It’s 3:00 in the morning and you’re in the middle of another “winning the lottery and moving to the beach” dream when your cat brings you back to reality by spring boarding off of your face and onto the nightstand. This is among many behaviors that likely leave you scratching your head and wondering why in the world your cat acts like she’s possessed by a sleep-disturbing, house-destroying demon. Believe it or not, there are perfectly rational explanations for most (most!) of these behaviors.
“Why are you running through the house at Mach 3 in the middle of the night?!”
Cats spend their days in three alternating phases: sleep, play, and hunt (eat). Keeping in mind that cats are biologically nocturnal creatures with eyesight nearly perfectly adapted for nighttime vision and evolved from ancestors that hunted primarily at night, it makes sense that the “hunt” phase takes place mainly at night. But our beloved kitties are not feral nocturnal hunters, right? Right. However, our domestic kitties are generally home alone during the day while you’re at work, providing a perfect time to sleep while you’re away earning the bones. Kitty gets some play time when you come home, then when it’s time for you to sleep, they’re on the prowl.
To get some rest at night, you’ll have to work to change your kitty’s “phases” to suit your schedule. Provide him with plenty of stimulation while you’re away. Toys, treat puzzles, Whirly Birds, interactive DVDs, bird feeders, even another pet can help keep kitty stimulated (and awake!) during your workday. Continue playtime and feed kitty when you arrive home from work, then spend about 20 minutes playing with him right before bedtime. This will help to run out some of his energy and move his sleep cycle to sync up with yours.
“Why are you trying to eat a plastic bag?!”
This one can be particularly perplexing. The tendency to eat non-food items is known as pica, and it can be annoying, troubling, and even dangerous if non-food items are ingested and cause obstruction in your cat’s digestive system. Pica is usually caused by anxiety, which can stem from boredom or lack of stimulation. If your cat doesn’t get sufficient play time or interaction with you or other pets, she may resort to pica to relieve her anxiety. The smooth, cool feel of plastic bags is almost irresistible to cats, especially if they’re feeling anxious. If your cat does not seem to be experiencing anxiety, it’s possible that she may just like plastic bags; they make fun crinkly noises! And they move almost on their own!
The easiest way to deter this behavior is to keep plastic bags safely away from your cat’s environment. In addition, when your cat begins to munch on plastic bags, stop him and redirect to a proper toy. Reward his redirected attention with a favorite treat or chin scratch to reinforce proper playtime behavior.
“Why are you drinking from the dripping faucet?! There’s a water bowl five feet away!”
Somewhat unsurprisingly, cats prefer fresh water just as much as we do. Even if your cat’s bowl looks clean, bacteria can collect very quickly, especially in ceramic or plastic bowls. Additionally, running water appeals to your cat’s sense of hearing, sight, and even smell. Water loses oxygen after standing even just a few hours, and cats are smart enough to know the freshest water when they smell it.
Always use stainless steel bowls for your cat’s water to minimize bacteria collection (as a bonus, stainless steel bowls tend to keep water cooler, as well). Change his water daily and thoroughly clean his bowl with each changing. For the truly pampered feline, there are a number of fancy water bowls equipped with pumps to keep water flowing constantly, which helps to distract him from your water faucet.
“Why are you head butting me?!”
Simply put, because he loves you! Cats are infamous for being aloof and lacking affection, but rubbing his face or head against yours is a way to “mark” you with his own scent and bond with you. Although he’s showing affection, this also provides a pleasing “scratching” sensation for your kitty. You may notice him rubbing his face on your laptop, coffee table, whatever book you’re reading, even door frames and furniture. Most cats love to have their faces scratched and will resort to these behaviors if he feels you’re not scratching him enough (helpful tip: you’re never scratching him enough, ever).
Cats can be absolutely mystifying creatures at times, but contrary to their reputation, they are loyal and loving companions. Many of their more confusing behaviors can be explained quite rationally. If you witness any of these behaviors in disturbing or extreme degrees, or if the interventions recommended here don’t seem to help, consider asking your vet for recommendations on behavior modification methods or possibly even anxiety medications.