Appreciate the Differences Between Cat and Human

Despite the amazingly positive relationship between human and domestic cat that is enjoyed by hundreds of millions of people all over the world there are some differences between the two species that are the basis of a kind of culture clash that both species have to adapt to and work around. I think it useful to remind ourselves of these as it should prepare us better to discharge our obligations as a cat’s companion and caretaker. We are the senior partner.

Person Loves Cat
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Person Loves Cat. Photo by Yashna M I love this picture. It has a strong sense of true love between person and cat. You can see it and feel it. I think it was taken in India.


We should ask ourselves what it would feel like if we were living with a companion that was the size of a tree. It would scare me until I got to know the animal. If my companion was 6 times taller than me I’d have to do things differently if I wanted to interact with him or her. I’d have to steer clear of her sometimes too. The stark difference in size is something we forget about but it is always present in the background of the relationship. It affects the cat more than the human. We need to step into the shoes of the cat occasionally and feel that.


Can you sleep when your cat is right next to you all night? I’ll tell you that I have difficulty. In fact my Charlie who has taken to sleeping right next to me all night is making me awfully tired!

Cats like to catnap either in the day or night. A cat naturally wakes up at dawn and be active at dawn and dusk although they adapt to our sleeping patterns and style. Humans tend to have regimented sleeping patterns – nighttime – and sleep needs to be deep to get the benefits.

There is a clash of sleeping behaviors which makes it hard for a human to sleep with a cat next to him in part because cats tend not to move around so much to get comfortable and to avoid bed sores.This may be because their bodies are more flexible molding into the bed or surface more efficiently to spread the weight throughout a larger area, which in turn reduces the pressure on a single small area.

People move in bed as an instinctive action to avoid pressure on small areas of the body. Extended periods of pressure can starve the area of blood and therefore oxygen leading to the death of muscle, skin and nerve. This constant movement disturbs a cat especially if the cat sleeps at the person’s feet.

If a cat is right next to you for warmth he will restrict this natural movement making it much harder, even impossible sometimes, to fall asleep.


People go to work. Often they are out of the home all day. Domestic cats don’t have to work (hunt) for their living. This is a big underlying difference between cat and human. It might be the case that the relationship would be better if both cat and human worked. It would make for a more balanced relationship. A cat is there waiting to be fed and stimulated etc. The relationship is rather one sided in that respect. This tends to reinforce the mother/child relationship (human mother – cat child). Our absence at work can cause our cat to feel stressed and lonely. Retired people are better companions to cats in general.


Cats don’t understand doors. They are a human invention. In the wild there are no doors and the domestic cat has an African wildcat mentality modified somewhat by nine thousand years of domestication. The domestic cat has a natural range of movements that might extend to several acres, being larger for male cats. All the obstructions and barriers that people create such as doors, homes, fences and walls prevent a cat moving around within an area that feels natural.

Predation – Claws – Teeth

Cats are one of the world’s more proficient predators. Humans are the world’s top predator. The styles of predation are vastly different. The domestic cat’s style of predation clashes with the human’s lifestyle. Essentially a lot of people are frightened of the domestic cat’s abilities and his use of claws and teeth. This is a barrier to a successful relationship for some people and it can lead to unpleasant behavior by the human – called “cat abuse”. Learn to love claws and teeth and the glorious abilities of the cat.


Cats wear an overcoat all the time, indoors and out. It is a fixed item of apparel designed for outdoor living. We change our clothes constantly to adjust to the varying conditions and climate be it of our own making or not. Cats like warmth, and despite wearing an overcoat and not being able to perspire to cool down, they are very tolerant of heat. This may be a throwback to the African wildcat ancestor. However, the domestic cat can become too warm. I believe that flat surfaces are sometimes preferable for a cat to lie on as they allow air to circulate. Under, or on, duvets that fold into a cat, he can become uncomfortable.


Because we are the senior partner we feed our cat. I am back to the idea that it would be better in an ideal world if cats were allowed to work as we work. What I mean is that a cat should hunt for his food. So much more natural. Hunting combines exercise and the food is perfect – less obesity and health problems from incorrect food. People tend to manufacture food for their cat that has three objectives and not one. If there was one objective it would be to make sure that our cat was given absolutely perfect food. When the objectives are (a) profit for the manufacturer (b) convenience and a decent price for the consumer and (c) to feed a cat, the food is not perfect. It is heavily compromised.


Obviously we look very different but human and cat are strangely remarkably similar in terms of organ function – the reason why people use cats in animal testing. There are some fundamental differences regarding metabolism that people can sometimes ignore and which affects cat health. Four things come to mind (a) cats can’t eat dog food (b) cats can’t take human painkillers unless great care and control is in place (c) certain foods are an absolutely necessity (i.e arginine) for survival (d) certain household items are toxic to cats.


I’d like to think about the differences in senses between cat and human. Cats have vastly superior senses of smell and hearing. They rely on smell a lot to recognise things (food and us for example). Noisy environments probably sound very noisy to a cat and humans are generally noisy creatures in urban environments. Even generally speaking, humans seem to create lots of noise. We need to be sensitive to a cat’s heightened awareness of sounds. Cats see about as well as humans. They see much better in dark conditions but see colour less well. When we are struggling to get around a darkened room a cat is at home and sees things clearly.

