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Cat College:
Raise Your Feline IQ

Raise Your Cat IQ

Quick, why do cats chase their tails?

Cat got your tongue? If you're stuck for an answer, it's time to raise your cat IQ. You love your pet. Now get to really know her by studying the answers to these common cat questions:

Why do cats chase their tails?

It may look silly, but this feline behavior is anything but cute. "Tail chasing could indicate a medical or a behavioral problem," says Arden Moore, pet expert and editor of "CatNip," a newsletter of Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

"You need to be a feline detective and do what is necessary to learn the cause, as this is not normal behavior," Moore says, adding that tail chasing could be a sign that there's an infection in the anal sac area, a neurological disease or a spinal problem. It could even be an indicator of feline hyperesthesia syndrome (FHS), a form of feline Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Cats may also chase their tails as an act of aggression, a method of releasing anxiety, or even a way to play if other stimulation is lacking. It's best to be sure, so book an appointment with your veterinarian to end the problem.

Do cats dream?

Quite possibly, though we don't know what they dream about. What we do know is they undergo rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the same level of sleep in which dreams occur for people.

"Cats also develop REM sleep disorders characterized by inappropriate elimination, aggressive behavior towards owners and even sleep walk," says Dr. Kristen L. Nelson, DVM, (

"Based on this, and watching my own cats sleep, I am convinced cats can dream," she adds.

Are cats really curious?

"Well, they aren't just sitting around waiting for their next cat nap!" jokes Moore.

Because they are predators, cats enjoy hunting and exploring. "They are definitely curious about their surroundings," says Moore. Want proof? Bring a Christmas tree into your living room.

As Moore points out, "The smell of pine turns them into mountain climbers."

Why do cats "knead" with their paws?

It's a reach back to their kitten-hood, when they were being nursed, says Karen Duncan, president of the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association (VOKRA).

Kittens "knead" their mothers while nursing to stimulate the mammary glands to produce more milk. Duncan explains, "They are very content at the time, being fed and safe. Adult cats retain this association and engage in kneading when they are particularly happy and comfortable."

Do cats really land on their feet?

The answer is a qualified yes.

"They land on their feet, but only when they have enough time and height for the "righting mechanism" to work," says Amy D. Shojai, CABC, certified animal behavior consultant and author of PETiQuette: Solving Behavior Problems in Your Multipet Household.

Cats need at least two and a half feet to be able to twist in mid-air and land with a four-paw landing, Shojai explains, adding, "Falls from a child's arms may not allow for this."

Also keep in mind that a four-footed landing doesn't mean the cat won't be hurt from the fall. "Landing from leaps or falls can leave cats with broken legs, pelvis, chins or worse," says Shojai. So don't test your cat on his air maneuvers!

Why do cats rub against your legs?

She's laying claim on you.

"When a cat rubs her face against your leg, she is depositing pheromones," says Nelson. She's marking her territory, and letting other cats know you're hers. She's also reminding herself. When she smells her smell on you, she'll know you're good and safe and hers!

Of course, eventually cats learn that rubbing against their human's leg gets them fed. So she could be indicating she's hungry as well.

Why does my cat hide when company arrives?

It all depends on the cat.

For some, shyness is a result of a bad experience with a new person in the past. "These cats just want to quietly observe from a safe distance to decide if other people are dangerous," says Duncan.

Of course, some cats are just shy, and need more time to get to know new people. In either case, Duncan recommends respecting the cat's desire to keep his distance.

"Shy kitties should be treated with respect, and never hauled out to meet new folks," she says, adding that forcing them out of their safety zone is traumatic for cats and may even increase their fear.

What does catnip do to cats?

Catnip – technically nepeta cataria, part of the mint family – acts like a stimulant in felines. "When it's inhaled, it acts on the kitty brain like a feline hallucinogen," says Shojai. "It prompts uninhibited drunken behavior, and can be great fun for both cats and owners."

The "catnip buzz" can last from five to fifteen minutes. Keep in mind, however, that kittens usually don't react to catnip, and one in three adult cats aren't bothered by it, either.

Tip -- according to Moore, fresh organic catnip is best for your pet. Toys with honeysuckle in them, sold by most pet supply stores, may provoke a similar reaction.

Why does my cat leave his kill on my doorstep?

Most people assume the dead mouse on the welcome mat is a gift from their furry friend. And it is – but it's also a reminder that, when it comes to some things, your cat knows more than you do!

"Your cat leaves you her kill because she thinks you're a lousy hunter," Moore says. "He's trying to mentor you."

Moore explains a cat will bring a live mouse to her kittens and kill it in front of them. That's lesson one in the hunting process. The next time, she'll bring a mauled mouse to the kittens and teach them to kill it.

So, Moore says, that dead animal on the doorstep is your invitation to the hunt.

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