Categories: frustration

Do cats get frustrated?

I am referring to domestic cats. Two well-known experts on cat behaviour have more or less made presumptions that domestic cats can get frustrated. Dr Bruce Fogle (Complete Cat Care) says that indoor domestic cats show signs of frustration when they chatter their teeth while looking through a window at birds outside. I’m not sure that this is a sign of frustration. Dr Desmond Morris (Catwatching) says that it is a sign that domestic cats are practising their killing neck bite. He describes it as a “vaccuum activity”. But perhaps it is both; frustration at being unable to do the real thing makes them practice it or carry it out without a real bird.

Frustrated cat? Words: PoC on image in public domain.

Dr Fogle also says that sometimes domestic cats can become frustrated when they’ve lost a fight with another cat. They vent their frustration when they go home and lash out at another resident cat or their owner.

Another cat expert, Dr John Bradshaw (Cat Sense) says that domestic cats can become bored with a cat toy. They can also become frustrated if they are provided with the same cat toy over and over again. This frustration apparently increases their desire to play. But the point I’m making is that Dr Bradshaw refers to the emotion of frustration as if it is a recognised emotion that domestic cats feel amongst the other range of emotions.

And we should remind ourselves that frustration is an emotion. We know what sort of emotion it is: stress built up from difficulties in achieving a particular goal because barriers are presented between the actions to achieve that goal and the goal itself. It overlaps with anger and aggression.

To the best of my knowledge, frustration is regarded as a higher emotion. It is quite a subtle emotion which might call into question whether domestic cats can feel it. The well-respected Battersea Dogs and Cats Home also write about frustration on their website as if it occurs without any question or doubt. They refer to it as if it happens in the same way that it happens to people. For example, cats experiece it when there expectations are not met or when they don’t have access to things that they want such as food and play.

They write that the signs of a frustrated cat includes the cat becoming jumpy or on edge, more vocal than usual, persistent and active, perhaps destructive in scratching furniture or biting objects or being overly aggressive. They also say that frustrated cats may swish, thump or thrash their tails.

Frustrated cat? Photo in public domain.

I’m forced to come to the conclusion that domestic cats do experience the emotion of frustration but I have doubts about it. I am not going to say with certainty that they do experience this emotion. One reason is because I don’t ever recall actually seen this emotion being displayed obviously by the cats with whom I have lived over the many years I lived with cats. This must count for something. I would like to hear your views on this please in a comment. Do you believe that your cat shows signs of frustration sometimes?

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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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