Animal Behaviour


Cats are among the best hunters in the animal kingdom. They use hidden claws to catch their food. Cat claws have extremely sharp points, which makes them useful for fighting and climbing. Their claws are hidden inside their feet, so they don’t get worn down as dogs’ claws do. Cats’ long whiskers are used to detect the width of tunnels and burrows. Without whiskers a cat cannot tell whether its body will get through a narrow gap. Cats have an excellent sense of smell that helps them to know what is going on around them.

A cat ready to fight will show what weapons it has. It opens its mouth to show how big its teeth are. It swipes the air in front of its enemy’s face to show how big its claws are.

A cat that is hissing or baring its teeth, swishing its tail or growling is angry or frightened. It might give you a nasty scratch or bite if you go too close.

How to say ‘hello’ to a cat


Handle with care making friends with animals by Paul McGreevy.

Cats are usually friendly to humans, and say “miaow” when they see somebody they like. They may also stare at humans. Don’t stare at a cat if you want to become her friend. Let her first sniff your clothes and hands. Better still, let her put some of her secret scent on you by rubbing her chin and head against your leg.

Cats like to have their fur stroked from their heads to their tails. This is the way they groom themselves to make their fur smoother and more beautiful.

How to hold a cat

First make sure that you have said “hello” properly. If the cat does not try to get away, she is not afraid and so it is safe to pick her up. You might find that not only are you holding the cat, but the cat is holding you! Sometimes cats use their claws to hold onto humans. They do not mean to hurt.

Support the cat with one hand behind her front legs and one hand behind her back legs. It doesn’t really matter if her tail is held in or out of your arms. If the cat struggles, try hugging her closer to you. If this doesn’t work, she may be getting upset and it is best to place her back on the ground.

Kittens can be picked up by the scruff of the neck only if their bottoms are supported with your free hand. As they become older and heavier, kittens will feel very uncomfortable if they are not supported this way. Be very careful not to drop kittens—they can be quite wriggly.

Cats and kittens sometimes carry germs that can make you sick. Some humans get itchy eyes or sneeze when they have been playing with cats. It is always best to wash your hands after playing with an animal.

Always remember that:

  • cats can be very defensive when with their kittens,
  • pulling a cat’s tail or ears is not a game any cat will ever enjoy,
  • when a cat is scared or annoyed it may react and hurt you,
  • a playful cat may scratch and bite  you,
  • it is not safe to carry more than one kitten at a time.

All this information and much, much more about your favourite pet
can be found in Handle with care.