Understanding your new cat

Cats all have unique quirks which develop over time. Learning a few common traits will help you to begin understanding your new cat

Cat acting nervously and hiding

If you have not kept cats before, you will be unaware of some universal behaviours, and your new cat will probably be a very different character to any other cats you may have spent time with. Understanding some basic cat behaviour will help the settling in process for the first few weeks and help you to get to know your cat's personality.

Rubbing, scent and smell

Cats use scent a great deal as a method of communication but unfortunately, our sense of smell is not as well developed so much like cats cannot 'speak english', we cannot 'smell cat'. This barrier does not stop us from talking to our cats, and it does not stop cats from using scent. The most obvious signs of scent being used is when a cat is marking objects to let others know that it 'owns' them. This includes its human owners and when a cat is rubbing up against you or reacts positively to being stroked under the chin or on the side of the face, it is probably depositing scent on you. This is why your cat will know if you have been in contact with other cats, or other animals. Your cat is also more likely to rub against you if you have been away for a while or have just washed, as its scent marks on you will have been reduced.


Cats can sleep for a remarkable amount of time, often up to 18 hours a day, so don't be surprised if your cat seems to sleep a lot. In time your new cat will probably get used to a routine of sleeping during the day and getting up for mealtimes and playtimes. Cats are naturally nocturnal but domestic cats who do not have 24hr access to the outside world will often adapt to human daytime activity and sleeping at night.


Cat looking interested at toy
Playing puts you and your cat at ease with each other
Play is very important for exercise, mental stimulation, and bonding and time should be set aside every day for a little bit of play with your cat. How your cat prefers to play depends a great deal on its early upbringing as a kitten. A well balanced cat who knows how to play without causing harm through biting or scratching, has usually spent plenty of time playing with its siblings as well as being handled by humans. The best way for a cat to learn boundaries of play is from its litter-mates, since they are of the same size, strength, and pain threshold. The vast differences between a human and a kitten means that it is impossible to learn a mutual level of 'fair play'. What this means is that if your cat is a bit too rough with its claws or teeth, the easiest thing to do is simply use toys which do not involve direct contact such as string toys, batting or chasing toys.

Your cat will give signs that he wants to play by playing himself, looking at you expectantly, or by gentle biting or swiping when being stroked. Playtimes can usually be incorporated into a daily routine so that your cat knows evenings or after breakfast are good times to start playing. Remember that play is a way of reinforcing behaviour - if you don't want your cat to attack your hands, don't waggle your fingers during play. If your cat does not want to play, he won't play.

Talking to your cat

Although we all know that our cats have no idea what we are saying, we still like to think that they understand us. Sometimes this is partially true and cats will learn to recognise calls if they are associated with good things, like meal-times. This can be a useful tool - a cat which associates calls with food is more likely to come in from outside when called.
Your cat will also talk to you, the amount depends on the breed type and individual cat, and again whilst we do not understand the exact 'words' we can usually work out what the cat wants with some practice. Most of the time a cats meow is in relation to wanting attention, food, or to be let outside.

Feeding & drinking

Cats often prefer running water to still water. This is an evolutionary instinct - in the wild running water is oxygenated and more likely to be safe to drink than still water. However, all cats should be capable of drinking from a standing bowl of water. Most cats drink very little, especially those fed mainly on 'wet' foods, and often prefer to find their water elsewhere, so don't be worried if your cat does not appear to be drinking much.

Cleaning and grooming

Cats like to keep themselves clean and will regularly sit and groom themselves. The action of cleaning by licking the fur not only removes debris but also stimulates glands which produce 'sebum', an oily secretion which has several functions including coat waterproofing, vitamin D production, and scent marking. In hot weather, grooming can also help to cool the cat by applying saliva to the coat. Over-grooming is possible and if there is noticeable hair loss or damage then the situation needs to be remedied, and keep a look out for excessive scratching which may be a sign of fleas or other irritation.

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