The reason why cats have the ability be jealous

Jealous cat
Video screenshot
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Some people say that cats don’t have the capacity to feel a complex emotion such as jealousy. Through personal experience cat owners would disagree. Although this is a tricky subject because cat owners can project their thoughts onto their cats.

However, fundamentally all that the emotion of jealousy requires is that a cat sees that another cat is getting more of something that he/she should get. It isn’t essential that one cat knows what another cat is thinking. In fact, there is little evidence that cats know what other cats are thinking or indeed what we are thinking but this is not an obstacle to being jealous.


Note: the subject of domestic cats understanding what we or other cats are thinking is an interesting one. Like many cat owners I speak to my cat a lot. I have the impression that he does not understand me but he understands that the sounds I make (the words I say) accompany certain actions. Therefore he does understand me to a limited extent.


Dr Bradshaw believes that cats are almost certainly capable of feeling jealousy as are dogs. Also, a lot of owners say that their cats show signs of jealousy when they are stroking one of their other cats because the jealous cat intervenes.

Complex emotion

Jealousy is considered one of the more complex emotions and the argument is that in order for a cat to feel jealous he or she has to have some understanding of what another cat is thinking. Psychologists refer to emotions such as jealousy as “rational emotions”. As there is not much evidence to indicate that domestic cats have sufficient brainpower to feel jealous the argument is that they can’t experience this emotion.

However, as mentioned above, cats don’t need brainpower to feel jealous. The cat simply needs to recognise another cat as a cat and see what they’re doing. The conclusion is that cats can become jealous on occasions in households where there is more than one companion animal.

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7 thoughts on “The reason why cats have the ability be jealous”

  1. I have three cats. The older (12 years old) is highly intelligent and, yes, jealous. She doesn’t care what other cats are thinking, she is jealous of what she perceives they are *getting* and she isn’t. So I call the others to pet, she answers and run to take their place. She doesn’t care about chasing red spots, but when I play with the other cats she will act out and try to call attention to her. And it’s not only in interactions with humans, if the other cats are chasing a bug, she will catch it lightning fast.

    The funny thing is that she doesn’t mind sharing our bed, cuddling with the other cats or seems territorial (the other have a preferred room, she stays where humans stay)

    In my experience the more intelligent a cat, the more they demonstrate capabilities for complex emotions.

    Reply
    • Nice comment Lanika. A regular commenter (ME King) made the observation that jealousy is ‘resource guarding’. What do you think? Is jealousy simply protecting resources or a genuine emotion? Or are they one and the same thing?

      Reply
    • The prized position: your lap. It would be nice to see if we could do a cat character profile to figure out what sort of cat is likely to become jealous.

      Reply
      • The question becomes is it jealousy or resource guarding. Mine seem overly well adjusted at times and we have few squabbles about who gets what part of me.

        Reply
  2. I agree Michael.I believe that cats and all anmals experience a broad range of emotions, just as humans do. Emotions are a primal response. You do not necessarily need intellect to feel emotion.

    Reply

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