Why Are Cats So Curious: Science Explains This Feline Trait - Traveling With Your Cat (2023)

Cats are definitely a species apart. To most people, cat behavior is the ultimate source of mystery. While dog behavior makes perfect sense most of the time, the majority of cat behavior often leaves owners confused and bewildered.

Even the cutest cat behavior traits – smelling shoes, chasing string, climb chimneys, crawling inside shopping bags – don’t seem to add up to anything their humans understand.

Why are cats so curious? What could be driving these well-documented feline behaviors? Is there a reason or is it just your cat being a cat? Learn why cats are so curious now!

Why Are Cats So Curious

Cats are curious because this trait helps them survive. Feline curiosity keeps a cat’s senses sharp for hunting, finding mates, seeking out shelter, staying warm, and caring for the young.

Watch Cute Cats Being Curious

In this YouTube video, you can watch cats being as cat-like as it gets – these cats are endlessly curious about anything and everything in their environment.

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What Curiosity Looks Like for a Wild Cat

According to Charlottesville Cat Care Clinic, the genome (genetic makeup) of the typical domestic pet cat is a whopping 95 percent, wild tiger!

When you think about cat curiosity this way, it becomes easier to assume that feline curiosity has a wild useful purpose even if you don’t yet know what that purpose may be.

For example, for a wild cat, exploring their world helps the cat know where resources are located and where danger lurks.

The curious wild cat is a cat with all instincts on high alert all the time. In the wild, a cat has to find food, water, and shelter daily and compete with other cats and many other animals for the best resources.

It is in captivity when these same curious instincts often don’t seem to make any sense. But if you watch your pet cat and imagine they are wild, you may start to see your cat’s curious behaviors differently.

What Do Curious Cats Think About Their Humans

According to Wired, pet cats pretty much think that human behavior is far stranger than their own behavior.

Pet cats also find human behavior stressful at times – so much so that feline researchers have been able to link some feline health conditions to living in a human family where there is a lot of stress.

Since the cat behaviors that often look so strange to humans actually serve a useful purpose for the cat, attempts to discourage these behaviors cause your cat stress.

And a stressed-out cat is more likely to become a sick cat over time.

Cats that claw furniture, spray mark their territory on table legs or walls, eliminate away from a dirty litter box or leap from the tops of cabinets, refrigerators or shelves are just being cats.

So when their human yells, squirts water, ban them to a separate room, or ignores them, this just causes more stress.

Match Each Curious Cat Behavior With Its Wild Equivalent

As ASPCA points out, researchers that study wild cat behavior can shed more light on some of the curious and crazy behaviors cat owners observe in their pet cats.

What would these seemingly crazy behaviors look like if we matched them up with their wild equivalent? Let’s find out!

Crawling into tiny bags and boxes or seeking out high spaces

When a wild cat crawls into a tiny space, there is a strategic purpose. That small space has only one narrow entry and exit point. It is easy to keep watch and impossible for any threat to go undetected.

Cats seek out high spaces for the same basic reasons. In a wild setting, a cat might choose to sleep up high in a bush or tree or even a spiky cactus. In your home, a high refrigerator, cabinet, or shelf will accomplish the same security purpose.

Smiling or sneering at nothing

PetMD explains the particularly perplexing behavior pet cats exhibit when they sneer or smile at nothing in particular.

When a wild cat makes this facial expression, there is a very important sensory reason. The smile/sneer, where the lips curl up and part, opens the mouth so air can travel in and up to the roof of the mouth where Jacobson’s organ is located.

The Jacobson’s organ sorts through the scent markers and sends the important data up to the brain. Important data can include who else has been in the area, whether there are any available mates nearby and what’s for dinner.

Head butting

The scientific term for head butting is actually bunting. As Cat Behavior Associates explains, wild cats use head bunting to deposit scent pheromones and mark safe individuals.

Your pet cat will butt heads with you to deposit these same scent markers as an indication you are part of their safe zone.

Tail wagging

Tail wagging is simple to understand when your pet dog is doing it. But in cats, tail wagging is a complicated behavior at best.

Cats use their tails like a standalone form of communication. Tail wagging typically either signifies irritation, curiosity, or aggression (as in predatory behavior).

Rarely, tail wagging may be a symptom of a rare neurological condition called hyperesthesia syndrome.

Drinking from a running faucet

Wild cats learn early in life that running water is likely to be safer to drink than stagnant water.

So when your pet cat ignores their water bowl in favor of an open tap or even the tub spout, they are likely just trying to choose the safest way to stay hydrated.

Some cats are also attracted to the movement of running water, which is a good tip to tuck away when you are struggling to get your cat to drink enough!

Bringing you stinky dead “presents”

Live Science explains one particularly unwelcome pet cat trait – bringing home presents in the form of dead birds, squirrels, mice, or rats.

Wild mother cats will teach their young to hunt by bringing home injured or dead prey so the kittens can practice.

Scientists theorize that pet cats have the best of intentions by presenting these prey animals so you, their person, can learn to hunt.

Waking up and getting active after nightfall

As Smithsonian Magazine highlights, wild cat will adapt their daily routine to optimize hunting success.

Many prey animals such as mice, rats, and small lizards will become more active under the cover of the dark in hopes of foraging for food undetected.

So when your house cat starts to get their second wind as the sun goes down, you can understand that this is simply an instinct left over from their wild cat days.

Chattering to themselves

As The Drake Center for Veterinary Care points out, chattering is thought to be a preparatory display to heighten predatory instincts while hunting.

When your pet cat does it while watching a bird or squirrel outside the window, it may be a sign of frustrated hunting instincts.

Did Curiosity Ever Kill a Cat for Real

Curiosity killed the cat is one of those overused cliches that no cat owner enjoys hearing.

