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Pet Cats Exhibit Many Behaviors of Felines in the Wild

Wild Cat

Story at-a-glance -

  • Simon King, host of BBC’s Big Cat Diary, has spent 30 years filming wild cats in Kenya and India. In an article for the Huffington Post, King compares common pet cat behaviors with the behavior of big cats in the wild.
  • Scent marking is a common behavior in pet cats that seems to have derived from lions in the wild. Its purpose is to establish a “family scent” among members of the pride.
  • Both domestic and wild cats like to rest on high perches, away from dangers (real or perceived) on the ground.
  • Pet cats maintain certain behaviors throughout adulthood that are not seen in wild cats after adolescence.

By Dr. Becker

Simon King, host of BBC’s Big Cat Diary, has spent three decades observing and filming wild cats in Kenya and India. In an article written for the Huffington Post, King takes a look at common housecat behavior and how it compares to the behavior of big cats in the wild.

Scent Marking

If you’re owned by a cat, you’re probably very familiar with the way kitties like to rub up against their human’s legs – especially at chow time. But did you know your cat is actually using special glands in his face and other locations on his body to scent-mark you as part of his family?

According to King, lions in the wild exhibit a very similar behavior, especially when subordinate females or younger animals meet up with more dominant lions in the pride. When a subordinate lion comes upon a dominant lion, she lowers her head, lifts her tail, and rubs her head against the other animal. Establishing a “family scent” as she is doing is important in preventing and diffusing aggression among lions in the group. All members of a pride must bear the family scent in order to steer clear of trouble.

According to King, when your own cat scent-marks you he is expressing his confidence and comfort in being close to you while simultaneously acknowledging your dominance in the relationship. (This is interesting, since many cat parents feel owned by their pets rather than the other way around!)

Resting on High

Another behavior many cat owners have witnessed is their kitty perched on something high, for example, the highest level of a cat tree, the top shelf of a closet, the back of a chair – even the top of the fridge.

King says this behavior is also seen in the wild in the African leopard, who climbs trees to rest or even eat a meal. This is clearly a strategy employed by felines to avoid danger and keep watch over what’s happening on the ground. African leopards climb to high perches to prevent contact and conflict with predators, in particular hyenas and lions. When your kitty finds a high surface on which to perch, she’s responding to her natural instinct to find a resting place where she’ll be least vulnerable to dangers on the ground. 

Pet Cats Maintain Certain Behaviors That Wild Cats Outgrow

According to King, two behaviors practiced by domestic cats throughout their lives are not seen in wild cats after adolescence. These are kneading with the forepaws, and play behavior. He believes that, “Over thousands of years of domestication we have encouraged cats to maintain much of their kitten-like relationship, with ourselves playing the role of surrogate parents.”

In his opinion, this is why pet cats continue to knead (which he believes is the infantile behavior of nursing kittens), and play well into adulthood, unlike their wild counterparts.

One of the most fascinating things about pet cats is that despite how well they’ve adapted to living indoors with humans, we frequently sense we are sharing our lives with creatures still very much in touch with their wild nature.

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