Why do cats ...?

Cats are just fluffy balls of mystery and let's face it, cats are kinda weird. Perhaps even weirder than dogs. One moment they're relaxing on some soft pillow, the next they're sprinting through the house as if their lives depended on it! And I'm guessing that almost everyone has, at some point in their lives, wondered why a cat was behaving in some quirky way. But have you also ever wondered if that was just you, or if more people wanted to know exactly the same thing?

Thankfully, Google's search is a wonderful proxy to see what lots and lots of people want to know. So let's explore the ~2200 most asked questions about cats that start with the word “why”. Specifically, questions that start with the following words:

why does a cat | why do cats | why is a cat | why are cats | why does my cat | why is my cat

It's the words that follow those six questions that I'm interested in; therefore, questions that are the same except for the starting words have been grouped. For example, why do cats meow so much and why does my cat meow so much have been combined into one data point representing the meow so much question.

Let's look at similar data that we just did for dogs, but now all based around cats by exploring the ~2200 most asked questions about cats that start with the word “why”.

Although there are some genuinely unexpected questions in the total cat dataset (wait until you come across the Christmas tree eating one), quite a lot have to do with the following four general topics: what they love & hate, the sounds they make, other things they do with their mouths, and why they move (or not move) the way they do.

Likes & Dislikes

Why cats love or hate certain things are amongst the most popular questions asked. Take boxes for example. Which cat owner hasn't received a package at home where the box was more appreciated (by their cat) than the product it contained?

Try hovering overtapping on any bold text or circles in the visual

That's just the tip of the iceberg of weird things our cats seem to be fond of. Because seriously, why do cats like ripping or sitting on paper, surprise attacks, lying in laundry baskets or butting your head surprisingly hard. Then there are the things that cats inexplicably don't like, such as water or me (◍•﹏•), and what's up with those cucumbers!?

If you want to see the dog version of any of the visuals, clicktap on the yellow circle in the lower right of the page, when visible.

Visual Explanation | The colors are random | Circles are sized according to question popularity.

So why do cats love boxes?

When you own a cat you're surely familiar with the sudden rush of adrenaline caused by a sneak attack from your cat suddenly jumping out of a box. Or perhaps you've taken your cat along on vacation because they snuck into your luggage. From the search volume on Google, it's clear that lots of people know that cats just love boxes; but why?

This love of boxes probably has to do with the safe and confined space they provide for cats. Since cats are both prey and predator, boxes give them a place to both hide from predators and stalk prey. A box closes off many sides from the cat so they can't be snuck up on from behind, while they're still able to see what happens around them. Maybe boxes are a place where a cat can feel calm and protected.


Even though we don't know how to speak cat, it's surprising how well cats manage to convey intent through the nuances in their meows. Although some cats are apparently meowing a little too much according to quite a lot of questions. And I'm almost afraid to imagine what kind of cat would meow like Chewbacca...

And if there's one thing that we associate with cats (and other felines) it's purring. Fun fact: did you know that cats that purr can’t roar, and cats that roar can’t purr? Purring is such a unique feature to cats that it's no wonder people in general just want to know why cats purr in the first place.

Personally, the funniest sound I've ever heard from my cat is how she almost seems to talk as she chirps when watching birds and other possible (bigger) prey. Thankfully, the glass prevents her from ever catching anything that she fancies outside.

Licking, biting & more

Looking into other things cats do with their mouth apart from making sounds. Licking is most popular (although a lot less popular than people wanting to know why dogs lick).

For cats though, licking comes from their instinctual need to groom. Cats actually lick us as a sign of affection; isn't that nice! But with cats licking all parts of their body, have you ever wondered why cats don't get sick from licking themselves?

It seems that cats aren't eating so many nasty things as dogs (for whom poop almost appears to be a delicacy o_O). Instead, eating paper or plastic appears in quite a few cat questions.

