Why does my cat lick me?- VyWhy

Last updated on 2021-12-18 13:31:06

2022-09-26

Do your cats lick you because they love you, or is it something else? Learn why cats lick people, and what to do about if if they lick you too much.

gray cat licking a finger

I once overheard a co-worker at the shelter where I volunteer baby-talking to one of the cats. “Aren’t you the sweetest?” she cooed. “I love, love, love your little kisses!”

Although I never asked, I assumed the cat was licking my fellow volunteer. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d heard a cat-lover refer to a cat’s licks as “kisses.”

Are they kisses? When a cat licks you, is she trying to share physical affection with her mouth the way a human would, but without the purse-able lips?

A cat’s lick means something to the cat, but probably not exactly what a kiss means to us.

Why does my cat lick my hand when I pet her?

 

Why do you pet a cat? I’ll guess that you find it soothing to stroke a living thing that is so soft and warm. It’s a relaxing, almost hypnotic behavior, and touching a cat’s silky coat produces a pleasant sensation on the skin, too. If you feel emotionally connected to your cat, petting adds a physical dimension to that closeness. You are probably thinking about how your cat feels, too. I’m sure you assume that petting is pleasant for him, too, like when someone gives you a little back scratch or a gentle massage.

But what does your cat think you are doing when you are petting her? To a cat, petting isn’t just like a backrub. It means something different.

What does petting mean to a cat and what does it have to do with licking?

cats grooming each other

According to researchers who studied how cats respond to being petted by humans, cats seemed to like it best when humans pet them the way other cats do.[1]

Now, we all know that cats don’t really “pet” each other. But they do touch each other in a few particular ways. Cats rub their bodies against each other, in a behavior that is called “allorubbing” by scientists. Cats also mutually groom each other, and this behavior is called “allogrooming.” Both allorubbing and allogrooming are behaviors that only cats who are already friends perform with each other. These are “affiliative” behaviors, meaning that they reaffirm the social bond between cats.

Reseachers discovered that when a human pets a cat, the cat views it as grooming behavior, not allorubbing. How did they figure that out? Cats who are allorubbing perform the routine in a very specific order of body parts, with an emphasis on those body parts that contain scent glands: lips, chin, cheek, between the eyes and ears, and near the base of the tail. Allogrooming cats, on the other hand, lick each other’s body parts in a random order.

The cats in this study showed absolutely no preference for the order in which they were petted by people. This suggested to researchers that cats probably view petting as an allogrooming activity.

So, when your cat licks your hand while you pet him, it is likely that he thinks you are grooming him. The licking is him returning the favor. That’s what allogrooming cats would do: one cat would start the licking, and the other cat would lick back to reaffirm the bond.[2]

So, when your cat licks you while you are petting her she is saying, effectively, “yes, yes, we are friends.”

 (What if your cat grooms too much? Read this post, "Excessive grooming in cats.")

Are there any other reasons why my cat might lick me?

Maybe. Google this question and you’ll be flooded with answers like: cats lick to show love, or they lick because their mothers licked them when they were kittens, or because they were taken from their mothers too soon.

Do any of these answers have merit? They might, but there is nothing but wishful thinking and unscientific observation to back them up. In the absence of hard science, and without asking a cat directly (so far they aren’t saying much), there is no way to know what a cat is thinking when he’s doing what he’s doing.

One theory that has merit is that some cats may lick to consume what tastes good on your skin. The validity of this theory is up to every individual cat owner. Does your cat start licking the moment you come out of the shower and apply a particular brand of lotion? If so, it’s possible your cat likes the taste of your lotion. (It’s probably best that she doesn’t eat it, however.)

Does your cat lick you after a particularly sweaty workout? It’s possible, as some other websites suggest, that your cat loves the salty taste of your skin. Be a scientific observer of your own cats for an answer.

Why does my cat’s tongue feel like sandpaper?

cat licking paw

A cat’s tongue is covered in little hooks called papillae. The papillae are made from keratin, just like our fingernails.[3] The papillae are actually shaped like little cat claws and have very sharp tips that are surprisingly effective in untangling a cat’s fur.

close up of a cat tongue

Mechanical Engineer Alexis Noel was so fascinated by the structure of cats’ tongues that she created a model to mimic these little spines using a 3D printer and the scanned image of a cat’s tongue. She tested the model out using a machine that dragged it across a patch of faux fur. What she discovered was that the cat-tongue design was surprisingly easy to clean compared to a traditional human hair brush. Unlike a traditional brush which got clogged with hair that could only be removed by painstakingly plucking the caught hairs out from between the bristles, she only had to sweep her finger across the “cat-tongue” brush to thoroughly remove the caught fur.[4]

 Watch Dr. Noel remove cat hair from her "cat-tongue" brush here

Is it safe to let my cat lick my face?

 

Probably not. Are some of us going to do it anyway? Probably. But regardless of your current stance on face-licking, at least get educated so you can decide whether the risk outweighs the reward.

A cat’s mouth can harbor bacteria that may not be harmful to them but could be a problem for very young, elderly or immunocompromised people.[5] Capnocytophaga canimorsus and Pasteurella multocida, are two organisms found in a cat’s mouth that can be dangerous for people in these populations. It is less likely, but still possible, that a person with a healthy immune system will become infected.

Does your cat eat a raw diet? If so, face-licking could expose you to more bacterial dangers that every person, regardless of their age or immune status, should be worried about. A two-year study conducted by the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine analyzed a variety of pet foods from different manufacturers, including raw foods, for harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes. Of 196 raw pet food samples, 15 were positive for Salmonella and 32 were positive for Listeria monocytogenes. By contrast, of 740 dry, semi-moist, and jerky-type dog and cat food and treats tested, exactly one was positive for Salmonella only.[6]

The FDA offered suggestions for handling and storing raw pet food to minimize the risk of infection and also recommended that pet owners do not let their pet lick their faces, especially after the pet has just finished eating.

Now you can decide for yourself.

How to get my cat to stop licking me

cat licking a hand

Once you understand that your cat is licking you in the only way his little cat self knows how to reciprocate your petting, you might be inclined to tolerate a bit of licking.

But what if the licking goes too far?

Cat licking that seems obsessive might very well be. Some cats lick themselves bald (a topic for another blog post) and some cats seem to want to lick YOU bald.

Cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett explained that excessive licking can be a sign of stress and up to us responsible cat owners to identify the stressor and try to remove it from your cat’s environment. Remember that an indoor cat is helpless to remove herself from something in her world that is bothering her.

gray tabby cat licking a paw

Do you have a multicat household? Examine the relationships between co-habitating cats to see if there is friction you can reduce by providing more resources (toys, beds, litter boxes, water and food dishes), and more space (especially vertical space).[7]

Perhaps your young, exuberant cat is stressed because he has no outlet for his abounding energy. You might need to set aside more time to play with him, especially vigorous play.

Or maybe your cat is bored. Consider providing puzzle toys to exercise his mind, or moving a perch nearer the window so that your cat sit and can watch the world go by.

Simultaneously, observe and try to learn the behaviors that precede the excessive licking. Does your cat settle into a particular position before the licking starts? If so, try to head the obsessive behavior off at the pass in the gentlest way possible. Distract your cat with a favorite toy, or place a soft object between you and your cat to make it more difficult for her to revert to her old ways.

What are some things you shouldn’t do to stop the licking? If you want the licking to stop, don’t put something unpleasant tasting on your skin so that your cat gets an unhappy surprise. It’s true this tactic might get your cat to stop licking you, but it may have an unfortunate side effect, too. Your cat may begin to associate you, and not just your skin, with unpleasantness.[8]

Never, ever, ever hit, shove, or yell at your cat for licking you too much (or for any other reason). Abusive behavior doesn’t prevent licking and can permanently damage the bond you’ve worked so hard to build with your beloved cat.

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Why does my cat lick me?

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FOOTNOTES

[1] Todd, Zazie. Where Do Cats Like To Be Stroked?, Blogger, 27 July 2020, www.companionanimalpsychology.com/2015/03/where-do-cats-like-to-be-stroked.html.

[2] Terry, Sarah Jeanne. “Why Does My Cat Lick Me When I Pet Her?: Cuteness.” Cuteness.com, 31 Oct. 2019, www.cuteness.com/13721775/why-does-my-cat-lick-me-when-i-pet-her.

[3] Cassidy, Joshua. “Ever Wondered Why Your Cat's Tongue Feels like Sandpaper?” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 1 Mar. 2017, www.pbs.org/newshour/science/kqed-deep-look-cats-tongue-sandpaper.

[4] Noel, Alexis C., and David L. Hu. “Cats Use Hollow Papillae to Wick Saliva into Fur.” PNAS, National Academy of Sciences, 4 Dec. 2018, www.pnas.org/content/115/49/12377.

[5] Solomon, Donna. “Safely Living With Pets: Don't Let Your Pet Lick Your Face and Other Helpful Tips.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 4 Jan. 2015, www.huffpost.com/entry/safely-living-with-pets-d_b_6069134.

[6] Medicine, Center for Veterinary. “Raw Pet Food Diets Can Be Dangerous to You and Your Pet.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/get-facts-raw-pet-food-diets-can-be-dangerous-you-and-your-pet.

