It is good to be reminded that humans have many similarities with domestic cats. Pam Johnson-Bennett, a well-known cat behaviorist, reminded me of this. People who don’t know cats can tend to regard cats as aloof, independent and solitary creatures. They speak of cats as if they are all the same, ‘it’s just a cat’.
Here are some similarities between ‘us and them’, which may encourage people to warm to the cat and consider adopting one from a rescue center.
Cats have their own personalities. Just like humans each individual cat is different to any other in terms of likes, dislikes and behavioral traits dependent upon character.
The classic variable in cat personality is whether she is a lap cat or not. Some are and some aren’t. Bob the Cat (the famous ginger street cat who befriended James Bowen) is not a lap cat. He likes to sit on James’s shoulder.
Amongst cats, there are differences in preferences and skills regarding: hunting, vocalisations, activity levels, the degree of independence or sociability and so on. Some people say that a cat’s character can be linked to his coat type and color. This is interesting. I’d certainly agree that this is possible for ginger toms. And calico cats or tortoiseshells seem to have a certain character as well.
Cats learn by observation, reward and trail and error. This is exactly like us. Mother cats show their kittens how to hunt. Humans train their cats using positive reinforcement. We do the same for our children if we are wise. There is one difference between cats and people in this area of comparison: discipline is good for kids. Sometimes punishment is good for kids also. Punishment is never acceptable in training a cat. The cat will misunderstand the concept and simply become fearful.
However, consistency of approach is important when encouraging a domestic cat to do things that you want her to do. The same applies to children.
Sociability and Friendship
The domestic cat is far less solitary than his wild ancestor the North African wild cat. House cats have generally become quite sociable. They form friendships (associates) with other cats and in the same way become close to their human companion too. There will be a natural variation in the degree of sociability of individual cats but that human characteristic is present in cats. People need people to live contentedly. Cats need their human companion who I’d say is a mother cat substitute.
Domestic cats like to lie next to us. They like to be incontact with us. They may stretch out their paw to touch your hand. These characteristics are so familiar to us as human traits.
Cats can become bored in sterile surroundings. An enriched environment is important. Variations in food are also important. People like variation in their lives. We become bored or lonely and depressed if we look at the four walls of a room. One of the best cures for human depression is to get out and met people and do something different. I have a feeling that sometimes cat owners take their cats for granted too much. I think we owe it to our cat to do our best to make life as good as possible for him; variation and stimulation is important in achieving this.
Humans are creatures of habit – very much so. We like familiar surroundings. It assuages anxiety. Exactly the same can be said about domestic cats. We all know how cats need familiar surroundings to be content. A cat will take perhaps nine months to settle into a new home. This is the same as for people in my experience.
For people the motto is: work, rest and play. For domestic cats it is often: rest, rest and play. ‘Play’ is a common denominator. Play is perhaps more important for a cat as all cat play is hunting orientated and cats need to exercise this innate drive and skill. Indoor cats they can express this in play. Often cats have little opportunity to genuinely hunt.
Play is important for both humans and cats. Sport and video games are two common forms of human play. You feel better after sport and exercise. It releases endorphins to make us feel better. We are less anxious and more relaxed. For a cat play and exercise is also good for mental and physical health.
It is unsurprising that there are these similarities between people and cats. We are, after all, both animals. People are ‘human-animals’ (some would disagree but I beg to differ). Our anatomy is very similar to cat anatomy. Cats feel emotions as we do. They may not have the same range of emotions but they are there nonetheless.
People are learning that animals are smarter than we once thought. We should always respect them as in many ways they are like us. Can you think of other similarities between humans and domestic cats?