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Please explain cat weirdness
October 23, 2012 9:44 AM   Subscribe

This is my cat Turtle. What is she doing?

Turtle is a seriously dorky cat, in many ways. This is one of her stranger quirks, however. As I'm petting her, she'll maneuver her head so that my index finger is against her mandibular joint, and she then proceeds to do what you see in the video. She gets kind of trance-like or blissed out while doing it. Is she grinding her teeth? She'll continue to do it even if I move my finger so that it's still next to her face, but no longer touching it.

She's four years old and in good health. No apparent problems with her teeth. She only does it on the one side.

It baffles me, and I'd like to understand what's going on. However, pretty much everything she does is baffling, so I'm willing to accept the Cats Are Weird diagnosis. Just thought maybe someone had seen something similar, though, so I thought I'd at least ask.
posted by mudpuppie to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm going to go with Cats Are Weird.

My second thought was Feline TMJ but she doesn't have any difficulty eating, then it's probably not that.
posted by Lieber Frau at 9:49 AM on October 23, 2012


Maybe you're pressing on a salivary gland, thus triggering a release of saliva and the reflex to swallow?
posted by txmon at 9:51 AM on October 23, 2012


It looks like your scritching is triggering a nursing action. Cats can be weird with all their babyish kneading and hair sucking and finger sucking.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:52 AM on October 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


My cat Matilda does the same thing. She just sort of chews on the air, right next to something -- my finger or a plant, usually. I'm not pressing on anything when I do this. I don't think she only does it on one side, she's 10 and has done it since she was an adult, and she's otherwise healthy.

Cats are weird is my diagnosis, though I'd be fascinated if it meant something else.
posted by jeather at 9:52 AM on October 23, 2012


I wonder if it's a mutual grooming instinct. Does she always groom your finger immediately after this (if you let her)?
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:55 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


It sounds kind of like she is grinding her teeth. It might not hurt her right now, but I'd consider asking a vet if it's a problem that needs to be corrected before Turtle starts having difficulty eating. Definitely bring the video with you -- my vet specifically asked me to film my cat when she does stuff like this.
posted by brina at 9:55 AM on October 23, 2012


Our cat Megan does this, except it makes a squeaking sound like she's chewing the inside of her cheek. She normally only does it when she's anxious or frustrated, and we have taken it to be a tic of hers that she uses to make herself feel better. Squeak Attack is probably right; it likely has origins in nursing.
posted by LN at 9:55 AM on October 23, 2012


Cats are weird.

Looks like either a suckling reflex or a variation on marking you with her scent glands, which are in the corners of her mouth.
posted by zug at 9:55 AM on October 23, 2012


Cats don't brush their teeth. What's happening here is a reaction to something tactile against the back teeth, so a light chewing action occurs. This acts as a way to help clean and strengthen said teeth. If you watch a cat in the yard you'll notice they'll do the same thing with long twigs or even the bones of their victims.
posted by brony at 10:03 AM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Could be a couple of things. Zug's answer - marking you with scent gland, brony's - also possible, or one more: "love bites". Most cats that I've had (I've had 10 so far) will give a little nibble and lick as a sign of affection. (Sometimes they get excited and bite rather hard too!)

For example, I have one right now that gets somewhat offended if she doesn't get to bite/lick your finger after you pet her, just to return the favor. Sometimes they bite with the side teeth, sometimes the front, and usually follow up with licking.

I do believe as well, that LN's right about it's origins in nursing behavior.
posted by mrgoat at 10:30 AM on October 23, 2012


Thanks for the brainstorming.

Maybe you're pressing on a salivary gland, thus triggering a release of saliva and the reflex to swallow?

I don't think that's it. She keeps her mouth slightly open, so if it were a spit thing I think she'd end up all drooly.

I wonder if it's a mutual grooming instinct. Does she always groom your finger immediately after this (if you let her)?

You know, I'm not sure. I'll have to observe a few times to see if she does. Mutual grooming is an option, because she and the other cat (Zuzu!, here with Turtle) do groom each other.

Most cats that I've had (I've had 10 so far) will give a little nibble and lick as a sign of affection.

She is actually a love biter, but I've always thought of those as two separate things. Maybe they are related.

Hadn't thought about nursing. Zuzu shows some clear remnants of nursing behavior, but it manifests differently.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:46 AM on October 23, 2012


I thought it looked like nursing behavior as well. That would be my guess.
posted by patheral at 11:31 AM on October 23, 2012


My cat did this -- it's a nursing sort of reaction. Mine eventually stopped, though he kept on being a kneader for years. Was she taken away from MommyCat too soon?
posted by JanetLand at 12:20 PM on October 23, 2012


Our younger cat Sora does this, too! If you poke him in the right spot next to or just behind his back teeth, he'll chew the air for a little bit. No idea why, although I like brony's suggestion.

He was found in a parking lot at about two months of age, so he may have been taken away from his mom too soon. (He certainly has an obsession with kneading various squishy bits of me!)
posted by telophase at 12:33 PM on October 23, 2012


You found her lick spot. Cats being weird, her lick spot is not in the usual lick spot position.
posted by MsMolly at 1:53 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's nursing behaviour. My cat Shoggoth does something similar when you stroke the sides of her mouth. But there's not such loud tooth grinding noise in her case. (She also spent nearly the first full year of her life suckling on any blankets or sleeves she could get hold of, for hours on end. She is quite nursing fixated.)
posted by lollusc at 3:31 PM on October 23, 2012


My cat does this, and will do it to some fabrics and items. It looks/sounds like she's chewing through the item, but it's not even in her mouth.
Cats are weird, yep.
posted by The otter lady at 4:43 PM on October 23, 2012


I have a cat who sometimes chews the air noisily and with apparent contentment. He doesn't do the chewing behavior in response to pressure on the side of his face; he just does it spontaneously from time to time. He often does it when his feeding time is approaching, so my guess has been that he's thinking about food and acting out fantasy-eating. Come to think of it, he also does extended, open-mouthed chewing actions after gnawing on his own claws (he's doing a bit of that right now).
posted by Orinda at 4:58 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


My cat does something similar to this, too, except she chews on her tongue! I've always just chalked it up to "cats are weird".
posted by sherber at 4:59 PM on October 23, 2012


ALL THE CATS are weird.

Thanks for the input and data points.
posted by mudpuppie at 5:00 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


As another weird data point my little terrier Vanna does this same thing! I've never seen another animal do it but it is almost exactly the same!

Also: your cats are so so cute!
posted by Saminal at 5:20 PM on October 23, 2012


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