Cat And Dog Behaviors That Have Fascinating Scientific Explanations

Scientists have broken down different odd behaviors that nearly all our fluffy friends exhibit, like why your pup tilts his head just so when you talk to him, or why your cat follows you into the bathroom. As it turns out, there is a rhyme and reason behind their quirks. With these experts’ findings, you’ll never have to wonder what in the world your “odd” dog is doing…

1. Although adorable, cats are natural predators, so they like to hide in places where they can observe others. Boxes help them do that, which is why they prefer cardboard to the very expensive bed you bought them.


2. If a dog approaches you and just starts licking your face, it’s not because you have food on your cheek; they’re trying to show you that they come in peace. You can try and reciprocate it, but that might be odd.


3. Has your cat ever made a strange, open-mouth face? It’s not because she’s shocked. Felines do something called flehmen, where they draw in air over their vomeronasal, an organ in their mouths. This lets them pick up different scents that their noses can’t.

Pet Meds

4. When humans yawn, it’s a physical response to being tired or bored. Dogs will yawn when they’re tired, yes, but they’ll also do so to express passive behavior in a group. If a dog feels comfortable, yawning is their way to say they aren’t aggressive and everything is cool.


5. A cat tongue has little spines on it to help them groom themselves and their family. It has a sandpaper feel, so it’s not always the best feeling in the world when they lick you. Be honored though, they’re grooming you because they think you’re family!

Blue Sky Science

6. The most heartwarming thing on the planet is when a dog looks at you with a tilted head and floppy ears. Scientists hypothesized they’re just trying to understand what you want from them. They might tilt their head to get a better look at your facial expression, or to adjust their ears to hear you better.


7. No one really knows why cats go completely bananas for catnip. But when catnip is ingested or smelled, it produces the chemical compound nepetalactone. When the molecule binds to the cat’s internal receptors, there is a physical response in the form of extreme vocals or squirmy bodies.

Andrew Marttila

8. It’s a dangerous game giving a dog a bath — you’re always in the splash zone! The obvious reason why dogs shake is to dry off, but this action goes back to their natural roots. If fur is wet, it doesn’t keep them warm, and they run the risk of losing body heat, which directly correlates to survival.

9. Have you ever caught your cat scratching at your walls, your furniture, or basically anything they can get their claws on? Cat paws have scent glands on them, so they scratch things to leave their scent behind. Essentially, they’re marking their territory and warning others to stay away.

For Birds Only

10. If a dog picks up an interesting scent, they’ll roll around in it so that it attaches itself to them. It’s believed that this is a leftover trait from their wolf ancestors, who would bring a scent back to their pack. Basically, you’re family and your dog just wants to share what they found with you.

K9 Turf

11. Another reason why dogs will rub their bodies on grass or carpets is to remove a scent they don’t like. For example, if you bathe them with a shampoo that has a strong smell, they might try to remove it by rubbing their body on something else. They might also be trying to tell you their skin is irritated.

Pet MD

12. Cats who spend part of the time outside will eat grass even though it makes them throw up. They do this on purpose, though. It helps them remove any unwanted material from their digestive tracts, like bones or hairballs.


13. Household dogs tend to follow their owners everywhere, including the bathroom. While humans understand that at certain times you need privacy, dogs see it differently: they like to be with their pack (you). You protect them, and they protect you.

Inside Dogs World

14. When a dog’s tail wags it means they’re happy…well, not always. If their tail is low and wagging, it means they’re uncertain of the situation they’re in. If their tail wags mostly left, that means do not approach; a right-biased wag means please approach.


15. Cats only meow to humans and not other cats. While kittens will meow to their mothers, adult cats will only hiss, growl, or scent mark each other. If your cat is meowing at you, they’re either trying to tell you that they’re hungry, want some lovin’, or just want you to acknowledge them.


16. A majority of cats will show you their belly and then attack you when you try to rub it. They don’t actually like their belly’s rubbed, but they are showing you they trust you. So when you reach for it, you’re breaking their trust. Try petting their head instead.

17. A lot of dogs will circle before they lay down to take a nap. This is because, in the wild, circling helps pat down grass and expel any insects in an area they’d want to sleep in. It’s just another leftover evolutionary trait dogs have — they’re just trying to get comfortable!

