There’s nothing that divides the pet community quite like cat behaviour and the idea that their cats have absolutely no idea that their owners are human. That, in fact, they view us as extra large felines.
And so on one side of the white picket fence we have cat owners, who believe that their pets interact with them in a highly emotionally intelligent manner and that cat behaviour speaks for itself: they understand that they’re dealing with a totally different species to themselves.
On the other side of the fence, we have animal behaviourists and cat behaviour experts like John Bradshaw who believe from their personal observations and experience that cats don’t interact with us any differently than if we were another feline in their clowder (that’s what you call a group of cats, by the way).
“We’ve yet to discover anything about cat behavior that suggests they have a separate box they put us in when they’re socializing with us. They obviously know we’re bigger than them, but they don’t seem to have adapted their social behavior much. Putting their tails up in the air, rubbing around our legs, and sitting beside us and grooming us are exactly what cats do to each other.”
“In the book [I say] that cats behave toward us in a way that’s indistinguishable from [how] they would act toward other cats. They do think we’re clumsy: Not many cats trip over people, but we trip over cats. But I don’t think they think of us as being dumb and stupid, since cats don’t rub on another cat that’s inferior to them.”
Which makes sense. And I totally get that compared to dogs (which the author does), cats don’t seem to be as trainable or emotionally motivated to build relationships with us as dogs are.
And yet …
It doesn’t sit quite right with me.
So, what’s the truth about cat behaviour and how they see us?
I’ve grown up with cats. I own two of my own. And how my cats interact with me, from verbal communication and body language through to learning tricks and basic obedience (yep, really), is definitely different from how they interact with each other. Which leads me to believe that cat behaviour experts might not be seeing the full picture. Or … I’m missing something.
And I’m not the only one that feels this way.
A quick flick through the comments in NetGeo’s article reveals similar opinions.
“I think cats sometimes treat us similar to other cats, but to say that they see us in the same way is stretching it a little too far. I have two cats and there is a big difference in how they initially behave around humans they just met versus cats or dogs they just met. Cats definitely know we are not cats.” says Ben Tom.
“Another study shows how cats don’t “meow” to us the same way they do to other cats. They adopt a distinctive sound that they will use with their human (“owner”) to get their attention.” Elisabetta Bruno comments.
And in fact, there is one feline and cat behaviour expert that concurs with us crazy cat folks.
“Dr. Turner has used Information Theory, a complex mathematical system employed in computer science to determine whether two entities are communicating, to suggest that kitties and their people transfer information back and forth. According to Dr. Turner, each feline-human pair has an individual way of communicating, due in part to the wide variety of behaviors cats use to “talk” to their human family.” says Dr. Karen Becker in an article for the Huffington Post.
And while each feline-human relationship is different, there’s one thing we can all agree on:
We’re much better humans for having these beautiful felines in our life. Irrespective of whether cat behaviour experts say they think we’re giant, clumsy cats or if we think they see us as intriguingly loveable humans.
What do you think? Does your cat see you as a fellow feline? Or do cat behaviour experts have it wrong? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment below.