Cats Feel Jealousy But Not Grief

Dr Bradshaw in his book Cat Sense states that he believes that the domestic cat is able to feel the emotion of jealousy but not grief. He states that, “all that jealousy requires is that the cat merely perceives that another cat is getting more of something than it should”. In an article I wrong years ago, I decided that cats probably grieve, somewhat contradicting Dr Bradshaw’s ideas.

Cat Jealousy

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Because of the simplicity of the emotion of jealousy he believes that cats are almost certainly capable of feeling it but not as often as dogs. A lot of cat guardians will be able to recount stories of how their cat companion intervenes when they try and stroke another cat.

As for grief, most people believe, through observation or reading about it on the internet, that the domestic cat is capable of grief because they behave strangely when another cat that they have known disappears. Dr Bradshaw believes that what they actually feel is more likely to be temporary anxiety. This anxiety disappears when traces of the missing cat disappears from the environment.

For example, a mother may search for her kitten for a couple of days or more after the kitten has been moved to a new home. The mother will have a memory of her kitten. She may count the remaining kittens to check that one of them is missing. This is a reflection of what takes place in the wild when a cub goes missing and the mother seeks him as a natural instinct to protect her young until they are independent of her.

But as for domestic cats, the mother cannot recognise the fact that her kitten has gone to a new owner in a new home where he will be well cared for. This is because the domestic cat has experienced nothing like that in her evolutionary history. It doesn’t fit in to the evolution of the North African wildcat and is not therefore in her DNA.

Cat Grief

While the mother is reminded of the missing kitten, partly because there will be lingering cues of his presence such as scent; once the kitten’s scent has faded to the point where the mother can not longer detect it, Dr Bradshaw believes that at that stage the mother probably forgets all about the departed kitten. As long as she can still smell her kitten she may feel the natural anxiety that that engenders and which drives her to continue to search. However, this is not the emotion of grief.

The theory may not please many cat guardians. You may disagree with it. It does not refer to the situation where cats are close buddies and one of them dies. You may have read about what to all intense and purposes appears to be grieving under these circumstances. We aren’t sure, to be honest, whether cats can and do grieve.

Jackson Galaxy believes cats feel grief but have a better ability than people to move on and therefore get over it much faster. This is taking the middle ground and it’s an idea which I like.

Associated: Articles tagged “cat emotions”.

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10 thoughts on “Cats Feel Jealousy But Not Grief”

  1. Come on Dr Bradshaw, the 21st century is calling you!

    He produces some interesting work but seems beholden (like many) to the notion that non humans cannot have complex emotions.

    Was it 20 years ago now that a large group of notable scientists produced a statement that acknowledged not just that other animals have complex emotions, but how they manage to have them without having a neo cortex like wot hooomans have.

    *eye roll*

    We need real cat people as scientists, we really do. Maybe that way, there’d be less of the hidden agenda swaying the results, or maybe it might mean there’d be more of it?


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