Provided by Carl McLean of Animal Mentor
The domesticated cat has been a companion to humans for approximately 9,500 years. Over these centuries they have been by our side, making us laugh, keeping us company and generally being the cutest and fluffiest member of the household.
But in comparison to pet dogs, cat’s seem a little more distant, more independent and seemingly more able to look after themselves whether we were there to care for them or not.
This makes sense, as the wild cats that our furry friends originate from do lead solitary lifestyles, as opposed to dogs whose closest relatives are pack reliant wolves. Despite this, our pet cats show us love and affection, they play with us and snuggle up to us and even other pets in the household.
So what do our beloved felines actually think of us? Being very capable solitary animals, do cats see humans simply as a meal ticket? Or so they benefit from our love and affection as we do from theirs?
Do Cats Need Us?
Cats do indeed seem capable of surviving on their own pretty well, even in the urban environments that some of us humans call home. Cats are incredibly agile, superb hunters and are vastly intelligent giving them the ability to scavenge and hunt for food, water, and shelter even in the worst of times.
However, they need us more than we think. Cats are at great risk when on their own in an urban environment, especially when it comes to other cats. They don’t tend to get along well with each other, and most cats that are picked up by pet rescue charities and veterinarians have sustained wounds from fighting other cats.
Another risk to them is illness, especially from having an unbalanced diet, as successful scavenging and hunting in an urban environment are attributed to luck as much as skill.
But by far a huge contributor to the illnesses presented by disenfranchised cats is psychological stress, as they show elevated levels of the stress hormones in their blood as they are departed from their guardians.
So with that being said, when it comes to the general health, well-being, and survivability of the domesticated cat, they stand to benefit greatly from our care, the shelter we provide and social interaction from us.
How do They Regard Us?
Dogs, on one hand, obviously regard humans differently than how they regard other dogs because they act differently towards us than how they act with other dogs. They seem to respect humans, particularly their trainers and guardians, as authority figures and the top of the hierarchy structure of the pack which is an essential relationship for us to have with them to keep an orderly household.
Cats, on the other hand, regard us as their equals. Yes, they do request food from us, as they know we have the ability to provide them with food because we feed them daily. But otherwise, cats treat us the same way they treat other cats.
For instance, they raise their tails when they greet us, rub up against our legs and hop up to stare at us for attention. These actions resemble the behaviors they learn from their mothers and is really the only affectionate behavior they receive from other cats. As we mentioned earlier, cats don’t tend to get along with each other.
In other words, cats think we are the same species as them, but just larger, less furry versions.
To us, cats seem ignorant, inverted and aloof at times, preferring to keep to themselves and we perceive that as insulting and is a reason many say they don’t like cats. But cats lack the empathy that we have, and since they see us as no more or less than what they are, they are just acting how they would naturally.
We should be flattered, really!
Pet cats are not as expressive as our canine companions, being much more subtle in letting us know how they feel. Slight movements in the ears, tail, and eyes can tell us a lot about how they are feeling and it’s through body language in which they also communicate with other cats.
The Slow Blink
One of these expressions is the slow blink. It’s where a cat slowly closes their eyelids leaving them ajar enough to just expose a tiny amount of pupil. This shows contentment and is a way of saying to you, “I am extremely happy”. According to veterinarian and author Gary Weitzman, it is a gesture of acceptance and shows that the feline trusts you completely and feels comfortable being in your company.
Rubbing Against You
A well-known interaction that cats make towards humans is rubbing up against them, particularly against your legs. This is a behavior seen in wild and feral cats who spend some time rubbing against each other, entwining their tails together and stroking each other’s backs with their tails.
This behavior is the equivalent of a human hug and is used as a greeting when they haven’t seen you for a while, maybe when you have got home from work or school. It’s their way of saying, “I missed you, how are you?”
People often ask, “Why do cats purr?” and most think it is a sign of contentment and happiness but this isn’t entirely correct. Cats will happily purr away when they are being petted and are content but will also do so if they are sick or injured.
The purring is more of a way of communicating with you to not go anywhere and to stay with them. It’s a way of asking for comfort or for care whether in a time of need, or just if they are feeling social.
The way in which cats use vocalization to communicate with humans is an outlier with regards to their behavior because this is the only behavior they tend not to use with other cats, except when they are kittens begging for the attention of their mother.
This further supports the idea that cats see us as maternal figures and they use meowing as a means of getting something that they want from us.
A cat will also use meowing as a way of telling us that they’re hungry, they want to be petted, they need to pee or any number of other things. Whether they differentiate the pitch and tone of their meow to communicate different needs is to be further studied as the sound of a meow can differ between breeds among other factors.
Researcher of Phonetics at Lund University in Sweden Suzanne Schötz has taken an interest in this and is conducting studies to discern whether cats have regional accents, by studying those from Lund in Southern Sweden and Stockholm which is 310 miles north from there. The people in these locations have discernible dialects and she wants to know if the cats do too.
Cats see humans in a very similar way to how they see themselves and other cats. In particular, they liken us to their mothers who brought them into this world, provided for them and taught them how to behave.
It’s important to note that each cat is their own individual and may treat you differently depending on their upbringing, and their previous experience with humans. You can see this with cats on the street. Some will shy away from you while others will literally follow you home.
If we anthropomorphize them - treat them like humans by talking to them and occasionally dressing them up and regarding them as part of our family - they'll regard us like family as well and we'll enjoy a relationship that’s just as genuine as the ones we have with dogs and fellow humans.
Pictured above is Knarley, one of coolest cats who ever shared my life. I miss him every day - Patricia Stephens, Owner, FloridaPets.net