Cynics say that cats trick us into loving them and providing food and shelter through false expressions of affection and that we project our emotions onto our cat and imagine that they have the same affection for us as we have them.
I think that this cynical approach to the human/cat relationship has been superseded by a better understanding of the relationship. It is generally agreed that the major reason why people look after cats is for companionship although originally the cat had a utilitarian role in the household as a rodent catcher.
It is interesting that a percentage of cat owners love their cats as close companions even though they may strongly dislike their hunting behaviour. One recurring argument as to why people are drawn in to the cat’s charms is because the cat’s face has certain qualities which encourages us to anthropomorphize them.
We, and it might be argued that this applies particularly to women, might think of cats as little people; babies. If we analyze their facial features, we can see where this might come from.
The cat’s eyes face forward just like ours but unlike most other animals, including the ferret, which can also be a pet. The ferret’s eyes point sideways. Our cats’ heads are round and their foreheads are large, which reminds us of the human infant’s face.
The feature of roundness of the cat’s head is exploited in certain cat breeds, it could be argued. For example, the Persian has very round features, in general, and a very round head except for the face which is nearly flat. It is a ball with a slice taken out of it. Even the ears a small so as not to disrupt this admirable roundness.
The interruption to the roundness of the head is almost eliminated in the Scottish Fold. In this cat breed, the ears are flattened to the head. People always remark on how cute this breed looks. People’s brains are being tweaked by a hidden cross-reference to the head of a baby.
Women of childbearing age cannot help but be driven to maternal instincts by the face of an infant. The effects on people can be remarkable. Scientists report that viewing pictures of cute kittens enhances, temporarily, people’s dexterity. This is in preparation to caring for a vulnerable and tiny infant. It is all automatic.
History tells us that people have a preference for baby faced animals. This is reflected in the evolution of the humble teddy bear. Once upon a time, teddy bears were natural looking brown bears. Their appearance changed over the twentieth century. They became more infantile. Their heads grew in size and their bodies shrank. The pointed snout became a cute nose much like that of a baby.
The manufacturers were not motivated to change the appearance of teddy bears because of the children who would use them. They were changed for the parents who bought them, mostly women.
Whereas the teddy bear had to change shape to truly satisfy modern humans in the competitive toy marketplace, cats did not have to evolve in shape to appeal to us. Cats have a built-in visual appeal for people. We only have to remember the success of YouTube videos to see that. In Japan the cartoon figure “Hello Kitty” has an exaggerated baby-like appearance with a head larger than her body and a forehead larger than the rest of her head.
Grumpy cat is anthropomorphized all the time. We see in the face our miserable mentality battered as we are by modern life pressures. We can empathize with Grumpy.
However, the visual appeal of a domestic cat is not sufficient to successfully sustain a long-term, affectionate relationship with a human.
A factor why a close relationship has been formed between human and domestic cat is because the cat is open to a relationships with humans. The domestic cat has evolved to living with us in recognizing, at least in part, our behavior and interacting in a way which appeals to us. They have become true companions.
Olfactory signals may also play a role in likening a cat to a baby. Many people love the smell their cat, a nutty scent. They bury their head in the fur. I do it. The baby-smell turns on women’s caring instincts. They want to ‘gobble up’ the baby. There might be a cross-reference her too, between child and cat.