What Does My Cat Think I Am?

by Michael
(London UK)

Photo by fofurasfelinas (Flickr)

Photo by fofurasfelinas (Flickr)

What does my cat think I am? It is almost impossible to know but we can have a pretty good guess at it. I sometimes wonder when my cats and I look intently at each other, and when I am talking lovingly to them, how they see me.

The answer must come from one of these three options:

  • They see us as an animal that is different to themselves and accept us as companions.
  • They have no opinion or thoughts about us. We are another creature with whom they cohabit. In other words cats have no sense of self awareness and are therefore unquestioning about other animals. We are just there and cats act on instinct and respond to our behavior.
  • They see us a mother cats because we feed them and in effect mother them. In short we keep the cat in a permanent state of kittenhood and the cat does not actually see us as a large cat when they look at us, but nonetheless the relationship is one of cat parent to kitten.

Answer three is likely to be the best one.

I don't think cats see other objects including people in a particular way as we do. We label things, recognise them, are aware of ourselves (painfully so sometimes) and have opinions about other animals.

Cats are not self-conscious, it is thought. That means they are unaware of themselves as existing and as a cat. They don't think about those things. Their lives are lived instinctively and reactively to stimulus around them.

On that basis they also don't see us as humans (they don't know what that means) or in fact cats but they do react to us as if we were a mother cat. The emotional connection is of kitten to cat. That is the relationship. But this doesn't mean that they see us a large hairless cats that walk on two legs and upright! They just don't bother thinking about that sort of thing.

When we talk to them they react to the tone of the voice, the routines and our body language to understand us. We understand them for the same reasons.

What Does My Cat Think I Am?

ANS: A mother cat without questioning in any way my appearance and behavior while being able to recognise my appearance and voice.

Michael Avatar

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Cats live in a land of giants

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What Does My Cat Think I Am?

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Jan 30, 2010 You Are......
by: Joyce Sammons

A massage therapist, fur-dresser, chef, servant. That's OK-so am I. At least we're putting out all of this energy to someone who appreciates it. Cats may try to hide looking grateful but I believe they are. Furby comes over to me and just gives me a look that says he's done playing and he wants to take a nap in my lap.


Jan 28, 2010 You have a point
by: Michael

Finn, you have a point now you made me think about it.

My old girl cat actually communicates with me on an equal footing. If she wants something and I don't perform she pretty well shouts at me! She complains sometimes and I feel guilty - true.

She decides what she wants to do etc. It feels equal to me. Perhaps when the relationship is long (I have been a human companion to her for 17+ years) this happens.

Note: I typed this before reading Finn's comment about old cats (I just skimmed the first bit) so we agree that when a cat knows a human well and is comfortable with that person the cat adopts an adult mentality and sees us as companions.

Michael Avatar


Jan 28, 2010 Old Milly mothers her humans
by: Finn Frode, Denmark

I really enjoyed reading this article and the follow-up comments about sentience. It's worth thinking about.
As to whether we are keeping our cats in a permanent state of kittenhood, I think it's only part of the picture.
Sometimes our old Milly actually treats us as her kittens - especially at four in the morning when she drags her favourite stick into our bedroom. She sounds just like a mother cat calling for her kittens to follow her. She's an old cat now, so maybe a long life has taught her to think of our relationship that way. ;-)

Finn Frode avatar


Jan 28, 2010 Right on!
by: Everycat

You are bang on the money there with point 2 - I'd say that many vets and vivisectionists rely on that one as justification for their work too.

Again, Temple Grandin has some interesting thoughts on just how cruelty to animals (especially within working environments) becomes "acceptable" and even the norm. Peer pressure, ignorance, desperation to be seen as "in charge" and a fear of challanging accepted authority (ooh religion again!) all are part of the equation.

:)


Jan 28, 2010 Glad we agree
by: Michael

I am pleased we agree but I thought we did anyway. Yes, I wasn't sure what sentience really meant until you brought it up so I had to look it up!

The range of thoughts I covered were meant to be the whole range. There may be others. I think that the second bulleted possibility is the one that allows some people to be cruel cats and animals generally.