[7] Johnson-Bennett, Pam. “Why Does My Cat Lick Me So Much? - Part 2.” Pam Johnson-Bennett Answers the Why, When & How of Cat Behavior Issues, 9 Sept. 2020, catbehaviorassociates.com/why-does-my-cat-lick-me-so-much/2/.

[8] “Why Does My Cat Lick Me?” PetMD, 16 Feb. 2016, www.petmd.com/cat/behavior/evr_ct_why-does-my-cat-lick-me.

Why do cats chew on plastic? - Cat in the Box LLC

If your adult cat suddenly starts chewing plastic items, which could be anything from electric cords to plastic straws, it could be a sign that he is experiencing a dental issue. Common dental issues include gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth resorption.

cat chewing plastic

Cats are weird. They chew on plastic and sometimes they eat it. If you’re reading this and you have a cat, you probably already know that.

But why do cats chew on plastic? There is more than one reason your cat may be attracted to plastic. Let’s look at all the possible reasons.

Plastic bags taste like food

plastic grocery bag

Plastic bags – the annoying kind you get at the grocery store, the kind that rips at the most inopportune moments, that kills sea animals by the millions and poisons the earth as they disintegrate – are probably one of your cat’s all-time favorite things.

But they crinkle, and they are fun! And most importantly, they smell like good things to eat.[1]

plastic grocery bag with fruits

If you’ve carried your groceries home in yours, they probably smell and taste like whatever you brought home from the store. Maybe a little meat juice leaked onto them from that Saran-wrapped Styrofoam tray of ground beef. Maybe a little of the dried milk from the outside of the jug flaked off into the bag. You can’t smell it, but your cat can. Cats have 200 million odor sensors in their noses; humans have only 5 million.[2]

Even if you didn’t bring groceries home in your plastic bags, they might still smell like good eating to cats. This is because plastic bags are manufactured with “slip agents” to keep them from sticking together. These include some strange chemicals like oleic acid and stearamide, which may be made from rendered animal fats.[3]

There are also “biodegradable” plastics that are made from corn.[4] Even though they are highly processed, it’s possible they still smell like food to cats. We don’t really know.

Plastic is interesting

Is your cat batting around the plastic ring from a milk jug? Is he shredding a plastic bag?

gray cat on a blue plastic bag

Plastic is an interesting material for some curious cats, who might just take their fascination a little too far.

A cool and slippery plastic bag might have started out as a fun surface to nap on. But as your cat’s engagement with the bag intensifies, he might try licking or chewing it.[5]

The crinkling of the bag, or the way the milk-jug ring skitters across the kitchen floor, may stimulate the predatory drive for cats who are biologically programmed to catch and eat prey. Consuming the plastic might be the last step in the predatory sequence, the four-step hunting process that cats use to find and consume food:

  1. Staring
  2. Stalking/chasing
  3. Pouncing/grabbing
  4. Biting/killing.

You cat has found the bag, stalked the bag, and pounced on the bag. Now he must eat it.

Dental problems (or teething)

cat showing teeth

If your kitten is chewing plastic, she could be teething. Kittens lose their baby teeth between three and six months of age to make room in their mouths for adult teeth.[6] Just like human babies, teething can be uncomfortable for kittens, causing them to chomp down on various objects in an attempt to find relief. You usually know if it’s teething if plastic isn’t the only thing your kitten sinks her teeth into. (There are other signs, too: such as meowing more, drooling, crankiness, and even bad breath.) Luckily this stage is short-lived.

If your adult cat suddenly starts chewing plastic items, which could be anything from electric cords to plastic straws, it could be a sign that he is experiencing a dental issue.

cat chewing electrical cords

Common dental issues include gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth resorption. Gingivitis is a condition in which the gums around the teeth become swollen and painful, usually from a buildup of plaque and bacteria on the surface of the teeth. If gingivitis isn’t treated, it can progress to periodontitis, which can cause permanent damage to the tissues that keep the tooth attached to the jaw. Tooth resorption is another unfortunately common painful dental problem in cats that can cause permanent tooth damage.[7]

Dental issues can be extremely painful and affected cats may not want to chew on anything at all, including their dinner. But some, especially those experiencing early disease, could attempt to relieve some of their discomfort by chewing on plastic.

If you suspect your cat may be experiencing dental problems, please have your cat seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible so she can get relief from pain and to prevent the condition from getting worse.

Pica

  

Pica is the urge to eat non-food items, like cat litter or soil – or plastic. So, pica is kind of both a description of what cats are doing when they’re eating plastic, but also an explanation of why some cats eat plastic.

There are three things that can cause a cat to engage in pica: genetics, health concerns, and life experiences.

cat chewing on backpack

Certain cat breeds have a greater tendency to eat things that aren’t food, which suggests that genetics could be at play when a cat engages in pica.  Pica seems to be most common among Oriental Shorthairs, Burmese, Birman, and Siamese cats, for example.[8][9]

Pica can be a sign of a health problem. Pica seems to be correlated with feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus, and possibly triggered by diabetes and brain tumors.[10] Pica could also be related to gastrointestinal problems such as inflammatory bowel disease, an intestinal blockage, or intestinal parasites. In other words, a cat might be eating plastic as a way to deal with a bigger health issue.[11]

Pica can also be a reflection of what may be going on in an individual cat’s life.[12] More on that below.

Boredom and stress

  

A cat who is frustrated, stressed, or lacking sufficient enrichment may eat things she shouldn’t, including plastic. If you do not address the frustration, stress, and boredom, plastic-eating and other forms of pica can turn into a compulsive behavior that becomes so ingrained it will require a lifetime of treatment.[13]

Cats are intelligent, curious creatures. It’s your job to keep your cat busy and fulfilled.

The way to do that is to create an enriched home environment for your cat. Provide toys that offer a wide variety of textures and sounds when they’re played with or chewed. If your cat likes crinkly plastic bags, substitute crinkly balls, for example. You can never have too many of these.

cat on a cat tree

Create vertical spaces for cats to perch, like this window seat. Provide hiding spaces (which is why I make cardboard box playhouses), things to chew on (like these silvervine sticks), and toys to hunt (like these fishing rod toys).

Play with your cat daily. Consider training your cat to perform a trick. Tire your cat out both physically and mentally.

Perhaps stress is behind your cat’s plastic eating. Look at your cat’s world from his perspective. What might be causing stress?

Is there some kind of relentless, subtle conflict between your cat and another cat or dog in the household? Have there been changes to your living situation, like the addition of new baby? (If so, read, “Do cats get jealous?”). Has your cat experienced the death of a family member? Have you recently moved, or even just moved the furniture? Have you changed jobs? (If so, read, “Separation Anxiety in Cats.”)

If you believe stress or frustration is causing your cat to eat plastic, try to identify the cause and then address it. Even if you cannot change the source of stress (you’re not giving the new baby back, are you?) there may be steps you can take to ameliorate the stress your cat is experiencing.

Why is eating plastic dangerous?

cat in a plastic bag

Your cat may want to eat plastic, but you definitely do not want your cat to eat plastic.

A piece of plastic that is small enough to fit completely in your cat’s mouth is a choking hazard.

If your cat manages to not choke on a small piece of plastic, but swallows it instead, it could become lodged in her intestines, causing an obstruction that prevents water and food from passing through. An obstruction is life-threatening and requires emergency surgery.[14]

Even if the plastic item doesn’t cause an obstruction, the sharp edge of a plastic shard could tear his stomach or intestines.

If your cat is eating plastic, you must find a way to prevent it from happening.

What else you can do to prevent your cat from eating plastic

The most obvious thing you should do – while you’re assiduously working to resolve whatever is causing your cat to want to eat plastic – is to restrict your cat’s access to plastic. Keep plastic bags out of reach. Lock them in a cabinet, or better yet, switch to paper or cloth shopping bags.

Close the door to rooms with plastic-coated electrical cords. If you have to, confine your cat to a plastic-free room if you’re not going to be there to monitor him.

If you can’t completely separate your cat from plastic, use a bitter spray, like Grannick’s Bitter Apple, on things that are frequently chewed or at risk of being chewed. But don’t trust that this product will work on your cat. There are some who are such die-hard plastic chewers that they’ll chew even if the plastic tastes terrible. Also, you may need to reapply the product fairly frequently.

Try offering your chewing cat something that is safer than plastic, like a dried meat chew, like this one by Sheba, or this one by True. Some cats enjoy munching on “cat grass” (which is typically oats or wheat), typically sold in an inexpensive kit, like this one by SmartyKat. It may or may not be a good substitute for plastic, from your cat's point of view.

A last word on plastic-chewing

It’s not easy to prevent your very independent, very determined cat from doing what he wants to do, especially if that means eating plastic, and especially in our world, where plastic is ubiquitous. There may not be a single solution, and it may not be simple. But protecting your cat is most definitely worth it.

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 Why do cats chew on plastic - Pinterest-friendly pin

DAwn and Timmy
Dawn LaFontaine

Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.

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FOOTNOTES

[1] Blake, Mychelle. “Why Does My Cat Chew Plastic Bags?” Pet Health Network, www.pethealthnetwork.com/cat-health/cat-behavior/why-does-my-cat-chew-plastic-bags.

[2][2] “Cat Senses: PAWS Chicago.” PAWS Chicago | Chicago's Largest No Kill Humane and Adoption Organization, www.pawschicago.org/news-resources/all-about-cats/kitty-basics/cat-senses.

