Do Cats Sulk?

Some people think that cats sulk. I believe they are wrong. What is the dictionary definition of sulking?

“To be sullenly aloof or withdrawn, as in silent resentment or protest” (Free Dictionary)

It seems to me that sulking requires a sentient being to feel the emotion of resentment and to have the motivation to protest against another’s behaviour.

Cat turfed off a chair and sulked

Cat turfed off this chair and sulked her owner says. Photo by Alan.

We can never be sure, but my gut feeling tells me that cats do not know what resentment is. Neither do cats understand the concept of protest. These are both human concepts. We should be careful how we judge our cat companions. We should not colour our judgement by reference to human concepts and emotions. We should not anthropomorphise our domestic cat companion. I may have done that 5 years ago!

It is very easy to treat our cat as another human family member. The domestic cat in many households is treated as a family member which is correct. But in thinking of our cat as a family member we have to remind ourselves that the cat is not human.

Perhaps the tendency for some, perhaps many, cat owners to treat their cat as a baby or an infant person leads them to mismanage their cat, to treat their cat in the wrong way, to the detriment of the cat.

It actually got me thinking about other things. When a mother doesn’t like something that her child is doing she may discipline her child. Her child may change his ways as a result. Misbehaviour is rectified. All is well. But cats are independent and they are cats. You can’t discipline a domestic cat. You have to accept what a cat does and work around it, accommodate it, if you don’t like it.

What I’m saying, in a roundabout way, is that perhaps many of the behavioural problems that some people think that cats exhibit originate in a person failing to treat their cat as a cat but rather as an infant.

And so, going back to the question whether the domestic cat sulk; on what occasions might a domestic cat demonstrate the human trait of sulking? When a cat has been punished in some way or scolded or prevented from doing something; these are perhaps the typical occasions. We know that punishment of a cat is incorrect. It doesn’t work. And if a person punishes their cat because of doing something that she thinks is bad behaviour then the cat will not sulk in response.

Instead, the cat was simply become uncertain and possibly anxious about the environment in which she lives. She may become aggressive towards the person who has punished her (remember the extraordinary story of the cat who terrorised a family?). She may become defensive. She may wish to find another home. The cat may become frightened and begin inappropriate elimination as a reaction to try and make the environment in which she lives feel more secure. In other words the cat may mark territory with urine or faeces.

None of these forms of behaviour could ever be described as sulking. It is simply the natural behaviour of a cat responding to the environment in which she or he lives.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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10 Responses

  1. Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

    Yes cats are sentient but sulking is a human trait! Cats don’t sulk, only petty immature humans sulk.
    Cats are far more open and honest than people are, if they don’t like something they let you know straight away.

  2. What is the expression on this cats face ? This is one of the luckiest stray cats in Mumbai that resides in “Joggers Park” garden in a plush upscale locality. She gets fed daily with packaged cat food by a cat philanthropist lady .I happened to be at this garden yesterday and was amazed at this stray garden cats behaviour towards this particular lady. After eating the “Cat pellet food” she followed the lady like a pet dog, also sitting on a garden chair next to her. I clicked this photo after the lady left the garden and the cat feeling lonely and trying to befriend me.

    • I think he is a smart cat. He looks smart. He is looking at the camera with a “knowing look” as if he knows what is going on. He is slender. A calico moggie. He has an “oriental’ (slender Oriental Shorthair) appearance. Large ears. I think he has a polydactyl paw (front right).

      I like seeing photos of Asian cats because they are slightly different to random bred cats in the West.

    • Dee (Florida) says:

      He looks sad to me.
      Those ears!

  3. kylee says:

    in reading previous comments maybe they dont sulk maybe its some other reason. It be interesting to see what others say.

  4. kylee says:

    well some of mine do esp ozzie he would sulk in the hallway. Sometimes i think its when hes bored or when he feels jealous

  5. Dee (Florida) says:

    Not positive but I would guess not, although I have described some of my cats’ demeanor as “moody” which I enterpret to mean “ever changing” personae.

  6. Eva D.R.Force says:

    sen·tient adjective ˈsen(t)-sh(ē-)ənt, ˈsen-tē-ənt

    : able to feel, see, hear, smell, or taste
    Full Definition of SENTIENT……..A Living Animal With A Brain…Yep..that’s Right….A Cat….]

  7. Eva D.R.Force says:

    sen·tient adjective ˈsen(t)-sh(ē-)ənt, ˈsen-tē-ənt
    : able to feel, see, hear, smell, or taste

    Full Definition of SENTIENT……..A Living Animal With A Brain…Yep..that’s Right….A Cat….]

    : responsive to or conscious of sense impressions
    : aware
    : finely sensitive in perception or feeling
    — sen·tient·ly adverb
    See sentient defined for English-language learners »
    See sentient defined for kids »
    Examples of SENTIENT

    Origin of SENTIENT

    Latin sentient-, sentiens, present participle of sentire to perceive, feel
    First Known Use: 1632
    Related to SENTIENT

    alive, apprehensive, aware, cognizant, mindful, sensible, conscious, ware, witting
    insensible, oblivious, unaware, unconscious, unmindful, unwitting
    Related Words
    alert, attentive, careful, cautious, heedful, observant, open-eyed, regardful, safe, vigilant, wary, watchful, wide-awake; hyperaware, hyperconscious
    Near Antonyms
    careless, heedless, inattentive, incautious, mindless, unguarded, unheeding, unwary

    • Eva, I guess you are stating that a cat can sulk, or do I have that wrong? I’m not sure. I don’t think they do. A sentient being is alive, thinking and sensing but, for me, that does not mean that the being can be resentful.

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