Can cats love? This is a very tricky question and we don’t actually know the answer but we can at least explore the idea. It is probably worth thinking about what the word love means. A most abused, used and misrepresented term. Well, as far as I can see, a neuroscientist, Andreas Bartels of University College, London, has stated that the brain-produced hormones, oxytocin and vasopressin are a kind of love potion that leads to bonds between individuals, to aid survival.
A common-sense approach to the word “love” indicates that cats can indeed love. However, it is a word really which is for humans and by humans. Humans created it to mean a specific thing: a strong affection between individuals. It is not really meant to apply to domestic cats and other animals. But there is no doubt that cats can feel affection towards their human caregiver and other animals. You will see countless examples of domestic cats in very strong friendships with other cats and indeed animals of other species. So, if we regard love as a deep affection then, common sense dictates that cats can feel it.
Perhaps, the question is rather foolhardy because humans don’t really know what love means anyway. It means different things to different people and it is a very elastic term. Let’s just say that cats can feel affection for each other and their human companion. That’s enough for me and I think that you will agree.
I have not seen the actual research paper despite trying to find it. But if these chemicals are behind “love” (the feeling of being in love or to put it in a more practical way, a very strong bond) then another research paper would indicate that they can also affect animals and if so, why not our beloved cat companions?
A research paper coming out of the Department of Psychiatry, University of Illinois at Chicago found that “both oxytocin and vasopressin may influence alloparental behavior in male prairie voles”. (src: www.sciencedirect.com). Alloparental behaviour means the parental behavior of an animal to young that are not related to the parent. We know that the term “love” can describe the bond between individual people who are unrelated (parentally) and, equally, between, say, human mother and child. It can also, it seems, exist between parent animal and offspring based on the above research. This would seem to be the same sort of love, with which we are familiar.
Following up on the theme of human parent to child or cat parent to kitten love, we also have lots of evidence of the love bond between mother cat and her kittens. Witness the case of a calico cat called Scarlett who, in suffering long term injuries to herself, saved her five kittens from a New York fire in 1996. There are many other examples.
Between humans, initially, love is intense, being manifested in lust. This wanes to a more balanced, enduring and more perfect love, God willing and with patience. In my experience we as humans can get straight to that more perfect form of love in a relationship with a cat provided, we have the correct and receptive attitude. And I have experienced it being reciprocated by a cat and I am not talking about reflected love (i.e. our love reflected from the cat or a desire to feel loved by the cat). I am talking about the real thing and the research above would support the fact that this is truly possible and practical. So, in answer to the question, “can cats love”?”, the answer is, yes. And even if I am wrong and it might be a different version to ours, it is just as good.