[3] Hahladakis, John N., et al. “An Overview of Chemical Additives Present in Plastics: Migration, Release, Fate and Environmental Impact during Their Use, Disposal and Recycling.” Journal of Hazardous Materials, Elsevier, 22 July 2017, ccc.chem.pitt.edu/wipf/Web/Plastics.pdf.

[4] Royte, Elizabeth. “Corn Plastic to the Rescue.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Aug. 2006, www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/corn-plastic-to-the-rescue-126404720/.

[5] Johnson-Bennett, Pam. “Why Does My Cat Chew or Lick Plastic Bags?” Pam Johnson-Bennett Answers the Why, When & How of Cat Behavior Issues, 9 Sept. 2020, catbehaviorassociates.com/why-does-my-cat-chew-or-lick-plastic-bags/.

[6] Basedow, Kate Eldredge. “Signs Your Kitten Is Teething and What to Do.” Daily Paws, 13 Oct. 2020, www.dailypaws.com/cats-kittens/health-care/kitten-care/kitten-teething.

[7] “Feline Dental Disease.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 3 May 2019, www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-dental-disease.

[8] Radosta, Lisa. “Why Does My Cat Eat Plastic?” Daily Paws, www.dailypaws.com/cats-kittens/behavior/common-cat-behaviors/why-do-cats-eat-plastic.

[9] Singer, Jo. “Feline Pica: A Perilous and Frustrating Condition.” FloridaWild Vet Hospital, 2 Nov. 2018, www.floridawildvethospital.com/feline-pica-perilous-frustrating-condition/.

[10] Fries, Wendy C. “Strange Things Cats Eat: Pica Symptoms and Treatments.” WebMD, WebMD, 21 Apr. 2012, pets.webmd.com/cats/guide/unusual-cat-cravings#1.

[11] Radosta.

[12] ibid.

[13] ibid

[14] ibid.

Why do cats trill? - Cat in the Box LLC

Cats are not trying to have a conversation with us when they make a noise like a trill. The sounds are innate and often automatic. They reflect a cat’s inner emotions, and are often an attempt to get us (or another animal) to do something that they want, but they are not language. [7] But we seem to understand them anyway!

Trilling. It’s one of those just-cat things that make you love cats even more. As if that were possible.

A trill is a precious little sound, somewhere between the coo of pigeon, a hum, and the sound my electric toothbrush makes. I’ve heard it described as a Spanish-language rolled “R,” or like a toy helicopter, but none of these descriptions really do the trill justice. You’ll have to let Delilah demonstrate here:

 

We know very little about the sounds cats make, including the trill

What is a cat trying to say when he trills? Go on and Google this question. Everyone seems to “know” what cats mean when they trill. But we don’t really know. Not yet. Science is just beginning to take the idea of cat communication seriously.

One group of scientists recognized how little we know about cat sounds and worked together to come up with an “ethogram” of cat sounds, which is like a catalogue of every noise we think cats make (the current count is 21; they probably make more).

Researchers acoustically analyzed the sound waves of each vocalization in an effort to distinguish them all, because they can be difficult to tell apart. When does a hiss end, and a spit start, for example? They also tried to figure out under what circumstances cats used each sound.

 

Amazingly, house cats produce a greater variety of sounds than any other carnivore on the planet. This comparison includes dogs, who are more social than cats and might thus be expected to want to communicate more precisely, and the domestic cat’s closest cat relative, the African wildcat.

The crazy thing is that cats, while predators themselves, are really small prey animals. Small prey animals tend to vocalize less than large predators, because animals that make a lot of noise tend to turn into somebody else’s supper more quickly.[1] It was a really surprising finding.

Cats are fascinating little enigmas, aren’t they?

Trills versus chatters, chirps, chirrs, and chirrups

 

These scientists also assigned specific words to each sound so that future scientists could all agree that a trill is a trill, and not a chatter, or chirp, or chirr, or a chirrup. If you Google “cat trill” today, you’ll find that not everyone agrees what this sound is called, and many “experts” will wrongly claim that a chatter, for example, and a trill, are really the same thing. They’re not.

(If you want to learn more about what cat chatter is, read this post, “Why does my cat chatter her teeth?”)

This particular study called the trill a “greeting call.”

Cats who are feeling fine will trill

cat trilling

That research paper was just done in 2020. That’s how far behind we are in understanding cat communication with sound.

The study called the trill a greeting call, but didn’t provide any evidence to support that contention.

Another study tried to dig a little deeper. A bunch of scientists in Brazil studying 74 cats tried to figure out which sounds cats used in pleasant situations and which sounds cats used in unpleasant situations. They divided the group in half, giving the “pleasant” group a snack, and the “unpleasant” group a pretend ride in a car.

Only the snack group trilled. The cats who thought they were going for a ride in the car, did not trill. In other words, we now know that cats only use the trill when they are feeling good.

Interestingly, trilling is a sound that cats make with their mouths closed. The scientists noticed that the snack cats tended to only make closed-mouth noises, including purrs and squeaks in addition to trills.

Cats in the car-ride group tended to make open-mouthed noises, something the researchers called “forced-intensity sound,” including growling and chattering.[2] It’s no surprise that these types of sounds, especially growling, are the kind that cats make when they are feeling less-than-terrific.

Cats who feel friendly or playful will trill

An ongoing study in Sweden is continuing to learn more about how cats communicate with their humans using sound. The scientists call their study, MEOWSIC – a made-up word that is a combination of “music” and “meow” because they are trying to learn more about how cats use patterns of rhythms and intonation in their voices.[3]

This study found that there is more than one kind of trill. There were sounds they called chirrs or chirrups that were high-pitched trills with a rising melody. There were grunts or murmurs that were lower-pitched trills. There were murmurs or coos that had no “rolling R” sound at all.

And there were sound combinations. Cats in this study frequently combined purrs and trills, as well as trills and meows, which they named, appropriately enough, a trill-meow.

This study concluded that cats are not using the trill to transmit a specific message per se. But cats use their trill during specific types of interactions.

Cats trill during friendly greetings (have you ever been trilled at after you’ve come home from work?). They trill during play. And they use the trill to make a friendly request – perhaps for a treat or a cuddle.[4]

 

Kittens respond to the trills of their mother

A study on momma cats and their kittens found another context in which cats trill.

These scientists learned that kittens respond to their own mother’s trills, more so than other sounds that she might make, even her meows. Kittens didn’t respond to just any trills, however. They learn the trills of their own mothers, and tend not to respond to the trills of any other cat mother.[5]

 

Humans respond to cat trills, too

Here’s another interesting study about cat communication and humans. In 2003, research scientists played cat sounds to people. Some of the sounds were from participants’ own cats. Some of the sounds were from strange cats.

Based on the recorded sounds, people could accurately classify the context of cat sounds – but only of their own cats! They didn’t do so well with strange cats.[6]

One thing we need to be clear on when talking about trills, or any other cat sounds, is that they are sounds, not language. Cats are not trying to have a conversation with us when they make a noise like a trill. The sounds are innate and often automatic. They reflect a cat’s inner emotions, and are often an attempt to get us (or another animal) to do something that they want, but they are not language.[7]

But we seem to understand them anyway! Through our long association with cats, we have learned how our own cats sound in different contexts, and what the noises that they make might mean.

“Cats are domesticated animals that have learned what levers to push, what sounds to make to manage our emotions,” research scientist Nicholas Nicastro told the Cornell Chronicle in 2002. “And when we respond, we too are domesticated animals.” [8]

So, when your cat trills, there’s no need to go running to Google. You probably already know what she’s trying to tell you.

Love Pinterest? Here's a Pinterest-friendly pin for your boards!

Why do cats trill? - Pinterest-friendly pin

DAwn and Timmy
Dawn LaFontaine

Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.

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FOOTNOTES

[1] Tavernier, Chloé, et al. “Feline Vocal Communication.” Journal of Veterinary Science, The Korean Society of Veterinary Science, Jan. 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7000907/#B2.

[2] Fermo, Jaciana Luzia, et al. “Only When It Feels Good: Specific Cat Vocalizations Other than Meowing.” MDPI, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 29 Oct. 2019, https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/9/11/878/htm.

[3] SCHÖTZ, SUSANNE, et al. “Melody in Human–Cat Communication (MEOWSIC).” About, http://vr.humlab.lu.se/projects/meowsic/about.html.

[4] Schötz, Susanne, et al. “(PDF) Phonetic Characteristics of Domestic Cat Vocalisations.” Phonetic Characteristics of Domestic Cat Vocalisations, Lund University, Sweden & Linköping University, Sweden, 25 Aug. 2017, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319814201_Phonetic_Characteristics_of_Domestic_Cat_Vocalisations.

[5] Szenczi, Péter, et al. “Mother–Offspring Recognition in the Domestic Cat: Kittens Recognize Their Own Mother's Call.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 3 Mar. 2016, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/dev.21402

[6] “Classification of domestic cat (Felis catus) vocalizations by naive and experienced human listeners.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2003-02590-007.

[7] Terrace, Herbert S. “Why Animal Communication Is Not Language | Psychology Today.” Why Animal Communication Is Not Language The Gap between Expressing Emotion and Sharing Knowledge., 3 Sept. 2019, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-origin-words/201909/why-animal-communication-is-not-language-0.

