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Does Your Cat Believe That You're a Cat, Too?

John Bradshaw says in his latest book that cats view us as fellow felines, and I think he might be onto something. What do you think?

 |  Apr 30th 2014  |   4 Contributions


As most of you dedicated Caster readers know by now, I’m a total geek when it comes to cat science and behavior. When I heard about anthrozoologist John Bradshaw’s latest book, Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet, I was intrigued.

Siouxsie started giving me lessons on how to be a good cat friend a long time ago. This lesson, dating back to 2004, was called Shoulder Rides 101.

According to an article on Huffington Post, Bradshaw argues that judging from certain behaviors, cats view their humans as fellow feline friends. He points out three types of interactions in particular: rubbing with the tail up, grooming, and resting in contact with us.

I’ll admit that I haven’t finished reading the book yet, but the argument that cats view us as other cats certainly got me intrigued. I started thinking about the way my cats relate to me.

Do my cats rub me with their tails held high? Oh, yes. As soon as I walk in the door at the end of a long work day, Siouxsie, Thomas and Bella greet me with high tails and squeaks of joy. They take turns winding themselves around and between my legs, the ends of their tails tickling my thighs as they move, and I have to step carefully to avoid tripping over them as I put my stuff away and get ready for the evening feeding.

Thomas washes my face for me. Does this mean he thinks I'm a cat, or that he thinks I'm dirty?

Grooming? Oh yes, very much yes! Siouxsie washes my face for me every night as I’m drifting off to sleep (at least until that scratchy tongue starts irritating the bejezus out of my nose), and Thomas is quite partial to cleaning my hands and arms for me. He does occasionally help me with my facial hygiene, too.

Resting in contact with me? Yup, that too: Every time I make a lap available, it’s soon occupied by at least one cat. And that’s the way I like it.

As soon as there's a lap, at least one cat rushes to occupy it.

But does this mean my cats think I’m another cat, or are these behaviors signs of friendship rather than species identification?

Thomas and Bella are always snuggling together, for example, and I’ve seen them grooming one another’s ears plenty of times, too. I’ve also seen shelter cats snuggling together and on occasion even engaging in mutual grooming activities of their own. It’s clearly a friendship gesture, there’s no question about that. Cats who dislike each other or don’t care for one another don’t hang out together and give each other tongue baths.

What about the high-tail greeting thing? Well, I’ve seen cats do that with humans, with other cats, and even occasionally with dogs and other animals. In fact, that’s how Bella introduced herself to Siouxsie and Thomas when I first brought her home: She escaped her temporary room by slipping between my legs and trotted into the living room with her tail sticking straight up. I could almost hear her saying, “Hi! I’m a kitten!”

With Bella and Thomas, it was love at first sniff. They've been inseparable ever since.

Thomas was instantly smitten and the two of them touched noses and investigated one another’s bottoms. Siouxsie grumbled and sought comfort in my arms.

So, yes, cats engage in the same friendship-building and distance-decreasing behaviors with humans as they do with other cats. Does this mean cats think we humans are other cats? The jury’s still out as far as I’m concerned.

However, I’m not sure I haven’t become more catlike over the many years I’ve lived with and loved cats. I’ve learned that cats have the right idea about a lot of things: Live in the present, sleep when you need rest, eat a species-appropriate diet, remember to have fun … and, of course, take plenty of naps in sun puddles.

Bella approves of my newly developed fascination with sun puddles.

Who knows? Maybe cats do think at least some humans are fellow cats. Bigger and dumber cats, to be sure, but I guess our opposable thumbs and ability to clean litter boxes and produce food on demand make up for that.

What about you? Does your cat think you're a cat? Tell us about it in the comments!

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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

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