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5 Secrets About Cats You Never Knew

A Persian kitten being examined by a referee during an international feline beauty competition in Bucharest, Romania, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012.VADIM GHIRDA / AP

As you may know, cats keep secrets. That is what makes it so hard to fully understand why your cat acts the way it does. They really like to keep you guessing sometimes. However, this is also one of the things we may secretly like about our cats. Unless, of course, they prefer to attack anything that moves - not just the laser red dot....

Read on to learn the most interesting secrets about cats.

1. Your cat doesn't always purr because he’s happy

Scientists have learned that cats do not always purr when they are happy. Usually they are feeling good, but sometimes they purr when they are frightened, hungry, or injured. Cats might purr in stressful situations as a form of self-soothing. Purring (and many other low-frequency vocalizations in mammals) often are associated with positive social situations: nursing, grooming, relaxing, being friendly.

Scientists also aren’t sure exactly how cats purr. They use their larynx and diaphragm muscles as they inhale and exhale. Researchers haven’t yet identified exactly how the cat’s central nervous system generates and controls the contractions involved.

They purr at a frequency of about 26 Hertz, in a range that actually promotes tissue regeneration. That means purring could play a vital role in a cat’s bone health. In their natural setting, cats spend a lot of time lying around waiting to hunt, so purring may stimulate bones so that they don't become weak or brittle.

2. Your cat doesn’t understand you the way a dog would

According to cat behavior expert John Bradshaw, “Dogs perceive us as being different than themselves: As soon as they see a human, they change their behavior. The way a dog plays with a human is completely different from [the way it plays] with a dog.”

Bradshaw explains the difference with cats, “We’ve yet to discover anything about cat behavior that suggests they have a separate box they put us in when they’re socializing with us. They obviously know we’re bigger than them, but they don’t seem to have adapted their social behavior much.” He adds, “Putting their tails up in the air, rubbing around our legs, and sitting beside us and grooming us are exactly what cats do to each other.”

Cats also don’t love their owners in exactly the same way that dogs do — but you probably already knew that. Cats seem uninterested both when their owners depart and return which contrasts with the way dogs get disturbed when their owners leave and interacts more when they return. Additionally, it's believed that dogs were actively selected by humans (to guard and herd animals), whereas cats likely selected themselves, spending time near people simply to eat the rats consuming grain stores. This difference — along with the extra evolutionary time — could explain why dogs are so much more interested in responding to the human voice.

3. Your cat definitely doesn’t understand your attempts to train him

When your cat claws at the couch, for instance, it doesn’t help to shout at him or squirt water. Your cat can’t connect your behavior to his scratching. As veterinarian Tony Buffington puts it, “to the cat, you’re this crazy primate who is attacking him for no reason.” Not only do you fail to discourage your cat from scratching at the couch, but you frustrate the cat, who is only expressing his natural feline instincts.

What should you do? Train the cat using his environment. Put double-sided tape on the corner of the couch. Then, put something more attractive nearby — perhaps a scratching post covered in catnip. When your cat does what you want, reward him with a treat.

4. Your cat probably thinks you’re dumb — or at least big and clumsy

Some animal behaviorists have posited that cats think humans are just dumb cats.

John Bradshaw is a cat-behavior expert at the University of Bristol and the author of the new book Cat Sense. After observing pet cats for several years, he's come to an intriguing conclusion:

“I don’t think they think of us as being dumb and stupid, since cats don’t rub on another cat that’s inferior to them,” he explains. But he does say your cat probably thinks you’re clumsy, even if it’s not your fault that the cat is always underfoot. “Not many cats trip over people, but we trip over cats,” he points out.

5. Your cat’s behavior toward you mimics the mother-kitten relationship

Many cats do strange things, such as kneading their owners’ laps. Bradshaw explains these behaviors aren’t really as strange as they seem: “They are using behavior that they would use toward their mother — all the behavior they show toward us is derived in some way from the mother-kitten relationship.”

Kittens learn to raise their tails, rub against their mothers, knead, and purr. In return, the mothers groom the kittens. That positive reinforcement explains why your cat probably exhibits a few of those behaviors to communicate with you. Bradshaw adds, “So they’re using bits of behavior already in their repertoire to communicate with us.”



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