[8] Segelken, Roger. “It's the Cat's Meow: Not Language, Strictly Speaking, but Close Enough to Skillfully Manage Humans, Communication Study Shows.” Cornell Chronicle, 20 May 2002, https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2002/05/meow-isnt-language-enough-manage-humans.

Why does my cat keeping throwing up? - Cat in the Box LLC

Do I need to bring my vomiting cat to the vet right now? If you cat is a chronic vomiter, you are probably not experiencing a cat emergency. This doesn’t mean you don’t need to get to the bottom of why your cat is throwing up, but there is no need to rush out in the middle of the night to the emergency clinic.

Cat vomit. It’s part of being a cat owner, right? You put up with it, like scooping the litter box and finding toys under the sofa, because that’s what it means to have a cat in your life.

woman kissing her cat

What if I told you that wasn’t true? What if it’s not normal for a cat to keep throwing up?

Do a little research on this topic and you’ll find yourself with a lot of misinformation about cat vomiting. One site actually referred to chronic puking in cats as “normal cat vomiting behavior.”[1] Another blamed canned food kept in the refrigerator for the behavior.

Professor of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Ohio State University Tony Buffington told Science Daily, “There is not another mammal on the planet that wouldn’t be hospitalized for throwing up once a week.”[2] Just because this behavior in cats is very common, doesn’t mean it’s normal.

Think about it the next time you’re scrubbing a little cat stain from the rug in your bedroom. Ask yourself, should my cat be throwing up this much?

There are two kinds of vomiting: acute and chronic

While neither kind of vomiting is something you or your cat should have to put up with, it’s important to distinguish whether your cat is experiencing an acute or chronic bout of throwing up. Both types may ultimately require a trip to the vet, but one type may require you to get your cat to the vet immediately.

Chronic cat vomiting

If your cat vomits with some regularity, every single day, for example, or once a month, she is probably a “chronic” vomiter. A chronic vomiter tends to only throw up once or twice at a time, before the next round of vomiting starts again tomorrow, next week, or next month.[3]

If your cat is not a “regular” vomiter, but suddenly starts vomiting, especially if he vomits multiple times, he is probably experiencing an acute bout of vomiting. The acute kind is more immediately concerning.

Do I need to bring my vomiting cat to the vet right now?

If you cat is a chronic vomiter, you are probably not experiencing a cat emergency. This doesn’t mean you don’t need to get to the bottom of why your cat is throwing up, but there is no need to rush out in the middle of the night to the emergency clinic.

cat on a person's lap

If your cat is vomiting acutely, you may need to take her in to see a veterinarian sooner rather than later.

If your cat has only vomited one to three times, but is then interested in food and does not vomit again after eating, and if she seems comfortable, it’s probably OK if you hold off rushing her to the vet.

The only exception would be if you know your cat ate something poisonous, like a plant, or your medication, or an object like a string. In that case, a trip to the veterinarian is an emergency. Do not wait to see if your cat gets better on his own.

If your cat has vomited more than three times, cannot keep food down, and seems lethargic, she needs to be seen as soon as possible. If your cat is in severe discomfort, does not want to move, or seems to be deteriorating quickly, do not wait. Rush her to the emergency vet.

How to prepare for your visit with your veterinarian if your cat is throwing up

siamese cat and veterinarian

Whether your cat has been throwing up regularly for some time, or whether the vomiting just started and you’re bringing your cat to the emergency clinic, there are some things you can do to help your vet get to the bottom of your cat’s problem.

Make note of the answers to these questions and be prepared to share them with your vet:

  • Did your cat consume something he shouldn’t have, like plants, medications, antifreeze, spoiled food, dangerous human food (such as chocolate or onions), or a dead animal?
  • Has your cat’s diet changed suddenly?
  • When did the vomiting begin?
  • Is your cat allowed outside?
  • Does your cat take any medications?
  • Is your cat having diarrhea, too?
  • Is your cat eating? If not, when was the last time he ate?
  • When does the vomiting occur? (After eating? Only in the morning? After using the litter box?)
  • Is your cat drinking or peeing a lot?
cat vomiting

Make a note of what you notice about the quality of your cat’s vomit, too. Color can sometimes direct your vet to the problem. Yellow vomit can be a sign of liver disease (but can also be a sign that your cat has eaten something yellow!). Undigested food in the vomit can point to food intolerances, allergies, irritation in the upper gastrointestinal tract, or an obstruction.

Chronic causes of vomiting in cats

Just because your cat vomits all the time, doesn’t mean it’s “normal.” If your cat is throwing up regularly, you need to find out why. Here are some possible reasons why your cat may be throwing up on a chronic basis:

Stress

Researchers conducting a study on feline interstitial cystitis (FIC), one of the most frustrating chronic diseases in cats, accidentally stumbled onto this revealing cause for chronic vomiting. (Spoiler alert: it has nothing to do with FIC.)

This study included 20 cats suffering from FIC who were given up by owners who had planned to euthanize them, and a dozen healthy cats. FIC causes pain in the bladder and an urgent and frequent need to pee. Cats with FIC vomit frequently, pee and poop outside of their litter box, and often refuse to eat.

Judi Stella, a doctoral candidate in veterinary preventative medicine at the time, was the caretaker of this colony of cats. She spent months setting up a very routinized feeding, play, and cleaning schedule based on research about how to reduce stress in cats.

cat owner consults vet about cat 

Suddenly, the sick cats started to look better. Their coats were shinier, their eyes were clearer, and the cats stopped vomiting and missing their litter box. She kept this routine up for 77 weeks.

But sometimes Stella went on vacation and the cats had a different caretaker. Whenever she went away, or if the cats’ routine was disrupted in any way, all the cats – both sick and healthy – started vomiting again and peeing and pooping outside their litter boxes.

In fact, the healthy cats vomited as often as the sick cats, and the number of vomiting incidents tripled whenever the cats’ routine was changed in any way.

cat and orange ball toy 

What did Stella do that helped keep vomiting to a minimum?

The study was never meant to uncover a common cause of chronic vomiting, but it did just that. Professor Buffington said, “Vomiting hairballs is not normal. We think that stress changes the motility in their stomach and that leads to vomiting.”[4]

Motility, by the way, refers to the way the muscles of the digestive system contract. In other words, stress can cause changes in the way food moves through a cat's digestive system. Stress alone can cause chronic vomiting.

Another possible cause of vomiting in cats is chronic inflammation of the small intestine due to Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) or lymphoma.

IBD is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal system. The root cause of IBD is an overactive immune system.

Lymphoma is a kind of cancer that affects white blood cells called lymphocytes. It is the most common cancer in older cats (eight to 12 years old). Lymphoma primarily affects the digestive tract.

 cat vomiting on sofa
Both IBD and lymphoma can cause a cat to vomit with some regularity: twice per month to as often as daily. Cats who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease often start to lose weight because their intestinal walls lose the ability to absorb nutrients from their food. Interestingly, because of this, cat owners often notice an increase in their cats’ appetites even as the vomiting increases.[5]
Dr. Gary Norsworthy, a veterinarian who runs a feline-only practice in Texas, conducted two retrospective studies. He looked back on the medical records of 100 client-owned cats who were experiencing chronic vomiting, as well as other symptoms such as diarrhea and weight loss. Of the 100 cats, 99 had chronic bowel disease.[6]
He conducted another study looking at 300 cats over five years who were suffering from vomiting and other symptoms, who had biopsies of their small intestines. 288 of the 300 cats had chronic bowel disease.[7]

Chronic bowel disease, whether caused by IBD or lymphoma, is likely a very common cause of vomiting in cats.

Hyperthyroidism is caused by a tumor on the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is supposed to regulate the body’s metabolism. But the tumor makes the gland produce too much thyroid hormone, speeding up a cat’s metabolism, which affects every organ in his body.

cat throwing up on grass 

Muscles, including those in the intestinal wall, contract too quickly, speeding food quickly through, causing diarrhea. Sometimes, the muscles contract in reverse, causing vomiting.

Luckily, there is an easy blood test to check for hyperthyroidism.

The kidney is designed to clean waste products out of the blood. But in older cats (usually above 12 years), the kidneys start to function less well.

As toxins start to build up in a cat’s blood, she may begin to feel nauseous. Vomiting is the result of chronic nausea from kidney disease.

Fortunately, many cats can live well with mild kidney disease with proper veterinary care.

There are a variety of diseases of the liver that can cause a cat to vomit.

cat vomiting on pavement 
Hepatic lipidosis is the most common cause of liver disease in cats. It results from an accumulation of fat in the liver, which leads to liver failure.[8] Ironically, a poor appetite for even just a few days can cause hepatic lipidosis. So, if your cat is experiencing an acute bout of vomiting that causes him to feel unwell for a brief period of time, it could turn into a chronic and much more serious problem.
Inflammation of the tiny pancreas can be serious and even life-threatening, but, unfortunately, is challenging for veterinarians to diagnose. About 50% of cats suffering from pancreatitis will suffer from weight loss and vomiting.[9]

Many diseases of the stomach and intestines, including parasites, viral or bacterial infections, cancer, and constipation, can cause a cat to vomit. There are too many possible gastro-intestinal diseases that cause vomiting to mention them all here.

If your cat vomits regularly, you need to find out why

woman holding a large orange and white cat

This is far from an exhaustive list. There are too many diseases that can cause a cat to vomit. But the main point is that chronic vomiting may be a sign that your cat is unwell and not a “behavior” that you should simply accept.

