15 Confounding Pet Behaviors (Explained By Science)

Some of those more elusive behaviors have roots deep in the animal’s DNA, but sometimes, your pet is just being a weird little jerk.
15 Confounding Pet Behaviors (Explained By Science)

Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, dogs gotta wiggle their butts at their favorite person, and cats gotta be totally incomprehensible. Some of those more elusive behaviors have roots deep in the animal’s DNA, but sometimes, your pet is just being a weird little jerk. It’s really a toss-up.

Cats Eat Grass Out of Evolutionary Habit

Cat in grass

(Heidi Moriyama/Unsplash)

Once upon a time, eating grass helped them expel intestinal parasites by “increasing muscle activity in the digestive tract,” the aftermath of which you’re all too familiar with. They don’t actually have to anymore because intestinal parasites are pretty uncommon in cats these days, but they do it out of instinct, like how you still like to rub against nice-looking people you have no intention of reproducing with.

Cats Purr to Calm Themselves (And Maybe Heal Their Bones)

Happy cat

(Kate Stone Matheson/Unsplash)

It seems like cats purr when they’re happy, but it’s actually often a response to stress. It’s basically their version of those vibrating chairs at the mall. It might also help them to strengthen their bones and tissue for the same reason running strengthens your legs. Leave it to cats to find a way to exercise while lying perfectly still.

Dogs Eat Poop to Protect Their Buddies

In their wild days, dogs would eat fresh poop they’d find in their dens to clean it up before it the parasitic eggs often found in it, which are harmless to them, hatched to become big, bad, Danny Trejo-like parasites that could mess up one of their denmates. That’s why it’s still more common in multi-dog households and lady dogs, because even canine women do a disproportionate amount of the cleaning.

Cats Knead Because That’s How They Got Milk

Kittens need their moms’ tummies to stimulate milk production, but adult cats continue this behavior for a variety of reasons, mostly because it feels good. Maybe they want a bit of a stretch, maybe they want to mark you with their scent, maybe they’re horny. Yes, really. Speaking of which… 

Catnip Makes Cats Horny

Catnip plant


You might think of catnip as a feline rail, but it’s more like Viagra. The compound in catnip that makes cats all stupid is called nepetalactone, and it works by mimicking a cat’s pheromones and causing a “sexual response.” We know what you’re thinking: “Is that what I look like when I’m horny?” And the answer is yes.

Dogs Drink Toilet Water Because They Think It’s Safer


(Giorgio Trovato/Unsplash)

They’ve seen you flush the toilet, so they think it’s running water, which is generally safer in the wild than still water, which is the same reason cats bat at running faucets. They think that because they’re stupid, though, so still don’t let them.

Your Cat Might Sleep So Much Because It’s Depressed

Lazy cat

(Milada Vigerova/Unsplash)

Cats generally sleep a lot because it takes a lot of energy to do the things they actually do, but if they’re sleeping all day, it might be for the same reason you do: because they’re depressed. If your cat truly refuses to get out of bed, they might need a kitty shrink (i.e., a veterinarian).

Cats Sit in Stupid Things Because They’re Trying to Hunt (or Maybe They’re Just Annoyed)

Cat in box

(Piotr Musioł/Unsplash)

Squeezing into small boxes or other improbable containers is a hunting behavior, something cats do to cover their own butts while they survey their prey, or just because everyone likes a nice hug. They might also be trying to escape something that’s pissing them off. We’re all taking hilarious pictures of anger management cats.

Dogs Tilt Their Heads to Hear and See Us Better

Dog tilting its head

(Matt Walsh/Unsplash)

It’s not entirely clear why dogs adorably tilt their heads when we talk to them, but experts think they’re trying to locate and refine the sounds they hear or see around their big ol’ snouts. It’s also possible, like a lot of dog behaviors, they do it more than they need to just because it always makes us go “AWWWWW!!”

Cats Meow to Communicate -- With You

Adult cats don’t meow in the wild. It’s the hallmark of a little baby cat who still needs to whine at its mommy for every little thing, but domestic cats have learned to meow at humans to get food, help, attention, and your overall everlasting devotion.

Cats Dip Their Paws in Water Because Their Whiskers Are So Sensitive

Wet paw

(Toni Reed/Unsplash)

Your cat isn’t playing with its food when it dips its paws in the water before drinking; it’s testing the depth of the bowl because if it’s too deep, it might rub against their whiskers, which is a bad time. It might also totally be playing with its food. Get a shallower bowl to find out!

Your Tail-Chasing Dog Might Have OCD

Dogs usually chase their tails out of boredom, but excessive tail-chasing is a “repetitive and nonfunctional” behavior remarkably similar to the human symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It can even be treated with the same meds.

Rub Against Things to Mark Their Territory

You might think your cat is just being affectionate when it rubs against your leg, and it kind of is, because it’s marking you as theirs by rubbing its scent all over you. That table is also theirs, and so is that fence post. It’s like licking something so no one else can have it.

Dogs Turn in Circles Before They Lie Down to Smush “Grass” and Smell Predators

Dog lying down

(Isaac Davis/Unsplash)

Although the worst obstacle they face now is a squeaky toy, wild dogs turn in circles to flatten tall grass and make more comfortable beds for themselves or discern the direction of the wind so they can smell predators coming, and domestic dogs have just kept doing that. It might also just be the best way to get all curled up.

Cats Get Their Tongues Stuck Out Because They’re Silly Little Forgetful Guys

Cat sticking its tongue out

(Deziree Dufresne/Unsplash)

Cats stick their tongues out, scientifically referred to as “blepping,” to “collect pheromones on the tongue” and gather information about their surroundings, like how dogs sniff things. Then, sometimes, they get distracted and forget to pull their tongues back in. They might also be taking some extra time to analyze information, but we prefer to think they’re just doofy little dudes who did a forgetty spaghetti, yes they are, aren’t they. Aren’t they?!

Top image: Tamara Bellis/Unsplash

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