Pet Life Today

18. Cats tend to sleep a lot during the day not because they’re lazy, but because it’s a way that wild cats conserve energy for hunts. They power down in a light sleep mode so that they can easily wake up if they need to.

Jane Friedman

19. A dog on their back can oftentimes indicate submissive behavior, but when they’re playing it’s all about strategy. Sometimes they roll over to avoid a bite, and sometimes they roll over to give a bite. If a big dog is playing with a small dog, they’ll get on their back to give the smaller dog a fair chance.

Classical Mechanics

20. A dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times better than humans’, and they use their noses to interpret information. When dogs meet an unfamiliar dog, they tend to use their noses to sniff around the dog’s bum. This is because glands in that area secrete scents that determine reproductive status, health, emotional state, etc.


21. There are many theories about why cats knead their paws into you, but many researchers agree that they’re trying to return the affection that you’re showing them. They just don’t know that it actually hurts.

cat-behavior-1Celeste Lindell/Flickr

22. Chewing relieves a lot of stress, so if your dog is chewing through your personal belongings like crazy, it’s probably because they’re experiencing separation anxiety and trying to cope with it.

23. Those sad-yet-adorable puppy dog eyes means your best friend loves you: Constant eye contact is practically the same thing as receiving a kiss from your pooch. So when you see this glance coming your way, you’re doing the right thing.

0f9c71f08cf48103cf7b2fdac2587cd8_doglove9B Rosen

24. If your dog brings you a ball or a toy, they might not want you to throw it: In fact, that might hurt their feelings—dogs bring you their favorite things so that you can enjoy them. So get ready to play with any toys they bring your way!

c1093aa70ded50a2256ecdf9c98d0b34_doglove3Martijn Vandalen

25. If your pup prefers your room to her own bed or crate when she goes to sleep at night, then that’s proof you’re number one in her heart: She just wants to spend as much time with you as possible, even if that means sleeping while doing so!


26. You might not relish getting tackled when you get home from the office each night, but that’s just your dog showing you that you’re the center of his world: “Make way, I’m coming to see my best friend and I don’t care who knows it!” your dog is basically saying to you.

632a20c33ca9aae2399ce1b3033664b9_doglove1Jerry Reynolds

27. A cat’s unending stare can be a little bit disconcerting, but don’t fret. First of all, they’re not really staring. Their eyes are evolved to blink less frequently than ours. But more than that, a steady, soft gaze means that they feel safe and comfortable with you.

staring-catWikimedia Commons

28. You might feel guilty when you catch your dog quietly staring at you before you leave the house, but fear not: Their calmness when they know you’re leaving is just further proof that they trust you and know you’re coming back.


29. Cats nip and nibble at us all the time, but it’s far from an aggressive gesture. Cats do the same when they’re grooming their kittens, so it’s much more likely that they think of you with the same affection.

30. Want to know what your dog is feeling at any given time? Just take a look at their eyes: Studies have shown dogs are more expressive with their eyes when trying to communicate with their owners. This little guy looks like he wants a treat, yeah?


31. Does your dog prefer cuddling with you after each of their meals? That’s another sign that you’re their number one friend: Just be sure not to give them any stinky food, because if you’re cuddling for the night, you’ll want it to be aroma free.

5937590e4cf9edc237e54c6ad1545ff0_doglove8Ramsey Beyer

32. When cats rub their head against you, they’re marking you as one of their own with the concentrated scent glands in their cheeks and head. Congratulations, you’re family.


33. Have you ever noticed a dog leaning on you when you’re sitting on the couch or standing in the kitchen? Well, it turns out dogs only lean against you because they can’t physically hug you: This is the closest they can physically get. Just make sure they haven’t rolled around in paint first!


34. A flick of the tongue? Your puppy is trying to tell you that they’re sorry for their naughtiness: See that look of innocence? They’re simultaneously hoping you’ll forgive them for what they’ve done out of the kindness of your heart… and because they’re so cute.

Daniel Fleming / Flickr

35. If your dog can’t seem to find a better place to sit than on your feet, then that’s a sign he wants to protect you: The moment you feel you need to escape the situation, they’ll feel your foot move and instantly know it’s go time.

