Do Our Cats Actually Like Us?
With those they decide they can trust, slow blinking and purring.
Posted September 2, 2022 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
- In the presence of people they trust, cats express their relaxed state by slowly blinking, and sometimes by purring.
- Many cats develop a close relationship with their owners that has similarities to their relationship with their mothers.
- Cats may express their displeasure at strangers by hissing, arching their backs, elevating their fur, growling, and baring their teeth.
Recently, cat videos outnumbered dog videos online as the fascination with their strange behavior increased. At the same time, animal behaviorists are revising our understanding of the cat-human relationship.
Cat Adaptation to Domestic Life
We do not know exactly when cats were domesticated but it was at least 5,000 years ago and perhaps twice that long. Cats have modified their behavior to fit in with human activities.
Even so, they are less domesticated than dogs and can be considered very similar to their wild ancestors.
This is assessment is based on evidence that cats can live independently whereas dogs cannot. Cats are highly effective predators and do not rely on humans for their food. Indeed domestic cats are a leading killer of birds.
Conversely, domestic dogs are ineffectual predators. They rely on humans for their food. This conclusion comes from an analysis of the diets of dingoes in Australia compared to their domestic counterparts. Dingoes rely primarily on food scavenged from garbage dumps.
As essentially wild predators, cats can be quite unpredictable. Many owners who are devoted to their cats complain that the cat often scratches them unexpectedly. One acquaintance had the cat declawed and found that the pet reverted to using its teeth on her!
Of course, some dogs have serious behavior problems as well but they are unlikely to attack their owners without warning.
Despite the occasional intrusions of wild predatory behavior, cats are interested in people and develop strong attachments to them. We know this because they choose to spend much of their waking time close to their owners and other people. Domestic cats have developed an expressive repertoire for communicating with people that is different from wild behavior.
Communication Between Cats and People
The cat's meow is often used to express hunger but it also serves as a social greeting. This sound is used by wild kittens to express hunger to the mother (but not among adults). Many cats develop a close relationship with their owners that has similarities to their relationship with their mothers.
Like most wild animals, cats are fearful of people. They tend to withdraw from strangers whereas dogs generally have the opposite response of approaching strangers with effusive displays of affection.
Dogs are territorial, however, and respond aggressively to intrusions of their home territory.
Cats are also territorial. They may express their displeasure at strangers by hissing, arching their backs, elevating their fur, growling, and baring their teeth, all unmistakable signs of aggression.
In the presence of people they trust, they express their relaxed state by slowly blinking, and sometimes by purring.
Cats have several qualities that make them appealing subjects for videos. One is that they are highly athletic and their control over movement is spectacularly good. For example, they have a well-developed righting reflex so that they always land on their feet when they fall. Another trait is that they are highly curious so they often get into trouble by chasing balls of wool, jumping into drawers, and otherwise creating mayhem by playing with household objects. Cats manifest a great deal of individual variation.
Variation in Cat Temperaments
Domestic cats have a great deal of freedom about what to do with their time. Most of it is spent asleep, which is an adaptation of predators to save energy. Some cats sleep as much as 18 hours per day, similar to wild predators, but others might only sleep half as much. Cats are generally most active in the morning, and again at night, a pattern that mirrors the movements of people in a household.
Cats vary greatly in how social they are. Most are initially fearful of strangers and inclined to withdraw from unwanted attention, such as a hand that reaches menacingly from above. They are attracted to people who do not like cats and shrink from contact which means they are not threatening.
Some cats enjoy interacting with people and being stroked by them. Others prefer to go out in search of prey. Their predatory activity is useful to a variety of industries from the farm cat to the ship's cat to the warehouse cat.
Domestic cats vary greatly in their responses to human-provided food. Some eat too much and make themselves ill, suggesting that eating may relieve anxiety for cats as it does for people. Many are finicky eaters, refusing food if it is cold, for example, possibly reflecting an aversion to long-dead prey. Some are social eaters and prefer to eat in the company of their owner, or another cat.
These variations in emotionality, activity level, and sociability are consistent with key temperamental differences in humans and other mammals. They suggest that beneath the skin we may have surprisingly similar experiences reflecting a shared mammalian ancestry.
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