Start by keeping a log of your cat’s vomiting. After a month or two, you may be surprised to see a pattern, or to see how frequently your cat throws up. This kind of hard data will be very helpful to your vet in pinpointing the cause of your cat’s vomiting.

Think about how to apply the lessons of the FIC study to your cat’s life. Cat stress is real. A cat may not have a mortgage to pay, or an angry boss to deal with, but their “things” cause them as much stress as yours. Is there something you can do to make your cat’s life more predictable and also more enriching?

Pursue your concerns with your vet. Don’t let anyone tell you that “all cats vomit” and that you should ignore what could be a serious underlying medical problem.

Love Pinterest? Here's a Pinterest-friendly pin for your boards!

 why does my cat keeping throwing up? Pinterest-friendly pin

DAwn and Timmy
Dawn LaFontaine

Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.

_______________

FOOTNOTES

[1] Peters, Lucia. “Why Does My Cat Throw Up All The Time? Here's What Might Be Making Your Feline Friend Sick.” Bustle, Bustle, 8 June 2018, www.bustle.com/p/why-does-my-cat-throw-up-all-the-time-heres-what-might-be-making-your-feline-friend-sick-9258616.

[2] “Even Healthy Cats Act Sick When Their Routine Is Disrupted.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 4 Jan. 2011, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110103110357.htm.

[3] “Cat Vomiting: Types, Causes and Treatments.” Best Friends Animal Society, resources.bestfriends.org/article/cat-vomiting-types-causes-and-treatments.

[4] ScienceDaily

[5] “Why Is Your Senior Cat Throwing Up? 3 Common Causes.” BeChewy, Chewy, 3 Nov. 2020, be.chewy.com/vomiting-in-senior-cats/.

[6] Norsworthy, Gary D, et al. “Diagnosis of Chronic Small Bowel Disease in Cats: 100 Cases (2008-2012).” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 Nov. 2013, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24171376/.

[7] Norsworthy, Gary D, et al. “Prevalence and Underlying Causes of Histologic Abnormalities in Cats Suspected to Have Chronic Small Bowel Disease: 300 Cases (2008-2013).” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 Sept. 2015, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26331421/.

[8] Center, Sharon A. “Disorders of the Liver and Gallbladder in Cats - Cat Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, Aug. 2018, www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/digestive-disorders-of-cats/disorders-of-the-liver-and-gallbladder-in-cats.

[9] “Feline Pancreatitis: Serious.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 19 Apr. 2021, www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-pancreatitis-serious.

Why does my cat shed so much? - Cat in the Box LLC

Why does my cat shed so much? I’ve read that the average cat has about 40 million hairs, give or take a few million [1] , although I’m not sure anybody has ever actually counted. Some days, when the cat-fur tumbleweeds are tumbling down the hall, and it’s hard to tell that my “nice” black slacks are actually black, I’m convinced ...

grooming a cat

I’ve read that the average cat has about 40 million hairs, give or take a few million[1], although I’m not sure anybody has ever actually counted.

Some days, when the cat-fur tumbleweeds are tumbling down the hall, and it’s hard to tell that my “nice” black slacks are actually black, I’m convinced that cats can shed half that number of hairs overnight.

How much shedding is “normal”?  Why do some cats seem to shed so much? When should I worry about my cat shedding? We will answer all of these questions and more in this blog post.

 

All about cat hair

First, let’s talk a little bit about cat hair.

Cats have a lot of fur. In fact, when we talk about cat hair, we usually refer to it as fur – which just means densely packed hairs. It’s OK to use either term.

sphynx and tabby cat

Cats have between 60,000 and 120,000 hairs in just about every square inch of their bodies.[2] That’s a lot of hair. Cats need it all – fur is part of the “integumentary system,” which is the largest organ in the feline body. The integumentary system includes skin in all its layers, hair, and nails, which together form a protective wall between the outside world and the inside of the cat.[3]

Cats who don’t have all that fur, such as the Sphynx and Peterbald breeds, need us (and our heated homes, and our carefully knitted kitty sweaters) to help them survive.

Types of cat hair

By JonRichfield - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22668115

Cat hair comes in four (or five-ish) types, and not every cat has every type:

Down

Down hairs are appropriately named. They’re the soft, fluffy hairs that provide warmth, much like the goose down we use to make our warmest comforters and puffy winter coats.

Viewed under a microscope, down hairs appear wavy or crimped,[4] which helps make them extra-effective as insulators. Note that down hairs are the ones closest to the skin and this is the fur layer that tends to get matted if a cat isn’t regularly groomed.

Some cat breeds do not have a down layer, such as the Javanese. Some cats, such as the Cornish Rex, only have a down layer of fur.

Awn

Awn hairs come between the down layer and the guard layer, if a cat has all three. Awn hairs help protect the delicate down hairs, and they also provide some additional insulation. They are typically longer than down hairs, but shorter than guard hairs.

Turkish Van cats have only an awn layer. 

Guard

A cat with a guard-hair layer has got his own water-repellent windbreaker on all the time. Guard hairs tend to be stiffer and longer than awn or down hairs and they can keep wind and rainwater from penetrating to a cat’s skin. Guard hairs are typically straight and taper toward the tip, but have tiny barbs along their length that explain why they stick to our clothing.

The long hair in longhaired breeds, such as the Persian, are extra-long guard hairs.

Whiskers

Whiskers, also called vibrissae, are long, thick, sensitive hairs that emerge from the muzzle, cheeks, eyebrows, and wrists. Read more about their purpose in, “Why do cats have whiskers?

Vellus

Vellus hairs are sparse, baby-fine hairs, like those found on the so-called hairless bodies of cats like the Sphynx. We mostly-naked humans have vellus hairs, too.

How does cat hair grow?

 

To understand shedding, you need to understand how cat hair grows.

Individual hairs have their own growth cycle. Each strand is in its own little world, going through its own cycle at its own pace. Scientists would say that cat fur undergoes “asynchronous growth,” which just means that the hairs don’t coordinate their cycles. If they did, your cat would periodically shed himself bald.

There are four phases to the feline hair growth cycle. We used to think there was only three, but scientists discovered that shedding is actually a separate phase from the others. The hairs undergo specific changes that cause them to finally drop off a cat’s body. That being said, we still don’t understand the exact mechanics of shedding.

Feline hair growth cycle

Anagen

When a cat’s hair is in anagen mode, it is growing. The hair bulb is very active and located deep in the skin. A hair in the anagen phase is difficult to remove.

Catagen

The catagen phase is short-lived. A hair in catagen mode stops growing and the follicle shrinks.

Telogen

Telogen is a hair’s resting phase. The bulb is closer to the surface and can be easily removed.

Exogen

Exogen is the shedding phase. A scientific study of mouse hair showed that the bulb of the hair in this phase becomes shrunken, irregular, and nearly lifeless.[5]

When do cats shed?

 

Do I really need to answer this question?  If you live with a cat, the question you really want answered is, “When DON’T cats shed?” (The correct answer is: never.)

Shedding would normally be tied to seasonal changes in sunlight. But cats who live indoors with us, whether full time or part time, are living with “fake seasons” from the point of view of their fur. We air condition our houses in summer. We heat them in winter. We turn the lights on and off at all times of the day and night.

Cats who live outdoors, fully subject to the patterns of nature, typically shed big twice a year. When the amount of daylight starts to wane in fall, a cat’s brain sends a signal to the hair follicles that says, “make way for a thicker, fluffier, heavier winter pelt.” [6] In spring, a cat’s body sheds that extra fur to prepare for summer.[7]

There are other factors that contribute to shedding in addition to sunlight (and temperature). Genetics and nutrition also play a role. And even cats who live outdoors permanently, do shed hairs all year round, in addition to those two big seasonal sheds.

Why do cats shed?

shedding cat

Even though a strand of hair itself is not alive (it’s made of a tough protein called keratin), the bulb at the bottom of the strand, inside the hair follicle, contains living cells. And living things don’t live forever.

Shedding is how a cat’s body gets rid of old, ragged, dead hair to make way for fresh, new hair that can best perform its insulating and protective duties.

How does shedding happen?

Exogen hairs, which are ready to separate from a cat’s body, probably just drop off.

But sometimes a cat will shed a bunch of hair all at once, such as at the vet’s office. We don’t know the exact process by which a cat’s body releases these hairs simultaneously, but we believe that tiny arrector pili muscles, which are connected to the hair follicles, are triggered when cat is stressed. Telogen hairs, which were ready to be shed anyway, are suddenly freed.[8]

By the way, these arrector pili muscles are the same muscles that contract to cause a cat’s hair to stand on end, as when a cat is arching her back.

How do you know if your cat’s shedding is normal?

All cats have their own shedding cycles. Some cats shed so much you can hardly believe there is anything left on the cat. Others slough off just a little. Both extremes can be normal.

How do you know if your cat is shedding normally?

Look at your cat’s hair coat. A cat with normal shedding and growth cycles will maintain a soft, silky texture to the fur.

If your cat’s coat is ragged, dirty, or thin, it could be a sign that something is wrong. Bald spots or inflamed skin under the hair are also symptoms to worry about. If your cat is vomiting up more hairballs than usual, it’s a cue that your cat is not shedding normally.[9]

(Read more about hairballs in, “Cats and hairballs.”)

