Why Don’t Cats Show Affection? Discuss.

People search for an online answer to the question in the title. It tells us something about the attitude of some people towards the domestic cat. They also search for an answer to the question “why don’t cats show pain?”

They are similar questions and the answer is the same in both instances. However, it has to said right away that the domestic cat does show affection very often and very clearly in many ways towards other selected cats and to their human caretaker. We know this but it is fair to say that cats are not inherently good at showing emotions. In human terms they don’t wear their heart on their sleeve like dogs. All mammals including cats have seven fundamental emotional systems. The human caretaker/guardian and indeed scientists can only judge a cat’s emotions by his/her actions.

Ernest Hemingway seems to have got it wrong in his maxim as shown in the photo below if we agree that cats sometimes hide their emotions. What do you think?

A cat has emotional honesty
A cat has emotional honesty
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Despite the domestic cat becoming a social animal over about 10,000 years of domestication, he/she is essentially a solitary animal and as such the evolution of the domestic cat’s wild ancestor, the North African wildcat, dictates that it is better for the domestic cat to not be too transparent about his emotions.

Other members of the domestic cat species are a potential rival and therefore it is not in the best interests of the cat to declare to the world through his actions (driven by emotions) his/her contentment at finding food and a safe place to sleep. To do so would jeopardise survival.

The same goes for pain, as we well know. If a cat is in pain and feeling unwell, he/she attempts to hide this feeling and mask outward signs of discomfort because of the fear of being attacked by a predator or being chased off his territory. Obviously in a safe and secure home where the cat is cared for by a decent human being this is not going to happen but a cat is hardwired through evolution to behave in this undemonstrative manner.

Therefore for solitary animals such as cats, displays of emotion are unlikely to occur because evolution has selected out these forms of behaviour. Individual solitary animals who give little away are more likely to leave more offspring that those whose behaviour shows through outward signs their predicament both good and bad.

This said, it seems that domestication has created the social cat and with that a more demonstrative companion animal. I know I am being ambiguous but the domestic cat is evolving as a domestic cat and losing some of his wild cat inherited traits.

4 thoughts on “Why Don’t Cats Show Affection? Discuss.”

  1. Michael, great post! I do still see the *wild* trait in my “kids”, but also, my 10 really do show affection to me. They follow me everywhere wanting to be wherever I am. They will head butt, knead me and *bathe* me — a lot!! It is most prevalent when I get home from work — or, of course, at feeding time. Mario will actually paw at me out of the blue to get kisses and attention from me — at any time! Gail’s posts were great as well. I remember that story about the lion recognizing the human years later also — pawsome!! ♥♥♥

  2. Interesting article. Personally, I think it depends on the person and the interaction with said cat. IMHO, true cat lovers understand their feline companions by watching their body language and know how and when to respond. Funny as it may sound, watching re-runs of Big Cat Diary on Animal Planet, I also see the exact same behaviors of the big cats vs my own brood. I don’t put much stock in Ernest Hemingway’s comments anyway since most of his adult life was viewed through a bottle. My own cats are very affectionate all the time, looking for affection. I must admit, however, that once they get what they want (i.e.: food, clean litter box), they give a swish of the tail and take off, leaving me in the dust! Such wonderful creatures.

    • Nice comment Gail. I think you have made some good points there. I believe cats are inherently undemonstrative for survival but domestication is making them more like dogs or like us!

      • I also agree, but with some reservation. Ever see the documentary about the (2) gentlemen from the U.K. who, in the 70s bought a lion cub from Harrod’s and raised it to adulthood, until they finally realized they needed to return it to the wild? They returned, I believe, a year later and the fully grown lion rushed up to them and, on hind legs, stood up and wrapped his paws around each of their necks to hug them! It was so surreal. They visited the lion one more time perhaps a year or so after that and the lion introduced his mate and cub(s). It was so beautiful to see. The point being is that, even with a (big) cat who was returned to the wild and truly was wild, still remembered his human and acted accordingly. It’s a special bond and I firmly believe that, under certain circumstances, even wild cats show emotion. Actually, referring back to Big Cat Diary, many scenes play out where big cats show overt emotion to their babies.


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