Cats can be mysterious creatures, and when they do something we don’t understand, it’s tempting to say they are reacting in human ways. But while cats certainly do have emotions, they are not always the same emotions we would have in the same situations. Let’s take a look at two common situations in which we often ascribe human emotions to very feline behaviors.

A couple gets married and the groom moves in with the bride and her cat. The cat begins scratching all the groom’s possessions and occasionally marks them with urine. It’s tempting to think the cat is jealous of the new man in the house. We might feel the same way in the same situation. But jealously is probably not what’s motivating this cat.

Stress is a more likely culprit. When a new person moves in, he brings in clothes and shoes and furniture and other stuff that smells unfamiliar. The furniture is moved around, the cat’s routine is disrupted, and kitty may even be getting less attention. So the cat scratches the new guy’s things to cover them with her scent (“There! Now we know this is in my territory and it doesn’t smell so strange.”), and may even get some comfort from putting her very potent urine scent on the new guy’s things. It’s about marking everything as part of the cat’s environment; marking is one way cats deal with stress.

Stress may also be behind what are known as idiopathic urinary tract infections — that is, urinary tract infections that do not have an obvious medical cause. Have your cat checked by a vet to make sure she’s not ill.

During this difficult transition, stick to the cat’s feeding and play routines as much as possible. Have the groom feed the cat and play with her, but let the cat set the pace when it comes to petting. Most cats eventually calm down and grow to love the new guy. Until that happens, keep his clothes off the floor, keep the litter box even more spotlessly clean than usual and distract kitty with playtime whenever she starts scratching something she’s not supposed to.

What about when you go on vacation and come home to find your cat has started urinating or defecating on your bed? It’s tempting to say the cat is angry at you for going away, and is now refusing to use his litter box in retaliation. But that’s not the case.

Here, again, stress plays a role; your cat missed you, and that’s stressful! Have him checked by the vet to be sure he’s healthy.

Other factors may also be at work. Your cat-sitter may not have kept the litter box as clean as you keep it, and your cat may have found it simply unbearable. He also may find it comforting to mix his scent with your own by urinating or defecating on your pillow or your clothing. In your absence, this is the next best thing to love (and sure evidence that cats and humans do not think the same way!).

Clean the litter box thoroughly and cover your bed with something the cat doesn’t like to walk on, such as a plastic tarp or a shower curtain. Most cats soon return to their former good litter box habits.