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Why Cats Do the Things they Do

By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views

Does your cat make mad dashes around the house in the middle of the night? My cat, Earl Gray, does. I thought about giving him a cape, and nicknaming him Super Kitty. It’s just one of many strange behaviors he displays.

This is Earl Gray, my cat. He is 19 years old.

If you have ever wondered why cats rub up against you, sleep on your head, or exhibit other somewhat odd behaviors, read on.

1. Why do cats sit on our heads while we sleep?
It’s to suck out our brainwaves so that we will obey them. In reality, we lose most of our body heat through our heads. I believe it’s about 60 percent. So our heads are like warm pillows to cats.

2. Why do cats smell our breath?
It’s to see if we are eating better than they are. Cats can learn a lot about us by smelling our breath. They are imprinting our scent into their brains.

3. Why do cats stick their butts in our faces?
It’s to let us know the consequences of what we feed them. Just think about it—dogs and cats sniff each others’ butts. It’s a form of communicating that isn’t gross to them.

4. Why do cats bat their food out of their dishes? They enjoy watching us stumble about the kitchen in our bare feet when we step on the dry crunchy bits. Scientists will tell us that it’s because cats need to simulate the capture and conquering of their prey.

5. Why do cats run around the house late at night? It’s their way of saying “See I exercised, now leave me alone so I can take a nap.” Racing around the house often starts in the early evening, and can go on all hours of the night till morning. It stems from instinct, when all kinds of cats–from lions to pumas to house cats–are on the hunt. They run, dive, and chase prey. Yes, I know there is no prey in your house, but it’s their instinct.

6. Why do cats knead on our chest with their claws? They are actually tiny little alien scientists trying to check our tolerance to pain. This up and down kneading action stems from nursing. Kittens press against their mother with one paw and then the other. When adult cats knead, it reminds her of her mother when she was a kitten.

7. Why Do Cats Rub Up Against Your Legs?
They think we are big lint brushes. This is a way of sharing their scent with you. It’s a bonding experience that lets other cats know that you are owned by a cat!

8. Why do cats groom us?
It’s not grooming; it’s tasting. So for your own safety, buy the better cat food. Cats that get along often groom each other as well as groom themselves. So they extend the courtesy to us. And my husband always says, “I’m part cat.”

25 comments to Why Cats Do the Things they Do

  • Donna McKenna

    Michele, One of my cats sleeps on my shoulder and the other sleeps close to my head. It keeps me warm in the winter. Thanks for this funny piece.

  • Very cute post. Loved it, Michele! Thanks for making my day! Gotta love cats. 🙂

  • Thanks Daniela,
    And yes, you got to love cats!!!–Best, Michele

  • Kadir Donahue

    Very funny Michele! My cat also races up and down the stairs at night sometimes.

  • Deanna Steiger

    I found your site through the World’s Best Cat Litter. I really like htis post. Thanks.

  • JerjaJackson

    I laughed out loud. Thanks for this funny post.

  • Viv

    This running around the house is not just for night time, at least not for one of my cats, Stewart. My husband and I joke that one of these days, we’re actually going to see the “entity” that is chasing him. Or, we’re going to find out that he’s learned how to make coffee.

  • Kathy Mazzio

    My Girls are the best. I could not live my life at this time without them. They give me so much love. The way they look at me sometimes is amazing. I could see the love in their eyes. Kneading, licking, biting, I love it all.

  • Harold Highland

    My cat Sam lives with 5 dogs and sometimes he thinks he is a dog. However, he does the 8 things listed above.

  • Mark Louis Baumgart

    I’m convinced that cats run in front of people and lay down and stretch because they want to be in the first row to watch you fall down. She’s also picky about her food, but loves chewing on my mother’s pea gravel?!? Nice to see a column dealing with with strange cat behavior. I wonder if there is a cat columnist writing about ours?

