It’s the sort of question which is often asked: Do cats know people aren’t cats? It’s about how our companion animals see us and relate to us.
I believe that I have a good answer but we don’t know the answer for sure because we can’t get into the head of a cat for the simple reason that we can’t talk to them. On a relationship level domestic cats normally relate to human guardians as surrogate mothers.
The answer to the question in the title is linked to another common question about cats: Are they self-conscious? Do cat’s know they are cats and do they see themselves in a mirror? In other words are they self-aware?
There is no evidence to suggest that cats are self-aware; the contrary in fact. On the basis that this is accurate, cats don’t know they are, what humans call, ‘cats’. Therefore they can’t make a comparison of themselves with other animals.
What I am suggesting is that when a cat looks at a dog for example they don’t think to themselves that they are in the company of a creature that is different to themselves. They simply see another creature and whether ‘it’ is friendly or hostile or indifferent or, in the case of their ‘owner’, whether they provide like a mother.
They are not assessing that creature as a defined species. They assess the creature as friendly or otherwise. They will recognise certain animals as hostile and avoid them because it is an inherited or learned response.
Proceeding on this basis I’d argue that cats don’t know that people aren’t cats. It is not something that they process mentally and they are not inquisitive about our status as living creatures. Neither do they see people as big cats without fur. Rather they are more likely to have no opinion about us except that we feed them, provide security and are companions. As mentioned they instinctively relate to us as providers but it is not a rational mental process.