To begin to understand the question, “why are cats so curious,” you need to travel back to the earliest cats, when they existed in the wild. Their curiosity became a necessity, as they had to confront threats in their environment, such as other wild animals or predators.
Thus we see the beginning. It’s part of their instinct, hard-wired into their systems. Not only does this curiosity help protect them from danger, but it also allows them to learn about the world. A cat, being quite intelligent, has a constant urge to explore his surroundings.
Cats have a good memory, and can remember things for up to 16 hours. Scientists believe that a cat’s memory comes out to 200 times better than a dog’s memory.
Also, with their super hearing power and their excellent sense of smell (14 times stronger than in humans) they can hear or smell something unusual, and because of their curiosity, will go to investigate.
Also, even though the cat’s size does not compare with yours, he still has the desire to defend his territory, and since you live there, too, he also wishes to protect you. If kitty perceives something as presenting a danger to his family, he will go into defense mode.
Kitty will micromanage you if you are the one who feeds her. Because you perform this important duty, your cat wants to know everything you do. She will become the observer of all your activities, including your trips to the bathroom. (My cat also has a fascination with toilet flushing.)
If it seems a little odd to you that your cat becomes curious by instinct, consider the reasons that this instinct has importance for her. It’s a survival trait — through curiosity, she keeps her senses sharp for hunting, finding a mate or shelter, staying warm, and taking care of her family.
A wild cat has this “curiosity instinct” on high alert at all times. Not only does she have to find food, water, and shelter every day, but she must compete with other cats and animals to find the best resources for supplying these needs.
Look at how these behaviors match up with that of an animal in the wild. You might gain some clues as to why your housecat adopts such behavior:
- Crawling into tiny boxes and bags: Consider the wild cat. He might crawl into a tiny space for a strategic reason. The small space has only one narrow entry or exit spot. The cat can easily keep watch and become aware of any threat.
- Seeking a high place as a good observation spot: When in the wild, the cat might sleep high in a bush or tree, or even atop a cactus! That’s why, in your home, a high refrigerator, shelf, or cat tree, creates the same sense of security.
- Facial expression that looks like a smile or sneer: This expression opens the mouth so air can travel to the roof of the mouth to the Jacobson’s organ. This organ selects the scent markers with important information and sends them to the brain. A possible mate or food might be a stimulus.
- Head butting, or “bunting”: The head butt deposits scent pheromones on the “buttee” and marks that individual as safe.
- Tail wagging: Cats use their tails as a form of communication. A wagging tail could signify irritation, curiosity, or aggression.
- Drinking from a source of running water: From the wild, cats learn that running water makes a safer drink than stagnant water. By choosing running water, as from a faucet or cat water fountain, kitty chooses the safest way to stay hydrated.
- Bringing you dead “presents”: A current theory about this trait says that your cat wants to teach you that this animal is food. The cat thinks you need to learn to hunt.
- Becoming active at night: A cat likes to hunt at dawn or dusk because prey animals tend to be more active them. Therefore, don’t be surprised if your cat honors that tradition and stages a “mock hunt” in the wee hours of the morning.
- Chattering to themselves: This one seems a sort of “pep talk” a cat gives himself to activate his predatory instincts when hunting. When your kitty watches a bird or squirrel outside the window, and chatters, he may be frustrated at not being able to hunt that critter.
Some Cat Rationalizations For Their Behavior
If we could ask the cat some reasons for his unusual behaviors, here are some answers we might receive:
IT’S PART OF OUR SURVIVAL TOOL KIT
We cats can wow the world with our hunting skills, but we must always be on guard. Not only do we earn the reputation for being excellent hunters, but we also have our own dangers to guard against. We must use constant observation and investigation, so we learn if we are safe.
WE HAVE DEVELOPED PHYSIOLOGICAL TRAITS THAT MAKE US SUPERIOR
Think of the many traits we have that lead to this superiority. Our sense of smell and hearing and our superior senses for feeling out the area around us, such as our whiskers, keep us in tune with our world.
Did you know our inner ear is so fine-tuned that we can sense when a storm rolls in by the drop in air pressure? Our noses have 40 times more olfactory receptors than you humans, and our eyes have six to eight times more rods than humans. Of course that makes us superior.
WE HAVE A LOT OF CURIOSITY BECAUSE WE ARE SO SMART
In case you didn’t know, curiosity and intelligence have a direct link. Because I am a smart cat, I also becomes curious, and always learn new things.
WHEN WE’RE KITTENS, WE OFTEN FORM A STRONG SENSE OF CURIOSITY
As a kitten, the whole world is new, and we find much we have never encountered before. We must determine if this new thing is safe, so we watch it, slowly approach it,smell it, touch it, and may even taste it.
As we age, we may not encounter as many new experiences. We may also be slower to form a positive association with something new, as we’ve become more wary. However, we can still learn new things.
WE LEARN WE CAN GET ATTENTION FROM YOU
Because we can quickly learn what things will bring you running, we may adopt some of these ways to get your attention. For example, if we push something off a shelf, you may come scold us and pick us up. It might not be positive attention, but it’s attention. That may fulfill our need.
The Bottom Line
Curiosity is a fundamental part of a cat’s behavior, because it can become a key to its survival. Your curious little kitty is lovable and endearing. At times his behavior can be confusing, and at times mischievous, but we do seem to love that kitty no matter how he behaves.