What can cause abnormal hair loss?

There are many things that can cause a cat to lose an abnormal amount of hair, or to lose hair in an abnormal pattern. Here are some potential causes of unhealthy hair loss in cats:

Skin infections

Bacterial or fungal microorganisms that make their way beyond the skin’s outer protective barrier (perhaps through a scratch or bite) can grow and multiply within the skin and destroy hair follicles, causing hair loss.

Skin infections usually present with other symptoms that your vet can identify and treat. For example, ringworm – which is a fungal infection, not a parasite – is a leading cause of hair loss in cats. Aside from hair loss, it typically shows up as circular, red, flaky patches of skin.[10]

Parasites

flea

Parasites, such as mites and fleas, can be the cause of hair loss in cats in a number of different ways.

Parasites can damage the hair follicle, directly causing hair loss. Parasites can also carry bacteria, and indirectly cause hair loss through a skin infection.

But the activity of the parasites on your cat’s skin can drive them crazy, causing them to scratch their own hair right out. Some cats are actually allergic to flea saliva, and the associated itching and scratching can lead to extreme hair loss.

(For more information about fleas, read, "My cat has fleas! What should I do?")

Excessive grooming

Grooming is usually a healthful activity. Grooming helps a cat rid his coat of shed hairs to prevent matting, and can keep the coat and skin clean and healthy. But there can be too much of a good thing and overgrooming can be a cause of hair loss.

It’s such a big topic that I’ve written a separate post about it: “Excessive grooming in cats.”

Allergies

Like humans, cats can be allergic to their food, to something in their environment, to household or pet products, to biting insects, and parasites (see above). To ease the itch from an allergic reaction, a cat may literally scratch and lick their own hair away.

Serious diseases

Excessive shedding is a potential side effect of certain kidney, liver, thyroid, and adrenal gland diseases, as well as feline flu and cancer. If you are unable to identify a simple explanation for hair loss in your cat, a visit to your vet will enable you to rule out or rule in a more serious cause of excessive of shedding in your cat.

Poor diet

Nutrition matters to a cat’s body, and every calorie really does count. In fact, 30% of a cat’s protein intake goes directly to maintaining a cat’s skin and fur. If the food your cat is eating doesn’t have enough protein, or if the proteins are hard to digest, or if other nutrients are missing, a cat’s coat will suffer. Hairs can become thinner and break right off.

Cats need the right amount of vitamins E and A to be able to produce the keratin protein that makes up hair. Without the right amount of zinc, hair growth will suffer, too.[11]

Inability to groom

grooming a cat

There are a number of conditions, some of which are preventable, that can keep a cat from properly grooming herself.

A cat who is overweight, for example, may struggle to reach all of her body parts during a grooming session. A cat with arthritis or other joint disease may be unable to groom properly due to the pain it causes.

Cat who are healthy and fastidious groomers typically catch a lot of loose hairs with their own tongues. These shed hairs may end up in their feces or in a hairball. But cats who are unable to groom properly may leave lot of these loose hairs on carpeting and furniture instead.

So, it may appear that your cat is shedding more than normal, even if they are not.

These posts, “How to help a cat lose weight,” and “How much should I feed my cat?” may help, if your cat could afford to lose a few ounces.

Pregnancy/lactation

Pregnant cats, or cats who are nursing little ones, will shed more due to hormonal changes[12] and the loss of minerals and calcium that go to supporting all that new life.[13] Some cats will also lose the fur around their nipples, presumably to make it easier for the babes to nurse.[14]

This kind of shedding is normal. You can support your pregnant or lactating cat by feeding her a good quality kitten food, which offers more calories and a higher protein content, and letting her eat as much of it as she likes.

See a vet if you can't get to the bottom of your cat's shedding 

cat hair
There are so many potential reasons why a cat may be losing too much hair, that it can take a real detective (with a whole bunch of lab equipment) to get to the bottom of it.

If your cat seems to be losing too much hair, don’t wait it out. Take him to the vet. Your vet will be able to examine the hair itself, look at skin cells under a microscope, do bloodwork, and perform a urinalysis to look for clues as to the cause.

Since some of the potential causes can be quite serious, and others potentially contagious to humans (such as ringworm), it’s worthwhile to address your concerns sooner rather than later.

How to encourage faster, healthier hair growth on your cat

There are things we responsible cat guardians can do to improve the health of our cats’ hair coat, and to encourage growth.

Focus on nutrition

Make sure to feed a healthy cat food that is rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. I tend to supplement my pets’ meals with Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids from cold-water fish, just to be sure they’re getting enough. If you’d like to try adding fish oil to your cat’s diet, consider a supplement from VetriScience or Omegease.

Groom regularly

Sometimes cats need a little help from their humans. Plus, grooming your cat is a great way to bond and build a relationship with her.

A deshedding glove, like this one from DELOMO works great to help remove and collect loose hairs. Plus, it’s fun!

A greyhound comb, like this stainless steel version by Paws Pamper, can help prevent matting in all cats, but especially in longhaired cats.

I use a Furminator on all of my furry pets. They make two styles for cats: one for shorthaired cats, and another for longhaired cats.

 

Use a parasite preventative

Even if your cat is an indoor-only cat, he is still at risk for parasites.

Indoor cats can become infested with fleas very easily, for example, and fleas can remain active in the winter indoors. Discuss your options with your vet, as parasite species vary from region to region, and pests have become resistant to particular treatments in certain geographies. You’ll have to treat for internal parasites as well.

Eliminate stress

This is a tough one. Humans are often quite surprised to learn about the kinds of things that are stressful to a cat, and often those things are difficult or impossible to change.

shedding cat

Environmental changes are stressful to cats: the addition of a new family member, the passing of a family member, moving, or even just moving the furniture. The addition of another cat or dog to the household can be very stressful, too.

A change in routine, a change of food, or a change of brand of litter, can all be stressful to a cat. Too much handling, or even too little handling, can be stressful. What’s a loving cat guardian to do?

If you can’t remove the stressful event or thing from your cat’s life, you can make his environment feel safer. Add perches and hiding places so your cat can get away from it all. Provide lots of toys, but especially enrichment toys that mimic aspects of hunting, which is an import cat behavior. Consider puzzle toys, laser pointers, and fishing-rod toys to start.

Are certain breeds more prone to shedding?

Except for hairless breeds, there are no breeds that are more or less prone to normal shedding. It’s a myth that longhaired breeds shed more than shorthaired ones.[15]

Long hairs strewn about the carpet are probably just more noticeable than short ones.

Love Pinterest? Here's a Pinterest-friendly pin for your boards!

 WHY DOES MY CAT SHED SO MUCH - PINTEREST-FRIENDLY PIN

DAwn and Timmy
Dawn LaFontaine

Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.

_______________

FOOTNOTES

[1] Jones, Oliver. “The Human's Guide to Cat Hair (Types, Lengths & More).” Hepper, 6 Jan. 2022, https://www.hepper.com/guide-cat-hair/.

[2] Dell, Darin. “Not Another Shedding Question.” DVM 360, DVM 360, 28 Apr. 2020, https://www.dvm360.com/view/not-another-shedding-question?bid=1982576&eid=222811191.

[3] Kim, Joyce Y. “Physiology, Integument.” StatPearls [Internet]., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 9 May 2021, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554386/.

[4] How Many Kinds of Hairs Do Cats Have?, https://www.crazyforkitties.com/fow/fow3.shtml.

[5] Milner, Yoram, et al. “Exogen, Shedding Phase of the Hair Growth Cycle: Characterization of a Mouse Model.” Journal of Investigative Dermatology, Elsevier, 8 Dec. 2015, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022202X15417737.

[6] Brown, Danit. “Why Do Cats Shed All Year?” A Moment of Science - Indiana Public Media, https://indianapublicmedia.org/amomentofscience/cats-shed-year.php.

[7] “How Fast Does Cat Hair Grow?” Animalpath.org, 19 Dec. 2020, https://animalpath.org/how-fast-does-cat-hair-grow/.

[8] Becker, Dr. Marty. “Why Does My Cat Shed so Much at the Vet's?” Vetstreet, 7 May 2012, http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/why-does-my-cat-shed-so-much-at-the-vets#1_n02vqpwu.

[9] “Cat Shedding: What's Normal and What's Not?” Feline Medical Clinic, 5 May 2020, https://www.felinemedicalclinic.com/cat-shedding-whats-normal-and-whats-not/.

[10] “How Fast Does Cat Hair Grow?”

[11] ibid.

[12] Gilbert, Dr. Sam. “My Cat Is Shedding a Lot. What Does It Mean?” Zoetis Petcare, https://animalpath.org/how-fast-does-cat-hair-grow/.

[13] “Shedding in Cats and Dogs.” Vetwest Animal Hospitals, 25 Mar. 2020, https://www.vetwest.com.au/pet-library/shedding-in-cats-and-dogs.

[15] Becker, Dr. Marty. “You Can't Stop Cat Shedding, but You Can Handle the Hair.” Vetstreet, 5 July 2011, http://www.vetstreet.com/dr-marty-becker/help-cat-fur-is-overtaking-my-home.

