Weird Animal Question of the Week

What Is Your Cat Trying to Tell You? Vets Weigh In

Let's face it, cats are mysterious creatures. We dig into some of your feline predicaments.

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A curious cat pops out of a window in Morocco. 

Now matter how close we get with our cats, they’re still mysterious. And while their aloofness may be alluring, it's also maddening when we don't know what's going on. 

So for Weird Animal Question of the Week, we're tackling a trio of questions about cryptic kitties. (See National Geographic readers' pictures of cats.)  

A Cry for Help?

Our first question comes from Corina Sansone and her husband, who have owned a nine-year-old ragdoll since he was five weeks old.  

A move to a new house about 2.5 years ago was traumatic for the indoor/outdoor cat, which temporarily stopped eating and would walk through the house at night meowing. In his new neighborhood, he's gotten into several run-ins with neighbor cats and raccoons—sometimes requiring trips to the vet—but lately has spent more time in the house, Sansone says.  

Now he's resumed walking around the house meowing loudly, and nothing—from treats to extra attention—is quieting him down, Sansone says. "It's very frustrating, and we are both at our wits' end."  (Related: "What Do Cats Think About Us? You May Be Surprised.") 

Cat experts John Bradshaw, at the U.K.'s University of Bristol, and Carlo Siracusa of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, say a veterinary checkup should be first on Sansone's list in order to rule out any physical pain. 

For instance, thyroid problems occur in older cats, and symptoms include increased activity and vocalization, Siracusa says. Another possibility, says Bradshaw, is the cat may have become deaf, possibly due to an ear infection, and "can't hear his own meow." 

But the most likely cause of the problem, Siracusa says, is the sounds and scents of those outdoor animals with which the cat has previously tussled. The meowing might be territorial, as in, “I’m here—go away,” he says. 

The best course of action may just be to keep cats indoors. Keeping cats inside “is best for their safety and medical health,” says Siracusa, who doesn't let his own cat go outdoors.  

But even inside, Sansone's cat may be upset by the sound and scent of these outside animals. Classical music or white-noise machines can drown out their sounds, and motion-activated sprinklers and devices that spray citronella can safely deter unwanted critters away from the house—and hopefully the cat's radar, he says. 

The Science of Meow: Study to Look at How Cats Talk

Do you know what your cat is saying when it meows at you?

The cat could have been taken from his mom too young, Bradshaw adds. “Eight weeks is normal, so his behavior probably did not develop quite as it should have"—which may also explain why he's so susceptible to stress.  

Unwelcome Houseguest

Far from disliking a move, this cat can’t wait to try out a new home. 

A reader named Pat asked us why every few days a cat would go into a stranger’s house, where no other cats live, and hightail it into the bedroom. (Related: "Ask Your Weird Animal Questions: The Truth About Your Cats.") 

There could be a specific scent of an object attracting the cat, Siracusa says. Plus bedrooms have closets, which are full of great hiding places, and the feline may know that. 

Even the most well cared-for cats “may occasionally investigate the possibility of expanding their territory,” Bradshaw says, and check out other potential havens. 

It's nothing to be worried about—only a sign of “their independent natures." 

No Sixth Sense Needed

Finally does National Geographic’s own Christine Dell’Amore have a clairvoyant cat? Her husband reports that their kitty, Snorrie, runs to their first-floor apartment door when Christine enters her apartment building, but doesn’t do this when it’s anyone else. 

“How does he know it’s me?” Dell'Amore asks. 

Cats’ senses of hearing and smell are far superior to ours, and they can ID people using these senses long before humans can, Bradshaw says. (See "What Are Cats Trying to Tell Us? Science Will Explain.") 

For instance, a noise as minor as a person's footstep or the jangle of her keys are easily distinguishable to those finely tuned ears, which can move around like radar. 

And since cats depend on us, they pay close attention to our everyday patterns and actions, and will know if there's a disruption to the daily routine. 

That's why hearing Dell'Amore's footsteps in the lobby—similar to the sound of a can opener—may signal to Snorrie that it's nom time. 

Weird Animal Question of the Week answers your questions every Saturday. If you have a question about the weird and wild animal world, tweet me, leave me a note or photo in the comments below, or find me on Facebook.

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