How Lions Are Just Like Your Pet Cat

Written by Thomson Safaris

Rawr” by Flickr user kahumphrey licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

They may be top of the food chain, but underneath the fearsome roars and impressively suave manes, lions are just big kitties.

Don’t believe us? There are tons of ways they’re just like your purring pet:


They’re Constantly Cleaning Themselves

Just like house cats, lions spend a huge amount of time every day licking themselves clean. It’s not just because they’re fastidious; they’re working to remove as much of their scent as possible (so prey won’t be able to smell when they’re downwind!).

lion cleaning cubs

Photo: Thomson Safaris guest, Patti Lawrence

They Love Boxes AND Catnip

According to animal handlers and rescuers, lions love jumping in a cardboard box as much as their smaller counterparts.

They also love catnip…or at least some of them do. In all cat species, reactions to catnip are genetic, and certain individuals will love it, while others will leave it alone.

lion and cardboard box

What’s in the box?” by Flickr user geopungo licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

They Sleep A LOT

Yours isn’t the only cat that lounges around from morning to night. Domestic cats usually sleep between 16 and 20 hours a day; lions average right around 20 hours daily. And just like house cats, lions prefer sleeping during the day, becoming much more active right around the time people head to bed (so count yourself lucky that the crazed cat running around your house is around 8-10 pounds, and not 300-400).

And when they wake up, they all YAWN.

lions sleeping

Photo: Thomson Safaris guest, Chris Kezer

They Knead

Ever met a cat that lets you know it’s happy by kneading imaginary dough (or if you’re unlucky, whatever part of your body it’s sitting on)?

Well he’s got a few thousand kindred spirits in the Serengeti.

Just like kittens, lion cubs knead when they’re nursing to help stimulate milk flow. No one’s 100% certain why adult animals continue to do this (though many posit that it’s simply a leftover behavior from this early, practical application), but it seems to signal contentment or happiness, in big cats and in little ones!


Lioness sharpening her claws” by Flickr User, Tambako The Jaguar licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

And They Shimmy

Your cat is crouched down, focused intently on something across the room you can’t see, but it’s not until that distinctive butt-wiggle happens that you KNOW it’s going to pounce.

Lions like to shake it out before leaping into action, too. Though spotting that shimmy in the Serengeti is probably a little less adorable (and more nervewracking) than when your tabby does it at home!

Lions get ready to pounce

Photo: Thomson Safaris guest, Aravind Krishnaswamy

Convinced yet?

Well there are a few differences. One of the biggies, in fact, is purring. Lions have a special bone in their throat that allows them to roar, but makes it impossible for them to purr like domestic cats do.

Thank goodness for that—otherwise you might NEVER be able to tell the two apart!