Then there's the more nasty aspect that basically all cats exhibit—the (occasional) biting. Not all bites are bad, though. Cats also display a gentle form of biting or nibbling often referred to as love bites. I do feel sorry for the girlfriends and boyfriends that want to know why their cat is biting them and not their partner.

(Non) Movement

Cats are notorious for the long hours that they sleep, and people especially want to know why cats love to sleep on you, literally. If we look at other (non) movement related questions about why cats target their humans specifically, it seems that cats see us as wonderful spots on which to sit, lay and rub.

There are other lovely quirky questions in this selection, such as why cats run after they poop or why they like to lay on plastic bags. Or better yet, why cats try to sit on dogs, of which I'd love to see videos.

The big question people ask about their cat's movement is why they knead (as if they're making dough with their little paws). Specifically why they knead soft things, humans again being one of their favorite things to massage. Which is adorable to experience, except when you've forgotten to shorten their nails...

Why do cats like to knead all things soft?

Kneading, sometimes also called “making biscuits”, is a quite common behavior to see in a relaxed cat that's standing on a soft surface (i.e. you). It's not completely clear why cats like to give these kitty massages, though.

Several theories exist. A popular one says that this behavior comes from kittenhood, when they would knead their mother while nursing to help stimulate the flow of milk, and that even as an adult they will associate the motion of kneading with those happy moments.

It could also be a leftover instinct from their wild ancestors who would knead down a patch of foliage before laying down to sleep. Alternatively, it could be yet another way for your cat to “claim you,” since cats have scent glands in the soft pads on the bottom of their paws. Whatever the actual reason, they do seem exceptionally content while making those biscuits.

All cat questions

Now that you've been introduced to some specific subsets of the total dataset of ~2200 cat related “why” questions, let's place them all together so you can search and discover them even more freely.

To make sure that this doesn't take up an excessive amount of space, but also to look at the questions from a different angle, all questions have been grouped to create “sentence trees”. A sentence tree combines sentences that start with the same word and creates new branches whenever the next word in the sentence has multiple options.

Let me explain with an example. Take all the questions that “start” with the word knead, meaning the first word that comes after any of the “why do/does/are (my/a) cat(s)” variations:

Why does a cat / Why do cats / Why does my cat knead, Why do cats knead & suck, Why do cats knead and bite blankets, Why do cats knead and hump, Why do cats knead and suckle, Why do cats knead blankets, Why does a cat / Why does my cat knead me, Why do cats knead on blankets, Why do cats knead on humans, Why does my cat knead on me, Why do cats knead on soft things, Why does my cat knead the bed, Why do cats knead their paws, Why do cats knead things, Why do cats knead you with their paws.

There are four sentences in the list above that all have the word on right after the word knead: knead on blankets, knead on humans, knead on me and knead on soft things. We can, therefore, combine these four sentences one level deeper and only split them apart from the word where they start to differ; blankets, humans, me and soft. Doing this for all the questions that start with knead gives the following sentence tree:

If we now make the size of the circles depend on the question's popularity, shorten all the lines, and make them spread around the first knead circle, we get following small package of all the questions that start with knead:

When we repeat this process for all ~370 unique words that follow “why do/does/are (my/a) cat(s)” we get the collection of sentence trees below.

There are many fascinating, interesting and funny questions in the full list. For example, perhaps the people that search for why their cat poops in the litter box but pees on the floor should exchange tips with those that instead want to know why their cat pees in the litter box but poops on the floor.

In case you don't see anything happen when you hover over the bold text examples, try clicking it to be taken down to the visual below.

And why do cats have rough tongues while dogs have smooth ones? Or why does your cat have the tendency to meow when you peek at them from around a corner? Or make weird noises at birds? Why do they react to videos of kitten meows? Or eerily stare at your face while you sleep..., or at nothing at all? And the owners that want to know why their cats eat fake Christmas trees have some particularly interesting cats.

