Domestic cats don’t relate to us as if we are different to them

Although dogs show clear signs that when they interact with people they perceive us as being different to themselves, the same cannot be said about cats because they interact with us as if they are interacting with another cat. For example, if they are friendly they greet us with their tail up, they rub against us to exchange their scent with us, which is exactly what they do with other cats, and they groom us which is what happens when cats are friends with each other i.e. they engage in mutual grooming (allogrooming). This feline behaviour indicates to me that the domestic cat has not got to the stage where they differentiate their human companions from their feline friends.

Cat-human size difference affects the cat’s perception of us. Photo: public domain.

We don’t know how they perceive us exactly but their behaviour indicates that they are likely to see us as cats although of course much larger than them. They must recognise the fact that we are much larger than them which I must say is an eternal barrier to the relationship. If we had a companion who was as high as a block of flats we’d probably feel slightly intimidated some of the time. The point I am making is that the human’s size may contribute to anxiety in domestic cats.

There was a misconception that the cat behaviourist and author Dr John Bradshaw said that cats perceive humans as big, stupid cats. He did not say this. What he said was that cats behave towards us in a way that is indistinguishable from how they act towards other cats.

It is an endless source of fascination to people as to how domestic cats perceive us and I think Dr Bradshaw has more or less answered the question. You have to add, by the way, that a domestic cat’s eyesight is different to ours in that their vision is similar to that of a human who is colourblind. They see blue and green okay but reds and pinks less well. Also, I would argue that their vision is less sharp than that of humans but, of course, they see better in dark conditions and they have a wider vision. The point I’m making is that their eyesight also affects how they see us albeit in a less important way. And they confirm our presence by smelling our scent.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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