How much of a wildcat is your kitty? You wouldn’t believe how it manifests

Mádi-Krezinger Cintia

2024. February 10 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

Deep down, domestic cats are true tigers and lions; dangerous wild animals, but unfortunately too small and cute to unleash this hidden trait. However, ancient wild instincts occasionally surface, providing insight into how much of the wildcat remains in your pet.


Many believe that deep down, every house cat is actually a wildcat. But is it really so? The following behaviors indeed ignite ancient instincts.

Playing with the prey

Sadism isn’t behind the behavior; rather, it’s the hunting instinct crucial for survival in the wild.

A domestic pet is served by its owner, thus fundamentally eliminating the need for hunting. However, how it plays at home reveals much about its wild nature. If your cat loves games like chasing a wand toy, feeling like a true indoor predator, and even bats at treats, then the wild animal within it is lively. If it shows little interest in games imitating prey animals and doesn’t pounce on your feet under the table, it falls on the positive end of the gentleness scale.

Touch greetings

Communication through touch is utilized by all kinds of cats. It strengthens bonds between mothers and offspring, is important during mating for both males and females, and is an essential behavior for social species like lions and domestic cats.

Cats have scent glands on their chin, lips, and face, which they rub against each other — or against humans. Full-body greetings are also common, where the animal rubs its entire body against another. This gesture often starts with head-butting. While this behavior appears extremely gentle and affectionate, it’s actually one of the most important wild instincts. The more your cat circles around you and vigorously bumps its head against you, the stronger the wildcat within.

Scratch marks

Both wild male and female cats scratch trees (or other suitable objects) at crucial points in their territory. The height of these marks can provide information to other animals in the area about their size and strength.

Cats instinctively mark these spots repeatedly — domestic cats do this too, which is why they scratch their favorite furniture. If your kitty scratches everything, there’s likely a strong wild instinct in it, causing it to constantly mark its territory — even if it’s the only pet.

Territory defense

Many cats (including domestic ones) often mark their territory with scent and urine. Wildcat species complement this with vocal signals.

When cats meet, they try to prevent conflicts from escalating into fights through ritualistic displays. A classic example is raised fur, arched back, standing on tiptoes, and vocalizing. This can also be observed in domestic cats — more commonly in strays, as they heavily rely on wild instincts for survival. It’s less typical for indoor cats but can still occur. If your pet has never done this, it’s not considered wild in this regard. However, if it has assumed a territorial posture in response to an unexpected visitor, another animal, or an unfamiliar scent, the wild animal within it is stronger.

Attack methods

Most cat species are ambush predators. A tabby cat lurking near a bird feeder does the same as a leopard near a watering hole.

If your pet’s frequent activity includes hiding and then pouncing on your feet from ambush, the ancient instinct is strong. If it rarely hides and prefers to stay constantly visible, it’s not really considered wild.

The adrenal glands of domestic cats, which produce “fight or flight” hormones, are proportionally smaller than those of wild cat species. This may contribute to the relatively calm behavior of domestic cats. Additionally, compared to their wild counterparts, domestic cats have smaller brains. Researchers believe this is a consequence of selective breeding during domestication.

cat behaviour cat instincts wildcat

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