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Why do cats act so weird? - Tony Buffington


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They’re cute, they’re lovable, and judging by the 26 billion views on over 2 million YouTube videos of them, one thing is certain: cats are very entertaining. But their strange feline behaviors, both amusing and baffling, leave many of us asking: Why do cats do that? Tony Buffington explains the science behind some of your cat’s strangest behaviors.

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While cats have become very visible in the domestic sphere, many aspects of their wellbeing depend upon humans providing a stimulating environment, one that will allow them to hunt, hide, climb scratch and play to maintain a state of wellbeing. Providing cats, and all confined animals, with what they need to thrive in our care is called environmental enrichment. This is the process of facilitating an environment that allows an animal to demonstrate their species-typical behavior, and to allow them exercise control or choice over their surroundings. For cat owners, the Visit the Ohio State Indoor Pet Initiative for some basic tips on how to enrich your home for your pet.


Domestic cats maintain the keen hunting instincts of their wild ancestors and contemporaries. Using tactics similar to leopards and tigers, cats hunt, pounce on and kill birds, mice, rats, bugs and other small animals in their vicinity. They often present such trophies to their owners. An interesting instinct cats can be seen to generate in anticipation of hunting is a chattering of their teeth – this is know as a vacuum reaction and often occurs when the cat is still indoors and watching potential prey such as a bird outside. The cat will sometimes imagine catching the prey already and killing them with their bite. Cats have a distinctive way of biting their prey, similar to the chattering motion, which ensures a quick death with little risk of harm to the hunter. There are also several opportunities to mimic a hunting environment within the home for cat owners. Food puzzles can be devised to be mobile or stationary, and give a cat the benefits of “stalk, pounce, kill, eat” without outdoor risks. You can find a helpful video about food puzzles here.


Cats gravitate towards small spaces like drawers or under the bed, i.e. safe, warm and secure areas of the home. This is an evolutionary instinct to conceal themselves and keep themselves safe. Cat owners have reported their pets favoring spots from washing machines to under the car – an interesting example of how animals adapt to the domestic space. However, any cat owner will tell you the struggle of getting their cats into another small space – the cat carrier! Often treated with suspicion when they are being bundled into it for vet visits or holidays, the cat carrier can be left around the home in order to get a cat more used to the space. Here is a video about how to make a carrier more welcoming for cats.

Climbing and Scratching

Cats seek “vertical territory”, as this allows them both to survey their environment for prey and hide from predators. This (sometimes disruptive) instinct for climbing and pawing their surroundings have not deterred us from wanting cats as pets though! Rather, owners are accustomed to placing various items in the cat’s vicinity which allow them to mimic behaviors exhibited in the wild. Some owners make use of climbing furniture, a window sill, or the back of a piece of furniture against a window. This is also true of scratching posts. Some cats prefer to scratch on posts or chair legs, whereas others prefer to scratch on items on the floor.


Inviting a cat to play every day is important. Cats play a lot like they hunt (“stalk, pounce, kill, eat”), and some cat have preferences for what to hunt that you can explore. Does a cat like to jump after things? If so, she may like a bird toy. If she prefers to chase objects along the floor, she may prefer a bug or mouse toy, or a laser pointer. Need some “playful” hints? There are a few suggestions in this short video.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Tony Buffington
  • Script Editor Amy Adkins
  • Director Chintis Lundgren
  • Producer Draško Ivezić
  • Composer Edi Premate
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

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