Monday, February 22, 2016

Cats' Instinctive Behavior

Cats' instinctive behaviors are fascinating. Why do some cats climb trees while others hide when they're frightened? Why do some run away and others stay? Watching my six cats has given me insights into what cats do...but I'd still love to know why.

This morning around 6:30 we were awakened by the rumble of the propane delivery truck. I had called the company on Thursday for a delivery and told it would be made "Monday or Tuesday morning." Okay...but that's not necessarily 6:30 a.m. on Monday.

Normally when we get deliveries of any kind, we get all of our outdoor kitties in. We have three boys, brothers, who live outside most of the year. They only come in when it's cold, snowy or icy. I don't like them outside when we get propane deliveries because these two shown in the picture above love to investigate delivery trucks. The plumber called us outside once to show us Groucho sitting in the driver's seat of his truck, paws up on the steering wheel as if he wanted to drive away. The plumber had left the window open on his pickup truck open. We've had both of them jump on top of visiting cars and trucks, and my nightmare situation is to have one of them hide inside a delivery van and disappear forever.


This morning's delivery truck woke us up, so there wasn't time to get the cats into the house. But I knew exactly where they would go.

  • Groucho would dash up a tree, climbing perhaps 20-30 feet, and wait until the coast was clear, then carefully back his way down.
  • Shy Boy would hide, probably under the porch steps. He'd be the last to come out.
  • Whitey would run as far as he could, then crouch low behind a tree or a rock. He'd be the first one back.

It continues to puzzle me why my cats behave as they do. Groucho has always been our tree climber. My first glimpse of his little face was up a tree. We were walking the dog, and she started barking into the woods. There was new trash in the cutout lane as if someone had just been there. We saw movement and there was a kitten climbing a tree. Groucho. His brother Whitey peeked out from the woods. We coaxed them all out, tucking them into jacket pockets, then turned to walk home. We almost left Shy Boy because he was the last to come out of hiding, finally mewing plaintively and running to catch up with us. They've been this way since birth - one climbs trees, one runs and hides, the other just hunkers down to hide wherever he is and stays put until he's satisfied all danger is past.

Inside the house, my three indoor boys also exhibit their own unique behavior patterns. When the vacuum cleaned comes out, Pierre goes insane. He hates it. He runs in circles. He jumps onto a shelf in the closet and hides. He won't come out for hours. 

Genghis Khan is much, much bolder. He will wait until the vacuum cleaner is right by the chair where he's sitting. Only when it comes within one to two feet will he dash away. He'll be back out from his hiding spot as soon as he's convinced the evil vacuum cleaner has moved away.

Rocky, on the other hand, looks disdainfully at the vacuum cleaner and refuses to budge. I've yet to find out what frightens this cat other than a hug (he hates being confined.) You can vacuum right under his chair and he just stares at you as if he's simply pissed off that you woke him up.

Genghis loves to perch on the back of chairs so he's higher than the other cats. 

Cats and Behavior: Tree Dweller or Bush Dweller?
I finally found what I think is the answer to my cats' behavior from cat psychologist Jackson Galaxy. He calls tree climbers "tree dwellers" and others "bush dwellers."

Tree dwellers, or those who prefer heights like my Groucho and Genghis, feel safer when they are up high. They climb. They perch. Genghis is definitely one of these cats. Even though he's an indoor only boy, he loves to be up, up, and up, as high in the room as he can be. Rocky likes that too. The tree climbers in my cat family are Genghis, Groucho and Rocky, and each seems to move vertically when frightened. 

The bush dwellers, on the other hand, like to be down low. Shy Boy and Whitey are most definitely bush dwellers, and Pierre is sort of in the middle. He feels safer up, but not too high. He'll sit on a chair in my office rather than on the floor, but he'd rather not exert himself.

If you have a tree climber, you know it. Your cat will perch on top of the refrigerator and the tallest dresser in your bedroom. Tree climbers need high perches. A big cat tower or a cat "highway" mounted in the house is an excellent way to please your tree climbers (and to keep them from climbing the drapes).

On the other hand (or paw), the bush dwellers need secure spaces below. They need warm cat beds on the floor, cat cubes, cardboard boxes with holes cut out to hide in. These are the ones who prefer those squishy cat beds and don't know what to do with a cat tower.

It's two hours after the propane delivery, and all three outdoor boys have returned for breakfast. Shy Boy was, of course, the last to emerge from the woods. I didn't see Groucho climb a tree, but he emerged from the edge of the pines on our farm, so I assume he went up rather than into the woods. I'm just happy to have all of my fur babies accounted for. They're quite happy for the propane delivery. It means we can put the gas fireplace on tonight...their favorite things!

Of course the cats are happy about the propane delivery. It means I can turn the gas fireplace on tonight!

Are you cats bush dwellers or tree climbers? Leave a comment!

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