Despite spending thousands of years on our hearth rug, cats are some of the most mysterious house pets. Cat behavior is often seemingly inexplicable, and their moods can be unpredictable. However, there are often scientific reasons for why cats do what they do. Here are a few answers to common questions:

What are a cat’s health care needs?

Your cat will require spayed or neutered as soon as possible to avoid both unwanted kittens and the excessive meowing and wandering during mating season. They will need to see a veterinarian regularly and receive all vaccines on schedule.

There are some common health problems that your cat will need to be checked for regularly. Some of the more serious include feline infectious peritonitis, feline leukemia, and feline immunodeficiency virus. More common and less serious ailments include various types of worms, hairballs, and urinary tract infections.

Find a veterinarian that specializes in cats here.

Do cats purr when they are happy?

Cats purr when they are happy, anxious, fearful, and calm. A litter of tiny kittens will raise a racket of group purrs when nursing in a pile on their mother, claws kneading like mad. Although the staccato rumble of a cat purr is traditionally heralded as a signal of goodwill, this is not always the case. This might be confusing, but perhaps it makes more sense to understand that a cat will sometimes purr in an effort to calm itself.

Can humans get diseases from cats?

In a word, yes. But they are minimal and can be avoided with precautions. The most serious are cat scratch fever, which is a bacterial infection, and toxoplasmosis, which is transmitted through contact with cat feces. If your cat bites or scratches you, clean the area with hydrogen peroxide. If the injury is a deep puncture, it’s a good idea to go to the doctor and get an antibiotic. Toxoplasmosis is passed through cats that roam outdoors and kill and eat birds and mice. Most cats that are kept exclusively indoors are at much lower risk. However, it is a good practice to wash your hands thoroughly after any contact with litter boxes.

Other contagious diseases spread through cats are induced by parasites. These include ringworm, which is a fungal infection, and giardia. Both can be avoided through hygienic practices.

Why does my cat bury his food?

As you watch, your cat finishes a meal and then starts scratching the floor around his dish. He picks up the rug and thoroughly covers whatever is left of his food and then walks away. This is residual behavior from the wild. A cat will cover his stool in exactly the same way, and the purpose is to disguise his presence and activity from potential predators.

Why does my cat suddenly bite my hand?

Some cats like to be petted; others tolerate it for a short time and let you know when they have reached their limit. When a cat like this has reached his limit, he might nip you. At this point, most owners stop petting the cat, thus rewarding the nip. In this way, thousands of people have unconsciously trained their cats to bite them. Sometimes, the biting can even escalate into a fierce attack. Cat aggression is no laughing matter.

Kittens should be trained to tolerate handling. The best way to do this is to simply hold them while they struggle and then release them when they are quiet. An adult cat is a different matter. Cats can be encouraged to tolerate petting by earning treats in the meantime or by being petted at feeding time. When you pour the food in their bowl, pet the cat as he eats. If he can’t stand the petting, take his food away for twenty minutes and try again later.

Cat aggression can often be solved by putting the cat into a serious exercise program, through vigorous games such as playing with a feather toy on a string. Some house cats are just frustrated and are in desperate need of aerobic exercise. Cats are natural athletes, and twenty minutes or so of rigorous playing twice a day can cure a world of problems.

If you have a cat that is showing an aggressive side, it is a good idea to contact your veterinarian to eliminate any physical causes and perhaps get a referral to a qualified animal behaviorist.