Update: This page was written years ago. It has value but things have moved on a bit since then. Please use the search custom search facility to find other articles on cat emotions.
Discussing cat emotions is very difficult because we simply do not know for sure what emotions cats feel. When I say for sure, I mean there are no scientific studies that have concluded that a cat has specific emotions beyond fear, depression and contentment – basic emotions. The Wikipedia authors’ rambling article more of less says, “we don’t know”. However the basic conclusion is that cats need emotions for survival and that “Emotions arise in the mammalian brain, or the limbic system, which human beings share in common with other mammals as well as many other species”. I think this is almost common sense. Cats need emotions to survive, to feel anger and contentment. The big issue is whether they can feel the more complex emotions.
Do cats have higher emotions such as holding a grudge? Do cats seek revenge? The problem is that we don’t speak the same language as cats. And if we did would a cat be able to express himself on the subject of his emotions? Are cats able to understand their own emotions? Are we being more sensible if we simply observe behaviour and steer clear of emotion? Lots of questions and no really good answers. I wonder if one of two visitors to this page will have any ideas based on observation?
I have failed to find any scholarly works about the emotions of cats, unsurprisingly! As there is very little in the way of science on the subject of cat emotions, we have the opportunity to think freely about this subject based on personal observation.
In previous articles the conclusion drawn is that cats feel emotions at a higher level. In this post: Cat Grief the conclusion is that it is a genuine feline emotion. It is sometimes apparent on the loss of a companion cat. Elisa, a regular and respected contributor to PoC, says that she believes cats can love each other. I have read enough stories to agree with this. Of course the word “love” is much used and much abused by people. Some of the relationships between cats and other species particular dogs indicate that a very close bond can be formed that could be described as love.
Cats feel anxiety. The documented example is separation anxiety but their general behaviour under certain circumstances reflects anxiety. One condition, Feline Hyperesthesia is the result of anxiety and stress, it is thought. Cats show signs of uncertainty when they show displacement behaviour such as licking their nose. In a study by Dr Paul Morris at the University of Portsmouth, England the emotion of jealousy was implied in the behaviour of dogs but others say that dogs respond to the behavioral changes in their owners rather than feel guilt.
Without being too subjective and unscientific, it appears that my cats show signs of jealousy occasionally or am I misinterpreting behaviour? This story indicates otherwise. Are we putting our emotions into the head of our cat?
At July 2018 I concluded that cats cannot feel guilt and pride because both need that cats measure their behavior against norms of society. That means the cat has to have created society norms and standards and be self-aware. Science does not support this. ME King made the point that jealousy might be simple ‘resource guarding’. An act to benefit survival. Can we reduce cat emotions to logical survival behaviors?
Also grief maybe mistaken for anxiety.
The idea of writing an article on cat emotions came about because a blog concluded that cats don’t hold grudges and seek revenge. Is desire for revenge an emotion – not sure? But if it is my instinctive gut feeling is that this is a correct conclusion. But it is complicated by the thought that “revenge” and “grudges” are human concepts it seems to me. We should be asking whether cats behave in the same way as humans under circumstances in which humans hold a grudge and seek revenge. That is much more measurable and it cuts out the human concepts.
Another emotion that might be termed a higher emotion is regret (a feeling of sorrow or remorse for a fault, act, loss, disappointment, etc.1). This requires a lot of mental functions. We usually regret something that we failed to do. This is the classic context under which the word is used. This requires a desire to do something that occurred in the past, a failure to do it and a regret that it was not done in the future based on long term memory. We don’t know if cats feel the emotion of regret. My thoughts are that they don’t. If I am correct it sets the limits on cat emotions.
There is no doubt that cat emotions exist (disagree? Please leave a comment). But they are not as extensive as ours. They are certainly centred around survival and for a domestic cat that is very closely linked to companionship; human companionship primarily and the companionship of other animals in the family. For this reason the higher cat emotions such as jealousy are more likely to evolve and be learned.
We should understand cat emotions better. The domestic cat is considered part of the family. A good partner in a family will be sensitive to the feelings and emotions of another. Unless we understand cat emotions how can we be sensitive to them?