Domestic Cats Only Seem Aloof and Asocial If You Are Not Paying Attention and Being Unobservant

Many people still misunderstand the domestic cat. Many people are distanced from cat behaviour. They do not look after a cat and have not had the opportunity to observe a domestic cat by living with him for a long time.

Even cat owners sometimes fail to understand their cat properly through being unobservant and disconnected. People who are experienced cat guardians who understand cats would never described them as being aloof or asocial. Quite the opposite in fact.

It is a shame that through human failings the domestic cat has acquired an image of being aloof. There is actually a continual dialogue going on between cat and person in one way or another, often through body language and patterns of behaviour and sometimes through vocalisations such as the meow.

One cat behaviourist says that the meow means “take care of me”. Another cat behaviourist says that the meow has been developed by the domestic cat almost exclusively to talk to humans as a way of getting their attention. I think the “take care of me” assessment is a slight exaggeration. I sense that the meow is more a means of getting attention in order that we will do something for them. There is, therefore, a connection to the “take care of me” scenario. The meow instigates the care process.

Perhaps one difficulty that the domestic cat has is that people make comparisons between the domestic cat and the domestic dog. We know that the dog is more obviously connected to his human guardian which may give the impression that the domestic cat is aloof.

It is an unfair comparison. The domestic cat’s friendship and dependence upon the human is always apparent if one is observant and also if one is a good guardian. It’s a two-way street.

The better the cat guardian is, the more observant she is and the more connected to her cat she is. A lot of communication between cat and human is quite subtle and less obvious than communication between human and dog in my opinion.

The cat guardian/caretaker needs to be more intuitively observant and perhaps more intelligent than the typical dog owner to pick up the subtle signals. For my part, I feel that there is continuous communication between myself and my cat.

Communication is not reliant upon my cat telling me with his voice that he needs attention or that he is pleased to see me when I come home. Is his demeanour, his presence, his approach to me, his behaviour when in close contact with me and all manner of other aspects of body language and habitual behaviour which provides me with a very clear message, as clear as any human might transmit a message to me with his voice.

It is certainly a much more quiet relationship than between human-and-human. There is less talk. There are no arguments. There are no discussions. We both know what we should do. Both know what we want to do. It is well orchestrated like a dance routine which takes place throughout the day. Everything fits into place and there is rarely a hiccup.

This makes for a very calm existence which is something that we often do not achieve in human-to-human relationships. People who don’t know cats should not call them aloof. They are not qualified to comment upon the behaviour and characteristics of the domestic cat.

Journalists and reporters should not repeat misconceptions about the domestic cat. Often people who write articles on the Internet are ignorant of cat characteristics.

The domestic cat has a warm independent character with good communication skills. It just depends how good the human is in picking that up and reciprocating.

One last obvious point: individual cats have their own character and personality just like people. Some cats are more vocal than others and some cats are more independent-minded than others. That does not mean that all cats are aloof.

5 thoughts on “Domestic Cats Only Seem Aloof and Asocial If You Are Not Paying Attention and Being Unobservant”

  1. Thank yo Michael, this is such an important topic in my opinion. I have tried to impart this message for years, having become qualified, again in my opinion but using repeatable experiments that over such a long period of time they put typical studies to shame. In fact, there are very few published studies that support any hypothesis about the cat. Alger and Alger (husband and wife team) behaviorists, did a three year study back in 1999 and wrote the book “Cat Culture”. I read the papers they wrote that they distilled into the book, and those are far more informative of course. You Michael are right on the mark again. Not only do cats each have the inherent ability to interact and communicate with humans (should the human care to cooperate) but they have the ability to develop a complex, fluid, dynamic, pragmatic and peaceful culture that, when you consider they have no language as we rely on, is remarkable. Little of it actually surprised me, having studied them in large, ever changing grouping myself in my own home. And that is a key mistake researchers make, they’ve confined cats to lab-type experiments rather than study them in their native habitat, the human abode. It reminds me of the early experiments with captive wolves that led to mistaken assumptions about dog behavior. L. David Mech (Meech) a wildlife research biologist who did make that mistake some 50-60 years ago actually revised his research and made public his mistake that led to not only a better understanding of wolves, but of dogs and how to better study animals. You’re correct Michael that in general we’ve had it wrong about cats too, and it has to do with at least observing them closely, keeping an open mind and seeing the world through their eyes. They are superbly, if not hyper-vigilant of the world around them that puts our observational skills to shame.

    • My cats live so peacefully in my home. And yet they are always present and somehow have become the lifeblood of our home. They are neither aggressive or passive but rather live along side us. The more you communicate with them the more they reach out. We have a silent as well as verbal communication that goes on all day.
      And nothing is more touching that my Little Mercy curling up next to me and putting her paw on my cheek , a few pats looking right into my eyes and giving her slow blink before curling up for a snuggle. They tell me when strangers are in the driveway without a commotion. They share in my daily activities.
      The deep relationship between a cat and its guardian is a beautiful dance.
      As a long time dressage rider. A subtle movement elicits a beautiful response. I see my relationship with cats and horses in the same light.

      • That’s a good point; actually two good points. I was a dancer as well as a rider and I too correlate and re-purpose the subtle touch skills I learned there to communicate with my cats. I also think of the body language between us and animals as a dance. Specifically, that both animals prefer to be led, not forced to do anything. Something like getting a cat to walk through a gate is best done by letting them follow you through, not pointing or telling them to. Lots of calories can be burned and time wasted trying to get them to understand spoken language when all they desire is to follow your lead, or tap at where you want them to stand or sit. I rode Thorobreds, which require a great deal of reassurance (by way of vocal as well as physical signals) to remain calm and attentive. I’m sure that goes for most horses, but I find it interesting that cats and horses are so similar in sensitivity and needs, though the cat is a predator and the horse is prey by nature.

        • It took me a long time to see the connection. The prey and the predator and yet both animals are never fully domesticated. Both can revert to a wild lifestyle. TBs will carry a sense of betrayal their whole lives if mistreated. Like cats they will if given the chance select their human companions. And like many cats horses lose their voice and stop trying to communicate. It is wonderful to watch either beast reemerge from that shell.


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