Have you ever wondered why your pet cat rubs up against your legs, kneads your thighs with its forepaws or sleeps on top of a wardrobe? These, and many other behaviours, can be attributed to the tiger lurking within your pet tigger.
A recent report conducted by feline experts Whiskas has established close links between domestic cat behaviour and behaviours exhibited by their wild big cat cousins.
The report also revealed some startling statistics about the way cat owners relate to their pets.
Over a thousand owners were involved in a survey that investigated regularly observed behaviours around the home and garden and also asked how owners responded to their pets. Some of the results were startling! Over 95% of cat owners considered their pet as part of the family. And a surprising one in 10 admitted to preferring having a cuddle with their cat than with their partner!
Many cat owners maintain that stroking their pet reduces feelings of stress and this has been born out by empirical study that correlates a reduction in blood pressure among people who regularly look after and show affection to their pets.
One of the most tangible illustrations of owners recognising the similarities between domestic cats and their wild counterparts is when it comes to naming them, with Tigger and Tiger being among the favourites!
As someone who has spent a great deal of the past 30 years watching and filming the big cats of the world, chiefly in Kenya and India, I was asked to analyze some of the most regularly witnessed domestic cat behaviour to see if there were indeed any patterns which echoed that of their big cat cousins.
A common observation was that of cats rubbing against their owners' legs with their temples, cheeks and flanks, especially as meals were being prepared. The cat is in fact scent marking, using special glands in their face and sides, and in so doing they are reinforcing a 'family' scent. Very similar behaviour can be seen in lions, particularly when subordinate females or youngsters greet more dominant animals in the pride. As the subordinate lion approaches it lowers its head slightly, often raises its tail and then pushes its head into and along that of the more dominant colleague. The importance of establishing a clan or family scent for these sociable cats is key to the avoidance and diffusion of aggression. And woe betide any intruder that does not bear the familiar smell! When your domestic cat scent marks you it is showing its confidence and comfort in being close to you and at the same time recognising your dominance in the relationship. In short, it's a cat compliment.
Many owners observed their pet cat choosing to rest on a high point like the top of a cupboard, and some said that their cat preferred to eat from a bowl that was raised above ground level. This again is echoed by one of their big cat cousins, the African leopard, which in parts of its range regularly climbs trees to rest and may haul meals up into the branches too. This is a defence strategy, avoiding contact and conflict with other predators, especially hyenas and lions. When your pet cat seeks a high point it is responding to an ancestral urge to get out of the way of trouble that may lurk on the ground.
Padding, or kneading with the forepaws is another behaviour often witnessed in pet cats, especially when they are lying comfortably on their owners' laps. This action stems from infantile behaviour, when nursing kittens rhythmically knead their mothers' mammary glands to stimulate milk flow. 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, and it is this that leads to the perpetuation of this padding behaviour. The same can be said of play behaviour, with many pet cats remaining very playful with their owners well into adulthood, a pattern of behaviour that generally wanes soon after adolescence in wild cat populations.
So much of the charm of living with a cat can be attributed to the close connection many have with the wild side of their character, whilst continuing to surprise and amuse us with their sense of fun, trust and independent character.
To find out more about the big instincts in your little cat and for top tips on how to embrace their inner tiger visit