Babies – Kids – Punishment

We tend to look upon our cat as a wayward yet adorable baby or kid. The cat is often a substitute for a child. This human mentality can lead to human behavior towards a cat that is incorrect. One form of incorrect behavior is trying to punish a cat for what is perceived by a human as wrongdoing or bad behavior. A lot of experts have opinions about this and for me they are all wrong. People should accept a cat’s behavior as it is beautiful. Punishment is a human concept and cats don’t understand it.

If we have an appreciation of some of the fundamental differences between cat and human we should be better placed to care for our cat. At least we will be more sensitive towards our cat, which is a good starting point for good cat caretaking. The key is to respect the cat. Essay on cat behavior.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.
Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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3 Responses

  1. Amanda says:

    Cat behaviour might be beautiful.. but for a cat that thinks its a human, ie one that has not met many other cats (being raised mostly indoors), and sleeps with his human mummy, its very scary! 2 of mine have been bitten by the neighbours cats since we moved to the country and they have spent more time outdoors (doing natural cat things like chasing prey and climbing trees), and has caused them to be very stressed. Not beautiful!

  2. Ruth (Monty's Mom) says:

    What a great article– it hit on so many aspects of our relationship with cats. I had a cat who slept in the crook of my arm in bed with me, under the covers. I remember going to sleep with her there and waking up with her there. I don’t think I could sleep on the same side all night like that now, but I was young then. I think the cat was seeking body heat. It was COLD in my ever frugal parents’ house. (Funny how now that they are elderly they keep it like a sauna in there.) I tried to have Monty sleep next to me in that way, but he tolerated it for 30 seconds, which is about his tolerance for cuddle time.

    I hate having to leave Monty when I go to work. Luckily,I work part time, so he’s not alone much. I tell him that someone has to go earn money to buy him kitty food. In the morning when I am deciding what to wear I always say to Monty that he’s going to wear his little black fur coat again. It’s so easy for him. He doesn’t have to decide. He already is clothed and ready for the day the moment he awakes. It takes me much longer to get ready. If it’s time to take Monty outside he has little patience while waiting for me to get ready. If it were up to him I’d just be taking him out there naked or in my pajamas. He really doesn’t care, he just wants me to hurry up.

    Monty has had bad experiences with doors. Every so often he ends up on the wrong side of one. He moves so fast that it can be hard to keep track of him. I’ll be positively certain that he’s in the apartment, but I’ll come home later and my sister will say she had to let Monty into his house again because he was sitting in the hallway by our closed door as she came downstairs.

    I’m glad today that I know what not to feed Monty. When I was a kid we often gave our cats whatever we were having, plus some wet cat food and the cats caught mice, moles, rabbits, birds etc… I’d let the cat out, drive to Boo-U for classes, come back later and let the cat in. In the meantime she’d catch mice and generally entertain herself. It would have seemed cruel to leave her locked up in the house if I wasn’t going to be gone long. Living in the city I can’t do that for Monty. I do feel bad that he’s more cooped up than my childhood cats, but at least he’s safe.

  3. Marc says:

    The point about size difference is so so important. You can really see it with kittens and the way they react to your movements not matter how small and gentle.

    The point about cat food and the agenda behind it is sadly so true. Alot of people just want cheap. They have no concept of whether their cat is happy or not or likes something more than another so they just give cheap food and see a cat being a cat, therefore a happy cat. I’ve heard those words said before. Its like they would need the cat to express great displeasure for them to understand they need to vary it and get something better. The cat is hungry, it eats the food. The person thinks the food is just ‘fine’ – whatever that is supposed to mean. I dont know what to say to those people. My friend just thinks I like to spoil her cats and kittens with ‘fancy’ food but she sees no difference in it’s value for the cats. I therefore conclude that this is one of the similarities between cat and people but which people do not see in cats. People care about what they eat – I’m sure cats enjoy different foods in different ways and have preferences. Some more than others, just like people. Many people just dont understand this and give their cat cheap dry food because its so easy you dont even have to wash dishes. That sucks and makes me angry. Sorry. Don’t have a cat if you want to do nothing for it. Literally nothing. Her cat goes outside – so no litterbox. She does next to nothing and she says she buys the cheapest dry food like its normal. And her vet said thats fine. When the kittens are growing up after they are weaned I constantly come over with various types of wet kitten food. The more natural and less preservatives etc, the better. I bring what I can and leave it for her too. I often come back and see it still sittin gin her cupboard. I’m begginning to think she’s a total loser and shouldn’t be producing kittens 2 times a year and have a big dog who gets the same diet by the way. Argh. But I love her cats and they love me. She is amazed how they come out of their shells and love me like she has never seen them do. I know exactly why they do that and she STILL doesnt get it. Cat’s are very capable of saying thank you and showing appreciation. Sorry for going on a tangent.

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