Why Do Cats Pounce?

Before long, any cat owner will witness their cat or kitten wiggling their butt and then pouncing. Much of the behavior of house cats stems from the behavior of their wild ancestors. Pouncing is one of those behaviors. Pouncing might seem like odd behavior, but it is a deeply ingrained instinct for cats.

Cat stalking his feather toy
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Play behavior

Cats and kittens pounce when they are playing with each other. Young kittens start to learn their adult behavior from their mother and from other cats they're with, and pouncing is part of that. The Humane Society says that kittens pounce on each other when they play because it helps them learn physical coordination and social skills.

Kittens will also pounce on their owners! This is a way for them to play with their owners and seek attention. It's normal and could be a sign that your kitten is in the mood to play. When she pounces on you, get out one of her toys and play with her for a few minutes.

Stealthy hunting

Pouncing is a part of a cat's predatory hunting behavior. Hill's Pet explains that cats pounce even when they don't need to hunt for food. Even though house cats are generally fed regularly, pouncing is such an ingrained behavior that they still do it as part of their natural instinct to hunt and catch prey. Kittens start pouncing as early as 9 weeks old.

The University of California, Santa Cruz studied wild cats like mountain lions and learned that they conserve energy when hunting by moving very slowly. It can take a long time to hunt an animal, and if their prey hears or sees them they can run off and all that energy spent tracking down their prey can be wasted. Instead of sprinting and running to catch something like a rabbit, which can run off easily, a wild cat will sit and watch and move very slowly in order to stalk their prey.

House cats do this too, whether they are stalking a mouse or a toy ball. When they are in a good position, they will then pounce. This helps them exert just the right amount of energy to catch their prey and not have to do a lot of long-distance running.

Stalking little kitten
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Predatory behavior

Once a cat feels secure enough in its position to attack their pray with a pounce, they usually follow up that action by biting their prey on the back of the neck. The bite usually kills the prey. One advantage of the pounce is that it is a surprise to the prey, and it can often result in a successful catch.

Preparing for the Pounce

One noticeable behavior that cats do before they pounce is a "butt wiggle." This movement starts right before they pounce and usually only lasts a second. They wiggle their rear end and then launch themselves at their target. There's actually not a well-understand explanation for this behavior.

Live Science says that animal behaviorists believe the butt wiggle before pouncing may help press the cat's back legs into the ground to give cats added leverage for pushing them forward when they do pounce. Another purpose may be to visually orient the cat's position in line with the prey. It's not just house cats that do this—even fierce jungle cats such as lions, tigers, and jaguars shake their rear ends first before pouncing.

brown cat hunting
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Agitation

The Humane Society says pouncing can be a way your cat communicates its mood to you. When your cat is feeling playful it may pounce, because playing is basically hunting behavior for cats. If they're "stalking" you, another cat, or their toy, they may pounce.

This behavior can also indicate agitation. For instance, if the cat is feeling upset about something, the pounce may take on a more irritated tone. If his tail is twitching or waving, or your cat growls when you put your hand near him, it may be a warning. Playing can overstimulate some cats, making them bite or scratch.

It's normal for all cats to pounce on occasion, but if your cat is pouncing more often than they used to or he is pouncing because he seems to be upset about something, there may be something to talk to your veterinarian about. An underlying health issue or perhaps aging is making your cat more agitated than usual.