36. Your cat’s tail is a strong indicator of their mood. The higher they carry it, the more content and happy they are. And if they’re feeling really affectionate, they’ll wrap it around you.

37. A dog chewing on furniture or other objects isn’t just being a punk—she just needs more exercise and activity is all: So, if it’s been a while since you last took your dog outside, use this opportunity to go for a stroll and catch up with your pal.


38. If you can get your cat purring, it means that they’re very happy with you and with what you’re doing.


39. A yawn doesn’t just mean dogs are sleeping: A yawn could also mean they are feeling anxious. It’s important to be able to read the situation. If you’re out in public, it’s a good sign they’re nervous about their surroundings.


40. Sure, it’s kind of gross when cats bring dead animals into the house, but they do it because they consider you family – and they’re trying to teach you how to catch your own prey.


41. We’re all familiar with purring, which is another classic signal that your cat is feeling content. Still, there’s something deeper going on when they start revving their engines — a message that you might not be aware of .

Cats don’t purr to communicate with other cats; they only do it for humans. That means your pet is specifically telling you how happy they are. You should also be on the lookout for these other sounds.

42. Beyond purrs and meows, your cat might occasionally make a high-pitched gurgling sound. It can sound pretty alarming if you aren’t expecting it, but don’t be afraid; it’s just another way of trying to tell you something.

Cats gurgle when they’re feeling upbeat and social, so the sound is a positive sign. Your pet is just trying to chill out and have a friendly chat. Another way of communicating can get a bit violent, however.

Royal Canin

43. Have you ever been minding your own business when your cat runs over and headbutts you? Seems pretty rude, right? Heck if a human tried that it would be time to call the cops! But there’s a deeper meaning to that strange gesture when cats do it.

Cats use scent glands in their head to mark their territory, meaning a headbutt is actually quite affectionate. Your pet is telling other cats that you are her person! Daaww, how sweet is that? Now moving on to biting…

44. Cats are predators, which means they have some pretty sharp teeth. So when they turn those fangs on you, it has to mean something bad is going on, right? Like maybe they are really unhappy with the new dry food you’ve been dishing out?

Vet Times

While an aggressive bite is obviously a negative sign, gentle nibbles are a demonstration of love. Your cat is just telling you that he appreciates your presence; after all, he’s choosing to bite you playfully instead of forcefully.

45. After biting, the obvious place to go is licking. If the former is a playful mark of endearment, what is your kitty trying to say with her scratchy tongue rather than her teeth?

Have you ever seen apes grooming their relatives? Well that’s what’s happening when your cat tries to clean up your hand or hair! She’s identified you as part of the family and wants to help take care of you.

46. If you ever see your cat flopped on the floor with his belly facing up, he’s not just being lazy. In fact, there’s a deeper significance to the pose that you might not realize…

South Boston Animal Hospital

The phrase “soft underbelly” is grounded in reality; an animal’s stomach is a weak point that they try to protect. If your cat lets you touch that sensitive area, that means he trusts you completely.

Leftyscoober/ Reddit

47. You probably know not to touch your cat’s tail, but did you know he’s using it to communicate? A bushy tail, for example, is a sign of distress, while a waving tail has another meaning.

Cats really don’t wag their tail, but they do flick it back and forth to show happiness. If your furry friend is feeling especially affectionate, they’ll even curl their tail around you like a hug.

48. Have you ever woken up to find your cat has left a dead mouse or her favorite toy on your bed? It’s like a scene from The Godfather (only minus the mob activity). These “presents” aren’t the type of gift you might think, though.

Beth Wilson/ Twitter

While your cat isn’t giving you a gift out of appreciation, the gesture is still a mark of trust. Cats bring their prey back home so they can eat it safely; leaving it near you means that you’re someone who won’t steal their stuff.

49. Cats might not be interested in going for walks and playing fetch, but they have been known to follow their owners around. But do they do it for the same reason as dogs?

No matter the species, physical proximity is a show of affection. If your independent cat is always near you, especially when there’s food available in another room, he really loves you.

Gumbi88/ Reddit

50. Cats can be pretty aloof, so there’s nothing unusual about your pet lounging alone and surveying the entire room. But if your pal looks at you and starts slowly blinking, he’s giving you an important message.

