Here are three points about anthropomorphising cats. Anthropomorphism is the “attribution of human mental states (thoughts, feeling, motivations and beliefs) to nonhuman animals”. Let’s say, though, that cats have emotions and therefore I’d argue they have feelings too. So some anthropomorphising is just a true recognition of cat behaviour and senses. That’s my personal point of view.

This tendency of humans to make cats little humans may be a way of humans trying to obtain human companionship from cats in order to use them as “alternative sources of social support”.

Breeding

In addition, this human trait may have put pressure on purebred cat breeders to create cats which have as near as possible physical and behavioural traits like humans (think round faces and large eyes – Persians). Further it has been argued that humans may have placed pressure on the domestic cats themselves over the thousands of years of evolution such that the cats developed behavioural traits that facilitate the attribution of human mental states to cats.

One aspect of this might be that domestic cats continue to act like babies even when fully adult. Humans keep domestic cats in a perpetual kitten-like state. This is facilitated by their cuddly appearance, soft fur, small size and the willingness of most cats to be picked up and petted by humans. This also leads to mishandling cats (treating cats as infants).

Hoarding

It is said that the collecting of cats by cat hoarders is a bye product of anthropomorphisation. A scientist, Serpell (in 2002), stated that when the human-like expectations are not met or when people over-empathize with animals abuse and hoarding may result.

Uncontrolled Breeding

A portion of the American population believes that female cats need to experience the birth of kittens (parturition) before they are spayed. A study in 1996 found that a little over 20% of cats gave birth to kittens before being spayed. This is a major source of unwanted cats.

P.H. Kass writing in The Welfare of Cats writes:

“The reasons for this belief are unclear: among some individuals the tendency to anthropomorphise their parental instincts onto their pets may be the reason…”

This seems to be saying that cat owners, through their female cats, wish to become parents again of humanised kittens. It is an expression of the human female maternal instinct thrust upon the domestic cat.

History

In the early 19th century illustrators of wild cat species portrayed their subjects as human characters almost because at that time the wild cat species were far less well-known. This is an early example of anthropomorphising cats. Click on the image to read more on this.

Anthropomorphised wild cats – early 1800s

Do you have some ideas on this? Please leave a comment.

Update: I’ll add a fourth point as an afterthought. The above suggestions are just that. The point is that some people will truly see their cats as little humans and sort of get mixed up. Others will be at the other end of the spectrum and disagree that cats even have emotions. I don’t think it is a bad thing to anthropomorphise one’s cat as long as it does not lead to mishandling and dietary issues which might be detrimental to a cat’s health and welfare.



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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • This subject is maddening to me because the elderly couple living behind me assign human attributes to their cats all the time. No matter how many times I tell them that Little Rickie won't "learn his lesson" by tossing him outside when he soils outside the box or Magpie really doesn't "know what she's doing to us" when she knocks things from counters, I get nowhere.

    • I bought new litter pans at the farm store this week. While checking out the cashier went on about no matter how deep of a pan she bought her cats deliberately threw litter out of the box and tracked it all over. As she was still going after I pulled my card out of the machine I took a moment to tell what an ignorant female dog she was. During this one sided rant I squeezed in things like covered litter boxes, mats and that cats do not do things to be spiteful to their owners. I've reached the end of my rope listening to people rant about the pets they choose to have. I have 2 six week old kittens in the living room and while they hit the box they get litter everywhere because of the shallow pan they have right now. If you have cats you can save yourself a lot of angst by purchasing a hand held vacuum

  • My first opinion is that (I'll call it -a-) -a- is normal, it's a baseline, but it's the idea that processing what one perceives being a only human capability that is the problem. An a relationship with a non-human shouldn't be looked upon as a substitute for a "proper" or "human" one. It's jus different. There are extremes as in anything, like this very notion that animals are not allowed to act like humans, or "can't". We here know that all animals have experiences that can be thought of as similar - they're just to varying degrees. I myself just got a little fish and am delighted to see that he (or she) too experiences my presence, and because I take care not to startle or rattle him and bring him fortune (food)... he "likes" me and lights up when I'm near. This may be old news to some but I recall people saying fish have no feelings, which I saw immediately that that was untrue. There's nothing wrong with seeing things the way they are, and people who don't, simply refuse to.

    • I agree with you. I see my cat as a close companion and friend. I see him as a cat but the relationship has a some human qualities. I am sure that there are a wide range of relationships between cat and cat owner. Some will genuinely anthropomorphise their cats while others won't even believe they feel pain.

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