How do cats see us?

How do cats see us? This is a question that crosses my mind quite often. When I talk to my cat, what does she understand? How does she relate to the sounds I make, the words I say? We see a cat, what does she see? How do cats see us? This is a question that crosses the minds of many people, I am sure.

In this article I am not referring to how cats see us visually i.e. what is their eyesight like? I am asking how they perceive us: as cats or another creature or they have no perception of us as a certain type of animal.

Halle Bailey with her new grey tabby cat wearing an enormous collar. Photo: her Instagram page.
Halle Bailey with her new grey tabby cat wearing an enormous collar. Photo: her Instagram page.

There are a number of clues which lead us towards an answer although we will never be absolutely sure because only the individual (cat or human) knows what is happening inside their head (sometimes).

And it needs to said that the evidence points to the fact that cats are not self-aware. They don't see themselves as cats. They don't recognise themselves in a mirror. This supports the view that cats don't see us as 'humans' or another animal. They just see us as a provider of food, warmth and security. If they can't see themselves as individuals, they won't be able to see people as a different species of animal. In fact, cats don't recognise the concept of animal species.

RELATED: Can cats be self-conscious?

A mother cat will repeatedly lick her young (and a father cat, let's not leave out the males) in the early days of a kitten's life. When the kitten is grown up and looked after by a human "owner" (I prefer the word 'caregiver') the person strokes the cat. Stroking feels like licking to a cat. 

A cat will sometimes ask for this attention. My cat rolls over on the ground and waits to be stroked and a stray cat, Timmy, turns over on his back for the same treatment. At this time, it would seem that our cats are seeing us as a mother cat. 

Do they see us as cats or humans? Obviously, we look different to their real mother and father. Cats, in my view, do not ask the question, why does this person/animal look different to my mother? They don't even raise the query as to why we as people look so very different to a cat. 

They simply accept us a mother/father cat, looking beyond the appearance or ignoring the appearance. It is humans who are all wrapped up in appearance, look at the consumer society, dog breeding and to a lesser extent cat breeding.

Cats don't think, "I am beautiful", if they are a fantastic purebred pedigree cat. Their looks are irrelevant to them. And this can be carried forward in answering the question, "How do cats see us?" They see us a parenting animal that acts like a cat.

I have another page on this topic in which I address it in a different way. Please click on this link to read it.

How do cats see us when we talk to them, sometimes in a strange baby language (cats are better than babies)? Well, they don't understand the language but they do understand the body language, our actions and the baby sounds that we make. 

Just as we understand the sounds and actions they make. It is not always completely clear what a cat wants but we can normally find out pretty quickly. Once again, they don't analyze the sound that we make to communicate with them; they instinctively understand or not. 

In other words, their perception is not colored by questions like, "I can't understand this person", or "he's not making any sense", or "he speaks in a foreign language." They just understand or not and we will communicate in various ways until our cat understands and that will become apparent to us.

The relationship is very like that between two people who speak completely different languages, who are tolerant of each other and the limitations of their communication and who use crude instinctive sign language to convey what they mean - this works just fine.

One other thing, cats don't need or want to face us when we talk to them. This seems to be for two reasons (1) cats don't like eye contact and (2) their ears can swivel so they just turn their ears rather than their head. This indicates that they are not reading human facial expressions to interpret communication. They are more interested in the quality of the sound and what it means in context.

So, bottom line, in answering the question, "How do cats see us?", they don't ask the question, "How do humans see us". They just live instinctively in an unselfconscious way and relate to us as cats who are their parents - surrogate mothers. That is why the domestic cat is a perpetual kitten. Once they become truly feral, they become wild cats.

How do cats see us? to Household pets (moggies)

How do cats see us? - Source: this are my views alone, except for the behavior in respect of licking/stroking, which comes from Desmond Morris.

This page was first published in 2008.

Comments

  1. The reason a cat will want to be stroked is because of concentrated nerves where the hairs grow.
    This makes their fur extra sensitive(its basically another skin)and the stroking motion feels good, just like how humans also enjoy this sort of contact.

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