Cats are famously stoic, which can make managing illness and pain difficult for their human carers — so anxious pet parents will appreciate this new study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior.
Researchers at the University of Córdoba in Spain have identified key cat behaviors to tell humans that their feline friend isn’t feeling well.
“Understanding normal behavior helps improve animal welfare, and especially so with cats, whose antics can be as mystifying as they’re cute,” said lead study author David Minor-Campos.
“When cat owners understand what’s normal and what’s abnormal for their pet, they can spot warning signs and address behavioral or health issues before they become too severe.”
So if your cat seems off, don’t take it purr-sonally. Curiosity may have killed the cat but an observant owner can watch out for signs of potential illness in their pet.
Researchers found that the following seven behaviors may indicate a sick kitty: spraying, frantic licking, not using the litter box, self-mutilation, attacking legs and feet, chewing on objects and growling or hissing when being petted.
They interviewed 816 cat owners about how frequently their cats displayed various healthy and unhealthy behaviors and rated each on a scale ranging from never to always. The most unusual and rarely exhibited behaviors, researchers deduced, would likely suggest the animal is mentally or physically ailing.
The scientists found that the least common behavior was “spraying,” a form of urine marking outside of the litterbox. Over 90% of owners said their cat never exhibited signs of spraying.
The next least common behavior is frantic licking or chewing, which 83% of owners reported never happened.
The most common behavior in cats included being curious about new objects and surroundings, which was reported by 82% of owners, as well as purring when being petted, which 81% of owners observed.
The study found that female cats tended to act more aggressively than male cats and were scared more often. Male cats were more vocal than female cats and also friendlier to people. Gender was just one of the potential behavioral influences in the common household pet.
“There are significant differences in cats’ behavior related to various factors, including the cat’s breed, sex, reproductive status, age of acquisition, source of acquisition, and the environment in which they live,” the authors said.
“Other factors that may affect cat behavior include the type of home, sleep preferences, time alone, and the presence of other pets in the household,” they added.
The study said that behavior issues in domestic cats are common, and by having clear signs, owners can stop pussyfooting around symptoms and reach out to a veterinarian.