed that Misty-Cat howls before getting sick. This is usually after she's eaten one of her "targets" from the back yard. I'n glad she does since it gives me time to get ger outside.

    • trish1048 profile image

      trish1048 6 years ago

      Currently, I have two cats. I have had upwards of 6 or 7 at once. My youngest cat is sitting under my chair as I write, purring. Another thing she does is howl like she's in heat, and I've come to learn that she only does that when she's going to vomit. It's as if to say hey mom, I'm not feeling good, come take care of me :)

      Dogs, cats, I love them all.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 6 years ago from Western New York

      I agree - cats do think they're superior, lol! Our cat is hilarious - he glares at our dog, and our dog trembles in fear. I always wondered about the kneading thing. Our cat happens to drool when he kneads, which isn't always the most pleasant experience, lol!

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 6 years ago from Western New York

      I agree - cats do think they're superior, lol! Our cat is hilarious - he glares at our dog, and our dog trembles in fear. I always wondered about the kneading thing. Our cat happens to drool when he kneads, which isn't always the most pleasant experience, lol!

    • truthfornow profile image

      truthfornow 6 years ago from New Orleans, LA

      I love my cat and everything she does. Thanks for the informative article.

    • Miss Mellie profile image

      M.S. Ross 6 years ago

      One thing that cats (and I believe dogs, too) sometimes do that has always left me scratching my head: sitting around, acting normal, and then, suddenly looking up, wide eyed, staring at...something! Nothing! Not even a fly! That is, there is truly nothing there, but they are giving it their full, rapt attention, and sometimes they even follow a motion, as if that elusive something were moving. Then: they go back to just sitting around all blasé, as if nothing had happened. Talk about messing with our heads!!

    • BigSeanR profile image

      Sean Reddish 6 years ago from Albany, GA

      Thank you amymarie_5, jetta17, and Lene Lynn! One wonders if kitties do these things to mess with our heads.

    • profile image

      Lene Lynn 6 years ago

      Great article! The nesting movements they make were always strange to me. I didn't realize that it might have been because they were weaned too early. I also didn't know they had scent glands in their paws. That is so cool! I love cats! Thanks for sharing!

    • jetta17 profile image

      jetta17 6 years ago

      Good article, I've lived with dogs my whole life, so this helps explain some of the "strange" behaviors of the feline world.

    • amymarie_5 profile image

      amymarie_5 6 years ago from Chicago IL

      Great hub!!! I didn't know that cats raise their tails because it feels good. Very interesting and well written. Voted up!

    • BigSeanR profile image

      Sean Reddish 6 years ago from Albany, GA

      Thanks Kevin and Thanks jenscott!

    • jenscott profile image

      jenscott 6 years ago from United States

      Dare I say a purrrfect hub? Loved it!

    • KevinTimothy profile image

      Kevin J Timothy 6 years ago from Tampa Bay, FL

      I love these guys almost as equally as I do dogs; particularly their independence. I like the information a lot because although I have owned cats before, I never had an explanation of all the sleeping.

      I also fell for the myth that they scratched corners to sharpen their claws. And if it is true that they think we're inferior hunters, I think it just shows just how much they pay attention to us. Which is something that I thought they rarely do.