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Decoding Cat Behavior: From Pawing to Instincts

Understanding Cat Behavior: Exploring Pawing, Kneading, and Instincts

Cats are fascinating creatures that have captivated human attention for centuries. While cats are commonly kept as pets for their affectionate nature and low-maintenance care, their behavior can often be a mystery to many cat owners.

In this article, we explore the behavior of pawing, kneading, and instinctive behavior in cats, shedding light on the reasons behind these behaviors, how to manage them, and exploring the similarities between domestic cats and big cats.

Behavior of Pawing and Kneading

It is not uncommon for a cat to paw or knead at soft surfaces. This behavior is instinctive and stems from their wild ancestors, who would scratch at the ground to bury their waste or food.

Today, this behavior can be seen in a variety of contexts, including scratching and digging at carpets or furniture. One reason for this behavior is food caching.

In the wild, a cat’s food remains attract predators, so some cats will cover their food with debris to hide it from other animals. This behavior can also be seen when a cat covers its waste after using the litter box.

Similarly, cats may scratch and dig at soft surfaces to create a “nest” for themselves, providing protection and warmth. Pawing and kneading can also be a form of marking personal space.

A cat’s paws have scent glands, which release an odor when the paw is kneaded or rubbed against a surface. This marking behavior is a way for the cat to claim a space as its own.

In some cases, pawing and kneading can be triggered by pleasure. Many cats will knead on soft blankets or pillows when they are feeling relaxed and content.

Management of Pawing and Kneading Behavior

Managing a cat’s pawing and kneading behavior involves addressing the root cause of the behavior. For example, providing a hard surface for a cat to scratch at can deter them from scratching at soft surfaces.

In addition, providing distractions, such as interactive toys or scratching posts, can help redirect a cat’s behavior away from unwanted scratching. If a cat is pawing and kneading at food or litter boxes, removing wet food remnants and avoiding free grazing can alleviate this behavior.

Alternatively, providing multiple litter boxes may also help reduce the amount of digging and covering behavior. It’s important to note that punishing a cat for pawing and kneading behavior is not recommended, as it can cause fear and anxiety in the cat.

Instead, using positive reinforcement, such as providing a treat or praise when a cat uses a scratching post, can encourage desirable behavior.

Instinctive Behavior in Cats

Cats have a variety of instinctive behaviors that stem from their wild ancestors. One of the most common instinctive behaviors seen in cats is food caching.

In the wild, a cat’s sense of smell would attract other predators to its food, so cats would cover their food with debris to mask the scent. This behavior can still be seen in domestic cats, who may bury food or treats in soft surfaces like litter boxes or blankets.

Another instinctive behavior seen in cats is urine marking. In the wild, cats would use their urine to mark their territory and communicate with other cats.

Domestic cats may urine mark to claim their territory or communicate with other cats in the household.

Similarities with Big Cats

Interestingly, many of the instinctive behaviors seen in domestic cats can also be seen in their larger feline counterparts. Leopards, for example, are known to food cache by storing their prey in trees.

Similarly, hyenas will protect their food by storing it in dens or burying it in deep underground caches. Bobcats have been known to store food in debris piles to protect it from other predators, and both domestic and wild cats have been known to sleep and eat in the same space, much like big cats who also use their sleeping areas for eating and resting.

Examples of

Instinctive Behavior in Cats

Besides food caching and urine marking, there are many other examples of instinctive behavior in cats. Cats may bury their waste after using the litter box, again an instinctive behavior that stems from their wild ancestors.

Domestic cats may also groom themselves for long periods, which is another instinctive behavior used to remove the scent of prey and remain undetected by predators.


Understanding a cat’s behavior can help us provide better care for our feline friends. By exploring pawing and kneading behavior, as well as instinctive behaviors seen in cats and big cats, we can gain a greater understanding of these fascinating creatures.

Knowing how to manage these behaviors and respond to them in a positive way can help strengthen the human-cat bond and lead to a happy and healthy life for both pet and owner.

Positive Signs of Feeling at Home in Cats

Cats are known for their ability to make themselves at home, whether that’s in a cozy corner of the couch or curled up in a sunbeam. There are several behaviors that can indicate a cat is feeling safe and comfortable in their environment.

One positive sign of feeling at home is when a cat begins to show their belly. This indicates a feeling of trust towards their owner and a sense of relaxation.

It’s important to note that not all cats will show their belly, and some may do so as a sign of submission rather than comfort. Another positive sign is when a cat begins to knead on soft surfaces, often accompanied by purring.

This behavior is instinctive and stems from a cat’s need to mark their territory and create a sense of comfort and security.

Natural Instincts in Cats

Cats display a variety of natural instincts that are deeply ingrained in their behavior. One of the most well-known instincts is a cat’s ability to hunt.

This behavior is highly instinctual and can be seen even in domestic cats who are well-fed and not in need of hunting for survival. Maternal instincts are another natural behavior seen in cats.

Mother cats will instinctively care for and groom their kittens, ensuring their survival. This behavior can sometimes carry over to when the cat is an adult, as they may groom and care for their human family members.

In addition to hunting and maternal instincts, cats also have a natural sense of territory and may display protective behavior when they feel their space is being invaded. This behavior can be seen in feral cats who display territorial warnings and protective measures to ensure the safety of their litter.

Comparison with Wild Cats

The instinctive behaviors seen in domestic cats are not dissimilar to those seen in their wild counterparts. Feral cats, for example, will display territorial behavior to protect their litter from predators and other cats.

Similarly, big cats like lions and tigers will defend their territory against other predators and protect their young. In addition to protective measures, wild cats like cheetahs will cache their kills to avoid losing their prey to other predators, much like how domestic cats may bury their food or treats to protect them.

Disruptive Behavior Management

While cats can bring a lot of joy and comfort to their owners, they can also display behavior that is disruptive and potentially damaging to the household. It’s important to manage these behaviors in a way that does not harm or cause fear in the cat.

Some common disruptive behaviors in cats include scratching at furniture, jumping on counters, and digging in plants. To prevent these behaviors, providing a hard surface for the cat to scratch, removing food bowls from surfaces, and providing distractions like toys and scratching posts can help redirect the cat’s behavior.

It’s important to note that punishing a cat for disruptive behavior is not recommended, as it can cause fear and anxiety in the cat and damage the pet-owner bond. Using positive reinforcement, such as providing a treat or praise when the cat uses a scratching post or stays off the counter, can encourage desirable behavior and strengthen the bond between cat and owner.


Understanding a cat’s behavior can help identify positive signs of comfort and security, as well as potentially disruptive behaviors that may need to be managed. By recognizing the natural instincts and protective measures seen in cats, we can provide a safe and comfortable environment for our feline friends.

Managing disruptive behaviors in a way that does not cause harm or fear to the cat can help strengthen the bond between pet and owner and lead to a happy and healthy relationship. In conclusion, understanding cat behavior is essential for providing proper care and managing potentially disruptive behaviors.

Positive signs of feeling at home in cats include showing their belly and kneading on soft surfaces. Cats display natural instincts like hunting, maternal behavior, and territorial protective measures.

It’s important to redirect disruptive behaviors with positive reinforcement and avoid punishment to maintain a strong bond between pet and owner. Overall, understanding and managing a cat’s behavior can lead to a happier and healthier relationship with our feline friends.

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