As Interesting Literature highlights, the phrase originally had more of a “care kills the cat” connotation, with care meaning worry or sorrow.

In truth, a cat’s curiosity is a trait that evolved to help cats survive in the wild.

Why Are Cats So Curious: Science Explains This Feline Trait - Traveling With Your Cat (1)

Why Are Cats So Curious: Science Explains This Feline Trait - Traveling With Your Cat (2)

Alexa Carlton

Hi, This is Alexa, and I love cats. This Website is a Complete Journal about how to travel with a cat and other information about Cat Health, Cat Training, Cat Behavior, Cat Foods and more. I hope you find it useful.


Why Are Cats So Curious: Science Explains This Feline Trait - Traveling With Your Cat? ›

Even though the Egyptians domesticated the cat thousands of years ago, our fuzzy felines share genes with their ancient ancestors. A cat's curiosity is born out of a natural instinct to assess their environment for prey and predators.

Why are cats called curious? ›

It's Their Instinct & Prey Drive

“Cats must always be aware of what is going on in their surroundings. They can't afford to miss an opportunity to eat, but they must also be cautious of any dangers,” she says. Constant observation, investigation, and learning (curiosity!) is a tool felines use for survival.

What do they say about curious cats? ›

While you've probably heard the phrase “curiosity kills the cat,” the fact is, curiosity is what has kept their species alive for centuries. A kitty's curiosity comes in many forms, from trying to wedge themselves into small places, to watching our every move, to observing their worlds from a high vantage point.

What are some scientific facts about cats? ›

Cats are believed to be the only mammals who don't taste sweetness. Cats are nearsighted, but their peripheral vision and night vision are much better than that of humans. Cats are supposed to have 18 toes (five toes on each front paw; four toes on each back paw). Cats can jump up to six times their length.

Why are cats observant? ›

Cats are incredibly curious by nature and they always want to know what's going on. It could be just that they're observing you to see if you're going to do anything interesting. Cats are visual hunters and when they go outdoors, they're on high alert, keeping their keen eyes peeled for anything moving.

Why is my cat so curious about other cats? ›

Cats are naturally curious creatures driven by their instincts, according to the science behind cat curiosity. Their intelligence, opportunistic nature, heightened sense of awareness, hunting behavior, and protective instincts all contribute to their curiosity.

What cat is the most curious? ›

Animal expert and communicator Libby Brittain praises Siamese cats as “inquisitive and intelligent.” Aloof, these cats are not—they're known as one of the most curious breeds, if not the most curious, and often take interest in what their humans are up to.

Why do cats have so much curiosity? ›

Natural Born Instincts

A cat's curiosity is born out of a natural instinct to assess their environment for prey and predators.

Is a Curious Cat a happy cat? ›

Happy cats are confident, curious and like interacting with others. Happy cats feel at ease when being handled and it does not cause them stress. Some of them even allow humans to rub their tummies, a very good indication that kitty feels safe and happy.

Can Curious Cat be trusted? ›

But is Curious Cat legit and safe? This is a valid question because you need to make sure you are not wasting your time using an app that doesn't really pay you. Fortunately, Curious Cat is a legit mobile app that does pay its members for completing the tasks it offers.

What colors can cats see? ›

Cats' two color-detecting cones let them see blue-violet and yellow-green wavelengths of light, but not red-orange. So, similar to dogs, cats mainly see things in shades of yellow, gray, and blue tinges, but some researchers think that cats may also notice some shades of green.

What are 3 interesting facts about cats? ›

Here are 20 Facts About Cats that you might not have known.
  • As kittens they have 26 deciduous, or “baby”, teeth. ...
  • House cats share 95.6% of their genetic makeup with tigers. ...
  • Cats can jump 5 times their own height. ...
  • A housecat can run to the speed of about 30 mph over short distances.

Are cats color blind? ›

Cats and dogs are colour blind

To see in full colour as we know it, humans use three cones – red, blue and green. However cats and dogs only have blue and green cones. This means they have a much more muted perception of colour, which is akin to colour blindness in humans.

How long can a cat remember a person? ›

Conclusion. Cats absolutely remember people, environments and events. They recognize the faces of those who treat them well and with love for up to 10 years. Cats also form strong negative memories and will avoid people, sounds, environments and situations associated with traumatic moments in their lives.

What do cats think when we leave? ›

They might not be as demanding of an owner's time and attention as dogs, but cats are social animals with important needs. In fact, when they are apart from the people they love, cats feel separation anxiety, just like dogs and other pets.

What is the IQ of a house cat? ›

Within the encephalization quotient proposed by Jerison in 1973, values above one are classified big-brained, while values lower than one are small-brained. The domestic cat is attributed a value of between 1–1.71; relative to human value, that is 7.44–7.8.

Why do cats tilt their heads when curious? ›

Cats will tilt their heads to one side when they are closely studying something or listening for movement. Cats can accurately judge distance when they bring one ear closer to a sound. Tilting their head can help, because their brains triangulate distance based on when a sound signal hits each ear independently.

What age are cats most curious? ›

The youngest stage of a cat's life is the kitten phase which spans from 0-6 months old. At this stage, they are the most curious and playful.

Why are pets curious? ›

They use their curiosity to learn and acquire the necessary skills for adulthood. If they do not learn these skills or are unable to learn certain behaviours, they will unfortunately not reach adulthood. Thus, being playful and curious is a necessity for animals.

Why are some animals so curious? ›

The personality trait of curiosity has been shown to increase welfare in humans. If this positive welfare effect is also true for non-humans, animals with high levels of curiosity may be able to cope better with stressful situations than their conspecifics.

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