Why do cats eat paper and cardboard? - Cat in the Box LLC

Biting or Chewing Paper and Cardboard Could be a Cat's Way of Marking or Claiming Cats deliberately leave their scent on objects and humans, often by rubbing against the things they are claiming as their own. Biting or chewing an object might be a way that a cat says, “This box (or paper towel tube, or magazine) is mine.”

black and white cat in Monster Cheese Wedge. Cardboard is bitten.

Look closely at this picture of S’mores. No, more closely. What do you see?

I’ll tell you what you see: teeth marks.

Get enough cats in a room with some paper or cardboard and somebody is bound to start munching away.

shredded paper

Cats eating cardboard is a common problem

“Why do cats eat paper and cardboard?” is a common thread topic on cat forums, and the questions and comments posters submit range from “Why do cats love to tear apart paper?” and “Does anyone else’s cat like to munch Kleenex tissue and toilet paper?” to “Cat licking paper, boxes, etc.” and “Cat chewing paper…Pica? Needs fiber?”

toilet paper and toilet paper tubes

Dig deeper into the forums and you’ll find that some cats are connoisseurs of particular varieties of cardboard and paper. One poster mentioned her cat’s proclivity for chewing diaper boxes, another loves paper towels, and yet another prefers paperback books. One bulletin board contributor complained that her cat was biting her daughter’s homework. Let’s see if her daughter’s teacher buys that excuse.

a jumble of cardboard boxes

While there are no scientific studies to explain cats’ penchant for chewing, shredding, or even eating paper and cardboard, there are some good theories that might explain this behavior.

knife

Wild cats do not have access to steak knives. In order to ingest prey they have just killed, they may have to break their meal into bite-sized pieces by ripping or shredding it. It is possible that our domesticated pets are seeking to indulge this natural behavior by ripping or shredding paper and cardboard.

veterinarian

Cardboard and Paper Shredding Could be Related to Teething or Health Concerns

Kittens have baby teeth just like human babies and it may feel good to them to chew on something with a little “give” as the adult teeth erupt. Anyone who has or has spent time around a teething human knows the value of those rubber teething rings.

Is your cat beyond the kitten years and still chewing cardboard? Perhaps he has irritated gums and rubbing them against cardboard feels good. Or perhaps your adult cat’s diet is lacking in some crucial nutrient. Other medical problems, such as thyroid issues, can also lead a cat to eat a non-food item. Check with your veterinarian if you are concerned about any of these things.

Biting or Chewing Paper and Cardboard Could be a Cat's Way of Marking or Claiming

Cats deliberately leave their scent on objects and humans, often by rubbing against the things they are claiming as their own. Biting or chewing an object might be a way that a cat says, “This box (or paper towel tube, or magazine) is mine.”

bored cat

Cats Can Chew Cardboard and Paper Out of Boredom or Anxiety

Do you have a very spirited cat or an anxious one? Perhaps, when she’s shredding up today’s mail she’s bored, or nervous, or looking for a way to expend some of that excess energy. Be sure to provide her with a variety of appropriate cat toys and engage her in play on a daily basis to be sure she’s getting what she needs from you.

Whatever the reasons behind your cat’s interest in paper and cardboard, observe him carefully. Is he playfully and harmlessly shredding and discarding the paper or cardboard, or is he ingesting it? Ingested non-food items can cause dangerous intestinal blockages, so keep paper and cardboard away from cats with a tendency to consume.

And finally, give some thought to the kinds of materials your cat puts in her mouth, even if she’s not actually eating it. What kinds of inks are on that paper? What has that shipping box come in contact with on the way to your house? Cat in the Box boxes are all made in the U.S.A. and the inks are soy-based and human grade.

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DAwn and Timmy
Dawn LaFontaine

Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.

Why are cats so crazy for catnip? - Cat in the Box LLC

Why are cats so crazy for catnip? Cats are dignified creatures. Even when they find themselves in the most undignified of circumstances (ever witness a cat leap for the top of the refrigerator and miss?) they manage to quickly recover their composure. Their dignity is part of their charm. But give a cat catnip and all bets are off.

Cats are dignified creatures. Even when they find themselves in the most undignified of circumstances (ever witness a cat leap for the top of the refrigerator and miss?) they manage to quickly recover their composure. Their dignity is part of their charm.

But give a cat catnip and all bets are off. Your noble feline becomes a dopey, drooling, graceless, goofball.

 

What is catnip?

catnip

Catnip is a plant, known as Nepeta cataria to scientists. It’s also known more colloquially as catmint, catswort, and field balm. Catnip is a member of the mint family and is related to other herbal plants like basil and oregano. The plant is originally from Europe and Asia, but settlers brought it with them to the United States for its medicinal uses.

In times past, people drank catnip tea to take the edge off. There is one account of a hangman who self-medicated with catnip tea to help him reconcile his personal ethics with his profession.[1] Native Americans were once known for using catnip to soothe colicky babies.[2]

Today, catnip grows wild along many American highways and byways. You’ll recognize catnip by its grayish-green leaves that are heart-shaped and covered in little hairs.

cat sniffing catnipNote that while you can buy catmint plants from a nursery today, those plants are mostly hybrids sold for their value as ornamental garden plants. Most contain very little of the active compound that attracts cats (more on this below) so you don’t have to worry about your yard becoming a magnet for all the wandering neighborhood felines.

 

catnipThe catnip plant produces a volatile oil (which means that it evaporates when exposed to air) in microscopic bulbs in its leaves, stems, and pods. When a cat rubs up against the plant or chews it, the tiny bulbs are crushed, releasing the oil.

The oil contains a chemical called nepetalactone, which is the substance believed to cause cats to react to catnip. Nepetalactone enters a cat’s nasal passages and binds to receptors there that send messages to the olfactory bulb in a cat’s brain.

cat sniffing dried catnipScientists don’t really know why cats respond exactly as they do to catnip, but they believe that a cat’s brain might interpret nepetalactone as a kind of pheromone. The rolling around and rubbing that is part of a cat’s behavior on catnip might be a kind of sexual response. Then again, these same scientists observed catnip-induced behavior that seemed be related to play, predation, and eating.[3] In other words, they don’t really know why cats behave the way they do around catnip.

Why doesn’t my cat like catnip?

Not every cat reacts to catnip. It turns out that reactivity to catnip is an inherited trait. It’s actually a dominant trait, meaning that if one or both parents are responsive to catnip, all of their kittens should be, too.[4] The Humane Society estimates that only 50% of cats will react to catnip.[5] Some estimates are a little higher, up to 80%, but the point is that not all cats respond to catnip.

You won’t know if your kitten inherited the catnip trait until she is at least three months old, but up to six months old, as very young cats don’t respond to catnip. Likewise, the effect seems to wear off as a cat ages with many senior cats having little to no response to the plant.

cat playing with catnip toyIf your cat isn’t turned on by catnip, you can try one of several other plants that have molecules similar to nepetalactone. Scientists only recently learned that catnip isn’t the only plant that has the “catnip effect” on cats.

Researchers studied three other plants: silver vine, Tatarian honeysuckle and valerian root on 100 cats (and even a few tigers and bobcats). Some of the cats who didn’t respond to catnip reacted to one of the other plants, and there were varying degrees of reactivity in all the cats – some reacting to one, two, three, or all four of the plants, and some reacting to none at all.

In case you were curious, the tigers didn’t seem to enjoy any of it, while the bobcats had a little party with the silver vine.[6]

Is catnip safe? Is my cat getting high on catnip?

siamese cat resting with tongue outSome cats get very excited and become very vocal when they’re playing with catnip. Some get agitated. Some zoom around the room while others growl and swat. Still others get quite mellow and calm when exposed to catnip and vocalize even less than normal.[7]

Whatever way your cat reacts, the effect seems to last for 10 minutes at the most, and it may be some time – at least 30 minutes, but up to 2 hours – until the cat seems to be able to respond again.

To the casual observer, a cat responding to catnip might remind the viewer of a human experiencing a euphoric high while using drugs. But your cat is not hallucinating and is in no danger of becoming addicted to catnip.

“Catnip doesn’t have any known long-term effects on a cat’s brain or any other part of her body, and it isn’t addictive,” Dr. Nancy Dunkle, founder of Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital in New Jersey told Petmd.com.[8]

cat playing with catnip toyFor humans to experience a high from recreational drugs they must ingest and metabolize them. Cats who react to catnip are not ingesting or metabolizing – they are responding to scent. Put another way, a cat reacting to catnip is actually reacting to an essential oil from the catnip plant (“essential oil” is another name for “volatile oil”). Scent can make humans feel a certain way, too, but our sense of smell is far inferior to our cats’ so perhaps we don’t respond quite so strongly.

Even though cats won’t respond to ingested catnip the way they do to the smell of catnip, they sometimes eat it anyway. It is considered non-toxic, although cats who eat too much may end up vomiting or having diarrhea.[9]

How to use and store catnip

Catnip can lose its potency over time as the essential oils in the plant dissipate very quickly. Keep your dried catnip in an airtight container in the freezer to help maintain freshness.

If your cat finds catnip sedating, use it to your and your cat’s advantage during stressful times, such as on a long trip in the car.

(For more information about traveling with cats in the car, read “Road trip! How to take my cat on a trip in the car”)

If your cat is the kind of cat who gets excited when exposed to catnip, use it to encourage certain behaviors. If, for example, you’re having trouble with a cat who scratches furniture, sprinkle some catnip on the scratching post you’d rather he used.

(To learn why cats scratch furniture, read, “Why do cats scratch furniture?”)