Michael Avatar


Jan 28, 2010 Phew!
by: Everycat

Thanks for the clarification of your view on this Michael. I do understand what sentience means.

If ever humans are establish healthy relationships with all the non human species of this planet, it will only be once they have divested themselves of the arrogance that only humans possess sentience. Religious creed has much to answer for, it has perpetuated misinterpretation of animal behaviour and impeded science in the domain of ethology/veterinary science/humane treatment/animal training et al, for far too long. It's time it stopped, but I'm an atheist and would say that ;)

Science is at last starting to understand the neural mechanisms of emotion in humans and this is filtering through to those studying neurology in animals. This is why I suggest Temple Grandin's work as a great area to explore. She touches on sentience in her work - how could she not when studying mamalian emotion?

This is the paragraph I was responding to, not number 3 :-

"Cats are not self-conscious, it is thought. That means they are unaware of themselves as existing and as a cat. They don't think about those things. Their lives are lived instinctively and reactively to stimulus around them"

- a denial of feline sentience!

Cats that live in colonies (domestic and feral) all display signs of sentience in every day behaviours. They have to, or they would not be able to co-exist in colonies. It's up to those of us who are interested to argue the toss about what is sentient behaviour and what is not. The cat just gets on with it.

I think that our human need to be wanted and accepted also contributes to the view that domestic cats in our care are forever kittens/adolescents. Covertly observed when away from human presence, they display behaviours that are attenuated in our presence.


Jan 28, 2010 Sentience
by: Michael

Hi, I actually didn't even think about sentience when I wrote it. But thanks for bringing it up.

I just looked up sentience: the ability to feel or perceive subjectively.

Subjectively means: a person's perspective or opinion, particular feelings, beliefs, and desires

Good old Wikipedia!

Well, I don't think that what I said (that number 3 above is probably how cats see us) is against the concept that cats are sentient beings.

I certainly believe that they are. But I don't think that they see as as "humans", but just as another creature that cares for them, a mother figure. And I think that their decision is subjective.

Also (and this another example of a cat's subjective thinking) they can recognise kind people from unkind people or make a judgment call on whether a person is friendly to them. I believe these are subjective decisions.

So, I think and hope that what I said does not undermine what I believe, namely that cats are sentient beings.

Michael Avatar


Jan 28, 2010 Crikey!
by: Everycat

Are you saying you don't believe cats are sentient? If you are, I'm astonished at your view Michael. Have a read of Temple Grandin's work on mamalian sentience. The idea that no animal other than homo sapien is sentient springs out of very old and disproven thinking that is based on the need of humans to bolster their security as top species on the planet.

I agree that in the home, our felines often behave as kittens, due to the way we treat them and set up their environment. When our cats are away from us, they return to adult cat behaviour (Jeremy Angel's study of ferals illustrated this). When our adult pet cats bring home prey, they are viewing us as rather slow-learning kittens. The prey is brought home alive or dead, according to how our cats view our stage of learning/ability in dealing with prey. They are teaching us to hunt.


Jan 26, 2010 what I heard
by: kathy

What I have heard is most similar to your number 3 theory also. I heard that cats see humans as big cats. How that happens I dont know. But when we leave they reason that we are going out hunting for their food. Thats why when we come back they insist on seeing whats in the bag. I dont remember where I heard that but sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it doesnt. Why do some cats accept some cats as part of the clan and some as not. Like when I was living with my son. Lia hated Shadow for some reason and would just attack him even after Shadow was fixed. Its not like Lia was the first cat there because him and Cas came there at the same time. When we brought Midnight in he could have cared less. Then they would get along fine for a couple of weeks then just out of the blue Lia would attack Shadow for no reason. Who knows the mind of the cat.


Jan 25, 2010 Who are we ?
by: Ruth

Very interesting Michael.I agree number 3 is the most likely right answer BUT we'll never know for sure will we ?
We are cats mothers in a way as we look after their every need,feed them,groom them,amuse them and protect them and if we treat them as we should, they love and trust us.
So in a way they are our children who never grow up.
Sometimes our boyz look at us as if they know a lot more about us than we think they do!
They know how to get exactly what they want and when they want it,we think we are so clever but they don't even need words !

Kattaddorra signature Ruth



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