Slow blinking is a sign of comfort and love. It’s a signal that cats use to tell each other everything is OK, so, if you see it, your buddy is feeling pretty good. There are some other ways they communicate, too…

51. Whether you call it kneading, making biscuits, or anything else, most cat owners have felt this one. When a cat presses her paws into you, they’re trying to tell you something major about your relationship…

52. If cat vs. dog intelligence has ever been debated, consider it resolved: Cats have 300 million neurons in their brains, while dogs have just 160 million. In fact, a cat’s brain is considered to be extremely similar to a human’s brain, so expect a feline uprising any day now.

53. Since whiskers detect distances and movements by the air’s vibration, they’re actually crucial to a cat’s survival in the outdoors. So don’t be too scared if your cat runs off — they have survival tools built right into their bodies!

54. What’s the deal with cats and catnip? Cats naturally have the scent of catnip binded to their nasal passages, so when they get a whiff of the herb, it stimulates the sensory receptors in their brains — and makes them act a little lovey-dovey.

55. It’s no secret that cats spend a majority of the day sleeping. We’re actually pretty jealous of just how long a cat can sleep for, which is at least 12-16 hours a day. Cats just don’t know how lucky they are! 

56. Did you know that cats have dominant paws? Females are more likely to use their right paws while males usually prefer their left. No word yet on if the whole “right brain, left brain” thing exists with cats!

57. The rumors are true, cats can change color! Well, maybe not in the way you’re thinking. Siamese cats have a gene modifier that technically makes them albino, but when they’re introduced to high temperatures, portions of their fur turns gray or even black. 

58. If you want your cat to stop leaping onto the kitchen table, try spraying them with lemon water. Cats are picky eaters and are especially sensitive to bitter and citrus-y flavors, so they’ll quickly learn to avoid the lemony spray. 

59. The next time your partner scolds you for taking too long in the shower, bring up this fact: cats spend 30%-50% of the day cleaning their bodies! Much like us with showering, grooming improves a cat’s circulation and prevents any unseemly odors. 

60. A purring cat can be totally soothing when you’re in a bad mood, but the sound has other surprising healing properties as well. Purring can be restorative to a cat’s health, and it even helps heal problems with bones and tissues. 

61. Be careful when considering a major lifestyle change with your cat. Studies have shown that something as simple as a change in routine can negatively impact a cat’s immune system and make it sick. Even a healthy cat can be affected!

62. Cats really do have 9 lives, and it’s thanks to their interesting bodies. Cats have a “straightening reflex,” meaning that some of the tiny balancing-organs in their ears help tell a cat when they’ll hit the ground and how to land on their feet. 

63. At night, cats often choose to sleep in spots that are high-up and hidden in an effort to remain unseen by potential predators. This is just more proof that modern-day cats are not so different from cats in ancient times!

64. We all know that people can be allergic to cats, but did you know that some cats can be allergic to people? It’s estimated that approximately 1 in 200 cats suffers from asthma caused by dusty and unkempt living conditions. Luckily, cat inhalers exist.

65. If you’ve stepped on your cat’s tail, the high-pitched shriek and bared fangs you get in return is exactly what you’d see in a stray. A cat’s DNA never changes, so when threatened they revert right back to the wild ways of their ancestors. 

66. Humans are unique in how we all have different fingerprints, and the same can be said for cats…sort of. Believe it or not, the sure-fire identifier for a cat is actually its nose! Who knew those little noses were so complex?

67. It may sound like the only thing your cat does is meow and purr, but felines can actually produce about 100 sounds! This certainly furthers the “cats are smarter than dogs” argument, considering how dogs only produce about 10 sounds.

68. Cats need seven times less light than humans to see, especially during the daylight hours. This explains why some cats naturally gravitate towards dimly-lit rooms or closets. It’s also why they’re more energetic at night — they can simply see things easier!

69. There’s another reason cats are so bendy, and it’s not because they’ve been exercising! Felines are born without clavicles, which means they don’t have to worry about bulky bones impeding their movement. This makes them experts when it comes to slinking through narrow passages!

70. If your cats aren’t BBFs, there’s a reason why. Cats develop a “secret language” with humans, a language they do not share with any other cat living in the same space. This means no cuddling and no mingling — they’re basically just acquaintances!

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