Cats live life on their own terms. Their behavior choices often make us question our sanity, as though everything we’ve done to care for them never happened. As though we don’t spend our hard-earned money on cat beds that go ignored in favor of the cardboard boxes in which they were shipped. One cat owner we spoke with said he’ll let his cats into a room and then “they immediately want to leave and act like I trapped them in there.” As soon as he lets them out again, “they start pawing at the door meowing like I’m a cruel despot who won’t let them in a room.” The thing is, house cats aren’t domesticated animals. They’re wild cats in small packages who happen to live in your house. And yes, sometimes they make you feel insane.
But here’s the thing: There’s always a reason for your cat’s behavior. It’s up to you to figure it out.
Some common cat behaviors that drive feline guardians nuts are listed below.
1. The cat that suddenly prefers a different meal plan
A few times a year, one of my cats will simply refuse to eat the same type of food she’s been eating for weeks. Monday: tuna in gravy. Tuesday: tuna in gravy. Wednesday: Tuna in gravy is for peasants, you absolute villain. Have I gone mad? Did I misread the label? No, it’s the exact same thing she ate with vigor the day before. Just like people, cats enjoy some variety and may turn their noses up at meals if you repeat them one too many times in a row.
VCA Ark Animal Hospitals says sometimes too many options (aka, changing your cat’s food every single day) could turn them into picky eaters. On the other hand, Jackson Galaxy, world-renowned cat behavior and wellness expert, says in his book Total Cat Mojo: The Ultimate Guide to Life with Your Cat that introducing a cat to several different types of food is wise. In the (hopefully) unlikely event that your cat ends up at a shelter or in someone else’s care because you’re no longer in the picture, being able to adapt is a good skill for felines to have. Variety is also helpful with new kittens to determine what they like! Try a bunch of unique textures, meats, shapes and consistencies to see what sticks.
One other thing: Felines are predators and enjoy the taste of fresh, warm meat. Wet food should be served at room temperature. My other cat will eat paté right out of the can but won’t touch it if it’s been in the fridge. He much prefers his chicken liver at body temp, and I must oblige. He’s not picky, he’s just a tiny panther.
Finally, if your cat refuses to eat outright and isn’t just being picky, it’s time for a vet visit. You’re never being crazy if you notice a drastic shift in behavior and your gut tells you something’s off. Check it out with your vet!
2. The cat that demands one thing and then promptly changes his mind
Per our example in the opening paragraph, cats can be indecisive about where they want to go and what they want to do. Let’s start with those cats who desperately wanted to go into a room, only to beg to be let out of said room immediately afterwards. First of all, you’re doing the right thing by giving your cats access to rooms. In fact, Galaxy says he’s generally not a fan of off-limits rooms for cats. This goes double for bedrooms which he considers “scent-heavy” spaces. Cats thrive when they are comfortable in their territory and feel ownership over their space.
If your cat can’t be in a room alone without you, that could be some separation anxiety. It could also be attention-seeking behavior. Or boredom. Look for context clues to figure out what’s going on.
One cat I know begs to go outside, because he loves being outside. My cats, on the other hand, beg to go outside and hate to be outside. It’s absolutely flummoxing. Ms. Picky Eater will meow at the front door only to lay down in the apartment hallway if I open it, then immediately trot back in. Mr. Warm Paté wants nothing more than to venture down our back staircase, then scrambles away at the sound of his own paw landing on the creaky stair. Day after day they convince me they want to go out, which I know ends up giving them the heebie jeebies. Instead, I’ve outfitted our home with plenty of perches, pads and posts for their entertainment and adventure-seeking behavior.
3. The cat that begs to play and then just…stops
It is entirely possible that cats begging to go in and out of a room or the hall are attempting to play with you. Playtime is important for every cat, though it’ll look different depending on your cat’s disposition. If your cat meows and seeks attention for what feels like hours and then casually swats at a feather wand like it’s an afterthought when you try to engage them, this could qualify as playtime. Just like food, you’ve got to figure out what your cat enjoys. Some cats will meow until you pull a curtain back so they can see the bird’s nest outside and fantasize about killing and eating sparrows. Some (mine) will meow at nighttime because they want to chase the laser pointer again. Just because your cat isn’t playing fetch like Scooby Doo doesn’t mean it’s not enjoying playtime!
Pro tip: Playtime is bonding time. Even small spurts of interactive play with your cat can boost your relationship and help you better understand each other. Make a point to do this every day.
4. The cat that just straight up ignores you
If your cat sits down a decent distance from you, faces away and stares at the wall (instead of at you), this is 100 percent normal. Yes, it looks like they’re ignoring you. No, it doesn’t mean they’re pissed. It could definitely mean they don’t want to be touched, but it doesn’t mean you’re getting the silent treatment. This type of cat body language means your cat trusts you (which means you’re doing a good job making them feel secure and comfortable). As predators, leaving themselves exposed to a surprise attack from behind is not high on their list of priorities. Ergo, a feline’s back to you means they trust you. The same goes for the belly up move. Don’t you dare rub their exposed belly. Do the opposite. The belly up pose is your cat’s way of saying, “I trust you not to kill me or touch me when I’m vulnerable.”
There’s also no need to worry if your cat sits down, body towards you and stares at you silently. It may seem like they could. Not. Care. Less. About. You. Au contraire! First of all, this front-facing, relaxed posture is that of a confident cat. Second of all, studies indicate cats communicate and build bonds with humans by staring at them. A dead-eyed glare is a sweet gesture in the cat world.
Plus, the ASPCA reminds us many cats are independent by nature and need some alone time (who doesn’t?!). Studies on feline history and the domestication process indicate cats are solo animals who only recently began cohabiting with people. Cats definitely hear commands (mine recognize their names for sure), but whether or not they follow through on them is a complete toss-up. Rather than ignoring you, your cat is probably making the active choice not to do what you’re asking it to (or it hasn’t been trained to perform certain commands).
You’re not alone if you think your cat is totally gaslighting you. Don’t forget they are a species revered by the Gods of ancient Egypt and are technically miniature lions. Just like you, they’re doing the best they can.