Categories: affection

Do cats get emotionally attached to their owners like dogs?

I don’t want to upset the person who asked the question but am I the only person who thinks that it is a silly question? It is a question which should not be asked. There would have been no domestication of the wild cat if cats did not become emotionally attached to their owners. Admittedly the initial reason for domesticating the cat was to keep down rodent populations on farms but there was always an emotional connection between cat and human.

You will not get a better picture of a cat who is emotionally attached to a human than this one. Yes, the cat is a lion but all cat species are essentially the same. The picture is in the public domain.

The earliest fossil that we have unearthed of a domestic cat is in Cyprus. The man and the cat were buried together clearly indicating an emotional connection. They were buried about 9,500 years ago. So the first domestic cat had an emotional connection with his or her owner which makes sense because this is the primary reason to live with a domestic cat.

Lagerfeld and his beloved Choupette

Today, the reason for the existence of the domestic cat is that they are companions to people. Companionship implies an emotional attachment. It is unsurprising because domestic cats have emotions, feelings and have become quite sociable.

Butterball and Kimmy Kitty at a love in.

You will see many photographs and videos on the Internet of cats forming friendships with other cats, dogs, others animals and so on (even plush toys). So it is not just about cats becoming attached to humans. The attachment between cat and human can be particularly strong if the cat was raised as a kitten by a human who acts as their surrogate mother. The human can be imprinted on the kitten’s brain as a true mother. This relationship lasts throughout the lifetime of the cat.

Foal imprinting. Photo by Sundance Stables.

These cats follow their “owner” around like a dog and are more likely to suffer from separation anxiety. I think my cat regards me in this way. When I buy the paper in the morning I walk to my local shops which are about a 10 minute walk away. My cat wants to come with me and nowadays he often waits under a car about 100 yards from my front door. He has followed me down the street as far as he wants to go and then waits for me. It has encouraged me to believe that I should take him with me on a leash. I raised him from a seven week old kitten. He was born in a back garden I don’t know where. Somewhere in West London.

Dog with kitten in mouth. He’d just rescued his feline friend from a fire. Photo in public domain.

The question asks whether cats become emotionally attached like dogs. They don’t become attached quite like dogs because dogs regard their owner as the leader of the pack. Therefore they expect leadership. Cats regard their human companions and caretakers as a co-specific, a friend and a provider of security and sustenance. Sometimes, as mentioned, the human can be imprinted as a true parent. However, we don’t know exactly how domestic cats regard their humans. Do they see them as another species or as a cat?

I believe that cats don’t actually think about that aspect of the relationship. They don’t ask themselves whether we are big cats or humans or any other creature. They just relate to us as a friend or non-hostile associate. It is people who like to pigeonhole their associates and friends. Cats don’t do this in my opinion.

Best Friends. Photo by kellynphillong

Just as cats can become emotionally attached to their owners, they can also become detached if the owner mistreats their cat. They can do this by shouting at them or punishing them. Cats do not understand the concept of punishment which is a human process. It requires self-awareness and a knowledge of what they have done is wrong. Everything that a cat does is instinctively correct from the cat’s standpoint and therefore it cannot be wrong. And cats are not self-aware although we are not sure about that.


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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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