Cat Behaviour

Have you ever wondered why cats rub up against people and why they flick their tails? In our segment those questions were answered by Dr Judith Blackshaw, a leading expert in animal behaviour. Judith also explained the reasons behind other common cat antics.


People think that cats show affection when they rub against their owners, but Judith says they are really being territorial. Cats inspect their territories every day. They reinforce their ownership of objects, people and doorways by head and cheek rubbing. Cats have scent glands along the tail, each side of the forehead and also on the lips and chin. By re-marking everything in its territory at regular intervals, a cat is ‘networking’ or keeping in contact with its environment.

Tail flicking

It is commonly believed that when a cat flicks its tail it is angry. However, research into feline behaviour shows that when a cat is flicking its tail it is actually thinking about what it’s going to do next. It may be deciding whether it will pounce, or it may decide nothing interesting is going to happen and sleep is the best option. Then the cat will lie down and its tail will stop waving back and forth.


Every cat owner knows that cats love boxes. Judith thinks this might be a sort of ‘evolutionary hangover’, related to nesting behaviour in the wild. Boxes give cats a sense of enclosure and security; they know they can curl up in a box and rest in safety. Cats are also very curious animals, and this curiosity helps them to survive in the wild. Wanting to see what’s in a box is simply part of that survival mechanism.


People often think that animals aren’t very good at problem solving. However, Judith is sure that they are, and she says that cats are particularly good at working out strategies for getting whatever they want. In our segment we showed Chester, the Scottish Fold, drinking out of a glass. This is an example of clever cat behaviour. Chester had to push his face right into the glass and really stretch his tongue to drink, and he tipped the glass over to get at the last bit of liquid at the bottom.