  • Patricia

    I have a young tuxedo male named “MR! Bibbs” who makes an art of tearing around the house, knocking things off counters, turning over water bowls and launching himself off of me, the walls and the two dogs after he does his pooping business. It’s like “Plop, plop, gee whiz, oh what a relief it is!!!” and he’s off. It’s really annoying, but he makes me laugh!!! I just can’t help it!! Love your blog!!

  • Thanks Patricia, Best, Michele

  • Love it, Michele! I take all of these things as the highest form of a compliment from my babies. Even the butt-in-the-face thing. 🙂

  • Jean

    My can mischief will dip his paw in his drinking water then lick it off.

  • GhostRider

    Gotta love everything you wrote. LOL I have seven of the little critters, and I wouldn’t give up one of them. Every time we say we’re done, another one comes into our lives. There are also seven very distinct personalities.

  • darlene mcdonald

    my cats are funny. dont understand why they do this but, after they have taken a poop for themselves they book around the house. it is the funniest thing. i dont understand why they do it, but maybe they feel alot better and happier

  • Lauralee Daniels, M.S.M.

    I really enjoyed reading your comments, very funny! We just lost our friend of 16yrs. Sir Thomas Lipton III. we believe he was about 19 yrs. old, he was a barn cat we rescued. Our 3 girls, also rescues, have changed their behaviors since this happened. They get along rather than fighting for alpha female position. I don’t know what I’d do without them. Recently a large male cat that looks like his fur exploded has been hanging around, I call him “Puff Daddy”. He is feral and lives outside, under our house, come winter I know my husband will be caving in & want to adopt him but I like the peace in the house. Thanks again for all the comments, great!

  • Hi Lauralee, I’m sorry for your loss. I do love the names of your cats. And I have a 19-year old cat that I found too.–Michele

  • Tom


    Thanks for the post.

    Recently adopted three (!) cats from a shelter. The oldest is a pretty great guy but he sometimes bites when we’re having a petting session. My theories are he’s just getting a bit overstimulated or he’s happy being pet and it’s a “love bite.” It’s usually a nip and usually he stays put – he’s not looking to move or end the session. Haven’t disciplined him much because the bites seem to come out of a ‘good place ‘ – don’t want him to be afraid of seeking affection from me if the biting is a type of benign or instinctual act on his part. Any thoughts?

  • Hi Tom, Cats bite for many reasons. This sounds like he is playing and got a bit overstimulated as you said. Next time he does this, don’t pull away because his grasp might get firmer. Instead, say “ouch” or “no” in a loud voice. Then ignore him. It’s kind of like giving him a time out. “Love bites” are not welcome, even if this is a form of play. So try the “no” or “ouch” followed by the time out ignoring period. Then go back and play. Each time he does this, repeat. Let me know if this worked. Thanks, Michele

  • Wendi

    My cats, 2 are mine, the other seven just decided to move in(LOL) all have odd behavior. Leona Helmsley, a very petite grey tabby is the boss of the house ruling all, including the dog and 2 ferrets with an iron paw. Then we have Cookie, the clumbsiest cat I’ve ever seen, who cannot get out of his own way and has an odd purr, he and Peek a boo[Ms. Helmsley was pregnant when her and sister Baabaaganoosh moved in and Peek a boo and Screamer were 2 of her 4 kittens-both unadoptable due to fear of people (Peek a has since gotten over but his sister Screamer has not)]compete for my affection. Cookie not caring where he steps and Peek a tapping you to get your attention. Raven follows you into the bathroom and meows till you turn the sink water on, she will only drink from a running faucet.They all join us at mealtime awaiting a taste but never eat what we share with them. I dont know, the behaviors you wrote about seem quite cat like, just not in my house!

  • Laine Cordrey

    My cats also race around the house at night, and exhibit some of these other behaviors. Thanks. This was funny and informative.

  • Hi Wendi, A lot of these are classic cat behavior, but cats are individuals and can be quite different–as you noted. My cat, Earl Gray, also only drinks from the faucet.–Thanks for reading, Michele

  • Helen Yarrow

    Cats really are the best! We love everything they do. Thanks for this informative and funny post.