If you have a wary feline, sprinkle catnip freely to encourage your cat to explore new toys, or a new bed, for example.

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DAwn and Timmy
Dawn LaFontaine

Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.

 _______________

FOOTNOTES 

[1] Simply Catnip. “The History Of Catnip.” Simply Catnip, 5 Nov. 2015, catniptoy.co.uk/the-history-of-catnip/.

[2] “How Does Catnip Work Its Magic on Cats?” Scientific American, Scientific American, 29 May 2007, www.scientificamerican.com/article/experts-how-does-catnip-work-on-cats/.

[3] Hart, Benjamin L., and Mitzi G. Leedy. “Analysis of the Catnip Reaction: Mediation by Olfactory System, Not Vomeronasal Organ.” Behavioral and Neural Biology, Academic Press, 31 Oct. 2004, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0163104785911513.

[4] “Is Catnip a Drug for Cats?” PetMD, www.petmd.com/cat/care/catnip-drug-cats.

[5] “Crazy for Catnip.” The Humane Society of the United States, www.humanesociety.org/resources/crazy-catnip.

[6] R. Malik, A. Fawcett, et al. “Responsiveness of Cats ( Felidae ) to Silver Vine ( Actinidia Polygama ), Tatarian Honeysuckle ( Lonicera Tatarica ), Valerian ( Valeriana Officinalis ) and Catnip ( Nepeta Cataria ).” BMC Veterinary Research, BioMed Central, 1 Jan. 1970, bmcvetres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12917-017-0987-6.

[7] Weisberger, Mindy. “Does Catnip Really Make Cats 'High'?” LiveScience, Purch, 3 Nov. 2019, www.livescience.com/does-catnip-get-cats-high.html.

[8] “Is Catnip a Drug for Cats?” PetMD, www.petmd.com/cat/care/catnip-drug-cats.

[9] “Chemistry Behind Catnip.” Pet Poison Helpline, 6 Mar. 2020, www.petpoisonhelpline.com/blog/the-chemistry-of-catnip/.

Why do cats scratch furniture? - Cat in the Box LLC

So, why do cats scratch furniture? Just so you know, cats are not furry little interior designers who object to your taste in sectionals. Cats have a biological need to scratch and it just so happens that a nubby, vertical surface, like the arm of that brand new sofa you just ordered, makes for an almost perfect scratching post.

cat scratching sofaCats scratch furniture. They just do. And consequently, we cat owners do not always own the nicest things. Or maybe we do, but no one can tell. Our couches and love seats and ottomans and other upholstered things quickly look very different from the way they looked on the day they came off the delivery truck.

Do we care? Well, we still have the cats, even if we don’t have the sofas.

It’s important to understand why cats scratch furniture, though. For one, understanding cats is a worthy goal in itself. And second, it can help us make choices that create the behaviors we prefer in our cats.

cat on leather sofaSo, why do cats scratch furniture? Just so you know, cats are not furry little interior designers who object to your taste in sectionals. Cats have a biological need to scratch and it just so happens that a nubby, vertical surface, like the arm of that brand new sofa you just ordered, makes for an almost perfect scratching post.

So, why do cats scratch?

Humans don’t have a need to drag our fingernails down textured surfaces. Dogs don’t either. In fact, none of our other house pets big or small ever scratched anything, except the cats. Why do cats need to scratch?

Cats scratch to mark territory

The primary reason cats scratch is to announce themselves to other cats and to mark territory. Cats will leave behind both visual and scent markings that state clearly to other cats, “I was here and this place is mine.”

cat scratching furnitureScent is important in the cat world. Most mammals use scent as a means of communication with each other. Scent provides information about who the scent-leaver was including their gender and their status.[1]

Cats may spray urine on objects, or they may rub against objects to transfer scent from special, oily glands near their mouths, ears, and tails.

There are special glands on a cat’s paws, too. Scratching is an effective way to transfer scent from a cat paw to the couch.

Wild cats would scratch furniture, too, if they could

cougarOur house cats aren’t the only cats who scratch. Cougars will “claw rake” a tree, leaving behind vertical scratches on the trunk.[2]

One could argue, since these are highly visible markings, that cougars claw rake trees to leave a physical sign to other cougars, and that may be partly true. But cougars are frequently witnessed sniffing the scrapes of other cougars. Presumably smelling the rakes provide information that cannot be gathered by the visual marks alone.

lion scratching treeAfrican lions and tigers in the wild also leave large claw marks high up on trees. Researchers assume that the big cats want to send both scent and visual messages to other animals with these large marks.[3] We can assume that our own domesticated cats have retained this need to scratch vertical surfaces as a form of communication.

What are some other reasons cats scratch? 

cat on the sofaSome people believe there is more to a cat scratching furniture than communication. Some suggest that cats need to scratch to stretch muscles and tendons. A cat waking from a nap, for example, often wants a good scratch right after, as if their legs need a good flexing after tightening during a snooze. But declawed cats stretch after napping, too, and they don’t need their claws to do it, so there is less science behind this theory.[4]

Others suggest that scratching is a good way for a cat to keep their claws in good working order, as scratching helps remove the outer layers of the nail. But cats often bite this top layer of nail off – no scratching required. It's not clear that cats scratch furniture as a way of manicuring their nails.

How to discourage cats from scratching furniture

Regardless, cats who scratch furniture can be difficult to live with and it pays to find good, cat-friendly ways to discourage scratching on certain surfaces.

The best way is to provide appealing surfaces for scratching and make the surfaces you don’t want scratched unappealing.

How to make scratching posts more appealing

cat scratching postAppealing surfaces are cat-dependent: some cats prefer a vertical scratching post, others want a horizontal surface. Provide both and see which your cat gravitates to. Both kinds of posts need to be tall enough (at least 36” high) or long enough to allow the cat to stretch fully and have enough surface area: at least 6 to 8 inches wide. Note that smaller cats need smaller posts/larger cats need taller or longer ones, so these recommendations are just guidelines. Most cats seem to prefer flat boards, rather than cylindrical ones, and they like the corners or edges to be scratch-able as well.

Most cats like surfaces to be loosely woven, with a vertical weave, and easily shredded, even though many cat scratching posts are made of carpeting, which is neither. Many cats prefer a surface that is already shredded, so don’t be too quick to replace a post that seems worn to you.

Buy furniture that is less appealing

Sometimes providing a really great scratching surface is all you need to do to keep a cat away from your expensive new living room set. If not, you may have to work harder to make the furniture you care about more unappealing to your cat.

cat on microfiber couchFirst, if you know you have a cat who loves furniture, choose your pieces wisely. Cats love nubby surfaces, so consider something without a weave, like a thick, high-quality microfiber. Microfiber, also called ultrasuede, is made of tiny polyester and nylon threads that are bonded together and thus resistant to scratching. One of the disadvantages of microfiber is that it can be a magnet for cat hair, but this may be offset by the fabric’s stain resistance.

Leather may be a good covering choice, too, as it is smooth, resists cat hair, and is easy to wipe clean of urine or vomit. However, cat nails may leave scratches on the surface of the leather if your little athlete is skittering around the house and over the furniture at full speed. And cat nails can leave holes in leather, too. Little holes become bigger holes over time.

Make your existing furniture less appealing

foilIf you already have furniture you’re in love with, try covering it with something smooth, like a piece of tinfoil (double-sided tape can help it stay in place), or a bit of plastic floor runner. Sometimes floor runner turned pointy-side up works best. These are not necessarily attractive solutions from the homeowner’s point of view, but they may protect your investment in your furnishings. And you can always take the plastic floor runner off when company comes.

Other options when you are desperate

There are electronic scat mats that vibrate when the cat walks on it, and they may be worth a try if you’re stumped. Another option is spraying furniture with a citrus scent as cats find the odor unpleasant.

The most dedicated scratchers might benefit from a nail covering, like Soft Paws, which are applied over the natural nail with surgical glue. These can help keep damage from a scratching cat to a minimum, although they fall off naturally every few weeks and must be continuously replaced.

What not to do if your cat is scratching your furniture

Do not punish scratching cats. Period.

Furniture scratching is a natural behavior and punishing does not put an end to it. You may succeed in momentarily halting destructive behavior, but you may also damage trust between you and your pet at the same time.

Do not resort to declawing a scratching cat. Declawing can cause permanent, chronic pain in the paws and back, and lead to other behavioral problems, including litter-box issues. Do you and your cat a favor and do not create a bigger problem than you started with.

Love Pinterest? Here's a Pinterest-friendly pin for your boards! 

Why do cats scratch furniture?

DAwn and Timmy
Dawn LaFontaine

Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.

_______________

FOOTNOTES 

[1] Feldman, Hilary N. “Methods of Scent Marking in the Domestic Cat.” Canadian Journal of Zoology, vol. 72, no. 6, 1994, pp. 1093–1099., doi:10.1139/z94-147.

[2] “Feature Article: Sign of a Lion's Presence.” Mountain Lion Foundation, mountainlion.org/featurearticlesign.php.

[3] Poddar-Sarkar, Mousumi. “Pheromones of Tiger and Other Big Cats.” Neurobiology of Chemical Communication., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 1970, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK200978/.

[4] Estep, Ph.D., Daniel Q., and Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D. “Why Cats Scratch.” Cat Fancy, Mar. 1994.

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