The Natural Instinct of Cats

All animals are born with instincts that guide their behaviour, and cats are no different. Instincts are not learned, but rather a natural desire or tendency that makes you act in a certain way. Examples of this are the urge to sniff for dogs, the spinning of a web by a spider, and a cat’s desire to scratch. Instinctive behaviours in pets can be perceived as a problem when they happen in unsuitable situations or settings, such as scratching the furniture or pooping in the potted indoor plants. In this article, we will explore the instinctive behaviours of the cat further, and how one can satisfy, or redirect, these needs in a home setting.

Instinctive behaviours of cats

Your cat will show many instinctive behaviours, and some are more apparent than others. The instinct to hunt is often obvious to cat owners, and it’s hard to not recognize this urge when they chase small toys, show interest in the outdoor birds, and try to stalk and pounce on feet. However, cats have many more instinctive behaviours that one might not have given much thought before, such as covering their tracks, kneading, scratching, and grooming. To give your cat the care it requires, it’s crucial to understand your cat’s behaviour. As some behaviours which may be considered ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’ through a human lens, are simply your cat following their instinct. 


To stay alive, we need to eat. Depending on the animal’s diet, they will find food by foraging and/or hunting. Cats are predators, and their ancestors had to hunt prey to eat. Hunting is in their DNA, and they do this instinctively, even after we domesticated them and have started to provide them with daily meals. So when your cat drags a dead mouse inside your home, they should not be punished. Nor can be expected of them to safely live together with small pets, such as birds, without precautions taken to keep everyone safe.

Depending on the living situation of your cat, the instinct to hunt might become a problem if they aren’t stimulated enough and get bored. To keep your cat happy and full-filled, play lots of interactive games, and provide them with  mentally enriching toys and cat furniture. When doing activities with your cat that activates their prey drive, it’s important to let them regularly catch the toy, to prevent frustration. 

Covering their tracks

This instinctive behaviour is the reason why most cats don’t need to be potty trained, and often will use the litter box instinctively. In the wild, cats cover their tracks to avoid being found by other predators. By providing them with a box with suitable litter, they will instinctively want to use it. There are many reasons why a cat might poop and pee outside their litter box, such as medical reasons,stress, or an unsuitable litter box setup. This instinctive behaviour sometimes also results in cats using potted plants as a litter box, and cats should not be punished for this. Preventative measurements can be taken such as buying covers for the soil. 


Ever seen your cat kneading a blanket, or maybe even your arm or leg, and wondered why they do that? Kneading is an instinctive behaviour that is used by kittens when drinking from their mother. They will knead around the nipple of their mother while feeding to induce the flow of milk. Kneading is a comforting behaviour in cats and nothing to be worried about. 


This instinctive behaviour often is perceived as a problem, especially when the scratching is done on furniture instead of the scratch post. Instinctively, cats like to scratch. Besides that scratching is used to defend oneself, it is also used to mark territory. A cat has tiny glands on all four of their feet, the interdigital glands, which give off pheromones when the claws are extended and the paw stretched. When scratching surfaces, the cat deposits their unique pheromones onto the object, marking it with their unique scent. A cat’s primary sense is smell, and being surrounded by their own scent, makes them feel comfortable and prevents stress. 

To try and prevent scratching on unwanted locations, provide your cat with many designated scratch places that have different types of scratch posts (of different materials/vertical+horizontal, etc), prevent boredom, protect your furniture with protective covers, and use a pheromone diffuser if your cat is feeling uncomfortable or stressed. If your cat does scratch furniture, remember, they are not trying to be naughty! 

Until recently, declawing of cats was regularly performed. And while declawing may sound like only the nails are removed, this is not the case. When a cat is declawed, the top of each digit gets removed, this includes the bone. When looking at this from a human perspective, this would mean the tops of all of your fingers and toes would be amputated. Declawing is detrimental to a cat’s well being and should never be done.


Cats instinctively groom. For a matter of fact, they groom 30% to 50% of the time they are awake. While this instinctive behaviour rarely causes a problem to cat owners, it is an important health indicator of your cat. When grooming habits change, your cat may be in pain, or ill, and a vet visit should be done. 

Homing Instinct

Moving homes is stressful, and even more so for our cats to whom we can’t explain what is happening. You may have heard the advice to keep your cat inside after a move to prevent them from trying to get back to their old house, which according to reports happens in 30% of the cases. This urge to return to old territory is called the homing instinct, and while not as strong in each cat, all cats have this instinct.


Cats have many instinctive behaviours, and by understanding these better, we can be more understanding of our cat and their responses to certain stimuli. We can provide them with the care they require, fulfil their need for certain behaviours, and in turn create a more harmonious living situation when keeping them as pets.

Do you want to know more about our pet care service? Feel free to contact us, we will be happy to help.

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