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“To be sullenly aloof or withdrawn, as in silent resentment or protest” (Free Dictionary)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.
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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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10 thoughts on “Do Cats Sulk?”

  1. 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.


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