Dr Bruce Fogle believes that domestic cats share nine emotions with us (I added one more):
- Happiness, pleasure and contentment
- The release of pent-up emotion e.g. elation or euphoria
- Worry, trepidation and fear
- Rage and anger
- Desire or lust
- Depression or sadness
Contentment or Happiness
I don’t think we need to discuss this topic that much because we know that domestic cats can be content and happy and we know when they feel this emotion. We know, for example, that some cats love to be on our lap and they show it. They like to be next to us, cuddled up to us and you can see the expression on their face and in their eyes (the slow blink) coupled with the purr. Cats can feel good when eating or about to be fed. Lying in the warm sunshine is a pleasant experience and so on and so forth.
Elation or euphoria
An alternative description to this is a release of pent-up emotion according to Dr Fogle. Occasionally my cat does this. If I have been out for a while and he has missed me, he might chase in and out of the house full of vim and vigour. Domestic cats suddenly “burst into euphoric activity”.
Worry, trepidation and fear
I feel that Dr Fogle is in a privileged position in being able to see the widest possible range of domestic cat emotions as he himself is a cat caretaker and as a veterinarian he will see some pretty fearful cats at his clinic. I remember my cat, Charlie, being so fearful that he defecated in the veterinarian’s room while he was being held by me. In addition, he was trembling and he was sweating from his paws leaving wet pawprints on the tabletop.
Dr Fogle sees this emotion several times daily. It can be seen when a cat refuses to leave his carrier to be examined. The cats he sees tend to lose this fear quite quickly and start to investigate their new surroundings. It is almost an example of feline agoraphobia.
Anger or rage
Interestingly, this well-known veterinarian states that rage is linked to pleasure. This results in rage being triggered when there is an overflow of pleasing sensations. This can be seen when a cat lashes out while being petted. In my opinion, another reason why a cat might lash out while being petted is because the play instinct has been triggered.
Anger leads to aggression. Some cats can be angered by being handled in a way that displeases them. A cat’s voice can communicate anger. Cats can remain angry sometime after the cause of the anger has passed.
You may have seen this. Your cat is looking through the window at birds and he wants to attack them but of course he can’t. This creates frustration. He chatters as if he’s practising the bite to the nape of the bird’s neck.
Sometimes domestic cats express frustration through aggression. A cat might lose a fight with another cat, go home and be aggressive towards a cat associate living in the same home or perhaps the cat’s owner. However, cats calm down quite quickly.
I wonder whether my cat expresses frustration towards me when he comes in from an unsuccessful hunting trip? I always say that it takes him about 15 minutes to calm down under the circumstances. He tends to want to attack me as if he needs to release his hunting instinct onto something.
Apparently pigeons experience jealousy! I think most cat lovers would agree that cats can be jealous. When cats are jealous they may sulk. Perhaps multi-cat households provide owners with the possibility to see this emotion as one cat may become jealous of another if he/she has received more attention for whatever reason.
Desire or lust
Those of us who look after a neutered cat don’t often see lust although my cat likes to have sex on my arm when I’m wearing a dressing gown I am embarrassed to report. The urge to mate is lustful and is triggered by scent and body language from the female in heat.
Sadness or depression
I also find it interesting that Dr Fogle says that when he sees a sad or depressed cat it is because the cat has been removed from his home environment and from the people that he knows who care for him. The depressed cat in a hospital probably won’t show signs of worry, anger or fear but he won’t eat normally and he won’t respond to play activity from the nurses. Once he returns home, he is back to normal.
Depression is of course an extreme version of sadness and is rare. It overwhelms the cat and shuts down the cat’s basic instinct to survive.
The clinically depressed cat withdraws completely. He does not eat or drink and appears to lose the will to live.
I have seen this in my cats over the years when they are presented with food that they simply do not find acceptable. They almost appear to be telling me that I should have known better. Of course the food I’m giving them is of the best quality but if a cat is given food which is decomposing then the cat’s survival instincts will tell them to rejected it and he may show signs of disgust. Perhaps another sign of disgust at the “wrong food” is to walk away and flick the hind leg.
Upset – a very mild form of anger?
I have added a tenth feline emotion. My cat expresses upset when I move him off my lap when I go to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. He expresses it through a particular vocalisation. It has a quite noticeable tone indicating that he is upset.
Source: Myself and Dr Fogle’s Complete Cat Care.