Domestic Cat’s Appearance Draws Us In

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.

Baby versus Scottish Fold
Baby versus Scottish Fold
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

I think that this cynical approach to the human/cat relationship has been superseded by a better understanding of the relationship.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.

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11 thoughts on “Domestic Cat’s Appearance Draws Us In”

  1. It’s obvious that the cynics have never spent any quality time with a cat. My cats have all loved me, each in his own special way. My current kitty-baby pays for being spoiled rotten by going out of his way to make me laugh. He bows up at me sideways, he “attacks” my hands with soft paws when I make scratching noises, and he “pops” his leg up in the air when he rubs against me. None of those things are done for convenience; they are signs of his affection for me.

    Hey Cynics! Eat your heart out! I know this because my cat does these things only for me and no one else.

  2. I’ve also worked with quite a few pet owning women of a similar age, who don’t have children by choice either.

    Perhaps it’s a generational thing? Women used to be considered selfish if they didn’t want children. Nowadays people are more likley to thank you for not contributing to the population explosion (lol).

    • I think you right about it being a generational thing. With almost half of marriages ending in divorce and equality (not quite there) women see themselves as much more independent unless they are using British divorce courts to obtain a lucrative divorce settlement to keep them living the good life for years. I suppose though the instinctive maternal drive on the sight of a baby (or kitten) probably applies to most women whatever their status.

  3. I’ve never had any desire to have children and babies hold no appeal for me whatsoever. My oldest friends (also cat owners) whom I’ve known since childhood feel the same way too.

    I’ve always liked cats. I like how they look and love the feel of their fur, but what appeals to me most about them is that beneath their fluffy exterior beats the heart of a semi-wild animal. It can take time and patience to win the trust of a cat, but for me that is what strengthens the bond as our relationship develops. I enjoy the challenge of becoming a cat’s friend 😉

    • Nice to hear from you on this. I wonder what percentage of women feel like you do about babies? It is probably higher than we imagine. Perhaps I have stereotyped women in the article.

  4. I think that most animal lovers are attracted to baby animals of any kind. All kinds of wild animal babies have been rescued and cared for. As these babies grow into adults, they can be very affectionate with their guardians, and may see them as a parent figure, since they have been dependent on them for life.

    Of course,kittens and puppies are the number one chosen pet. And many people treat them like children, probably Americans more than other countries.

    I was in line the other day, and heard a woman say she didn’t have grandchildren, but had a “grand-puppy”, a Yorkshire. She went on to say that she had purchased many toys and clothes for the pup. She said the puppy had a “closet full of dresses”.
    This is a sad statement on how clueless people are.

    Like the woman who tinted her cat pink for her party, and then the cat died. When you combine ignorance with ego gratification, the vulnerable population of animals and people will likely suffer.

    Michael, you mentioned recently that cats may be “schizo”. I read once that someone attributed this to the fact that although cats are wild, they also revert back to kitten behavior when they nuzzle and knead as they did when suckling at mom’s nipples.

    My cat has been in and out of the vet in the past few months for ear infection and constipation issues. Watching her severe reactions to the various drugs led me to believe that she was dying.

    Only when she climbed on my lap and began kneading did I feel relieved that she was o.k. She seems to be getting back to normal, but I’m watching her carefully.

    I care for her as I would any living being in my care, providing the best food I can, a clean box, comfortable sleeping areas, affection, play time, and medical care when necessary. She’s not my child, but she’s dependent on me as an indoor cat.

    I have to admit that having a cat gives my life meaning. More so now that I’ve discovered so much I didn’t know in my research, and wanting to share that with others.

    • She said the puppy had a “closet full of dresses”.

      This is a person totally allowing rational thought to be be taken over by instinct and emotion. A clear sign that baby-like features in ‘pets’ are aesthetically pleasing and desirable.

      A lot of people are like this. It is about education and lack of it. It is also ignorance and as you say ego-gratification.

      You care for your cat as well as you would care for your child but you recognise her as a cat (obviously). This is important. It is about respecting the cat.


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