Visual Explanation | As before, circles are sized according to question popularity | The colors are still random | The final “leaves” in a sentence tree are fully colored while those that still have branches are white with a colored stroked | Hovering overTapping on a circle reveals not only the sentence up till that point, but also all the variations that (might) follow after | Finally, if you're interested in something specific, try looking for it with the search box at the top.

The most asked questions

The most popular question on Google that asks “why” about cats is “Why do cats purr?”. However, if we instead focus only on the questions that also include the word “my”, we see a different trend. For example, “Why does my cat purr?” only shows up as the 9th most popular question. It seems that cat owners are far more interested to know why their own cats are licking and biting them.

In fact, apart from licking, biting, kneading and purring, the other 11 questions of the “my” top 15 are much lower on the overall list of most asked questions (that don't include the word “my”). This is probably because the “my” questions relate to aspects of a cat that you can only truly experience if you've been around a cat for a prolonged period of time. Ranging from the (semi) unpleasantness of smelling, drooling and throwing up, to interactions such as following, staring and sleeping on you.

The “non-my” top 15 of most asked questions instead includes more general searches about cats, such as why they like boxes, eat grass, or hate water. Funnily enough, “Why are cats better than dogs?” makes it into the top 10 about cats, while the reversed question isn't much lower on the most asked dog question ranking.

Unexpectedly though, although people ask why cats are scared of cucumbers a lot, they don't ask that specifically about their own cat; “Why is my cat afraid of cucumbers” isn't in the dataset at all.

Visual Explanation | On the left is the top 15 of most asked “why does/is my cat” questions, while on the right is the top 15 for the more general “why do/does/is/are (a) cat(s)” questions | The circles are scaled to question popularity | Circles with a pink-orange color occur in the top 15 on both sides. The blue and green colored circles occur below the top 15 of the respective other side, whereas the grey circles on the right do not appear as a question about “my cat” | The thicker a line, the higher up that question occurs on both rankings.

Cats vs Dogs

Now that we've been looking solely at the “why” questions that people search for about their cats, let's expand our view and look at the popularity of all cat-related questions per country. And let's add dogs too, to finally settle the debate over which countries are cat countries and which are dog countries (well, assuming search popularity is a decent proxy for that).

Although the analyses above only took English questions into account, we are now looking at the overall search popularity of cats and dogs irrespective of the language used (thanks to Google's Knowledge Graph).

It seems that, even with all those funny cat videos, less than 15% of all the countries have a higher search interest in cats than dogs! And even then, cats are often leading by only a narrow margin for those countries. The fact that several Asian countries (such as Taiwan, where cat cafes started. Or Japan, where these types of cafes truly blossomed) have a higher interest in cats than dogs might not come as a surprise.

Apparently, all cat lovers need to do a lot more searches for those funny cat videos, shark outfits for cats, the liquidity of cats or how to tell if your cat is plotting to kill you, and more... to make the pet world more equally balanced between “cat” and “dog” countries.

Visual Explanation | This visual shows the Google search popularity of cats and dogs for ±115 countries between 2013 - 2018 | Each circle represents either the cat or dog search popularity, depending on color | The farther outward a circle is placed, the higher its search popularity.

Visual Explanation | This visual shows the Google search popularity of cats and dogs for ±115 countries between 2013 - 2018 | Each circle represents the search popularity for one country, with cats on the left and dogs on the right | The higher a circle is placed, the higher its search popularity | Each country's cat & dog circle are connected by a line.

This deep dive into cat-related questions has likely brought you to the conclusion that, yes, cats appear to be quite weird across the board (but usually in hilarious and cute ways!).

Interestingly enough, the questions people ask about dogs are surprisingly similar to cats and yet totally unique. A lot less sleeping or biting, but a lot more licking, and well... 💩 So, if you also like dogs, or if this has made you curious, this would be a good time to check out the dog page!

Hey, you made it all the way through both the cat and dog pages! I hope it has only increased your for these two amazing animals!

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