If you have a cat, you might think of yourself as your feline’s parent. After all, you feed your cat, you snuggle them, and you probably even talk to them.
Your cat, however, sees things a bit differently.
According to Dr. John Bradshaw’s new book “Cat Sense,” your feline friend likely thinks of you not as a parent, but as a larger, non-hostile cat. Bradshaw, a biologist at the England’s University of Bristol, has studied cat behavior for 30 years, and his book offers new insights into the ways cats interact with humans.
The starting point of his analysis is that cats are basically still wild animals. Unlike dogs, which have been bred for specific purposes, cats essentially domesticated themselves. As humans began farming the land, cats moved in to prey on rodents attracted to crops. They made useful and attractive companions, so we kept them around. But cats have remained relatively wild because 85 percent of felines breed with feral tomcats. The domestic cat population is maintained through spaying and neutering, so the majority of cats available for mating are those that live outside of our homes.
This means that our cats’ interactions with us are driven by instinct more than learned behaviors. When your cat kneads your lap or another surface, it is a behavior meant for a mother’s belly that keeps milk flowing.
When your cat greets you with an upright tail, this is a friendly sign reserved for greeting a non-hostile cat. Bradshaw describes this behavior as “probably the clearest way cats show their affection for us.”
Rubbing against your legs and grooming you is another a way your feline treats you like a cat. If you have multiple cats, you have probably witnessed these shared behaviors between your pets.
And when your feline friend brings you the occasional dead rodent or half-eaten insect, it is not a gift or an attempt to feed you. Your cat simply wants a safe place to eat his kill. When he bites into his catch, he realizes the food you provide tastes better, so he leaves the remains of the prey behind.
So while you may think of yourself as your cat’s parent, they see you more like a large, friendly feline who’s generous enough to share the canned food (not often enough).