If I'm being honest, there is nothing I aspire to be more in life than a cat. They're cool and mysterious, naturally graceful and elegant, spend most of their time sleeping and getting attention, and don't seem to care what anyone else thinks of them. What's not to strive for? Needless to say, when I look at a cat, I see a clearly superior being. But what do cats think of humans when they look at us? Well, according to some experts, cats might think humans are cats, too. Bigger, clumsier cats, sure — but cats nonetheless.
“Cats display many of the same behaviors toward humans that they do toward other cats, but they also behave differently in some circumstances, especially in terms of accepting a human being picking them up and carrying them, providing them food, etc.,” Dr. Stephanie Austin, DVM, and medical director and veterinarian of Bond Vet, tells Bustle. However, in her experience, “cats might also have their own clumsy moments from time to time, such as trying to jump on furniture or a countertop but missing their mark.”
According to John Bradshaw, an expert on cat behavior and author of a bestselling book on cat science, there's plenty of evidence that points to the fact that cats see humans as nothing more than fellow cats. In an interview with National Geographic, Bradshaw stated, "We've yet to discover anything about cat behavior that suggests they have a separate box they put us in when they're socializing with us. They obviously know we're bigger than them, but they don't seem to have adapted their social behavior much." Bradshaw's research, documented in his book Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet, sheds light on the fascinating ways that cats see the world, which can help humans better understand how to relate to and care for their feline companions.
There are lots of stereotypical kitty behaviors that cat guardians are highly familiar with (and likely fond of) — purring, rubbing their noses and faces up against our legs, kneading their paws on us (or as some people adorably call it, "making muffins"), or trying to lick our skin with their sandpaper tongues (OK, I'm not a fan of this one, but that's all right). It's easy to assume that our kitties play out these behaviors with the awareness that we're a totally different species than they are, since these aren't human behaviors — but that's not necessarily the case. "Putting their tails up in the air, rubbing around our legs, and sitting beside us and grooming us are exactly what cats do to each other," Bradshaw explained to National Geographic. They're essentially treating us no differently than they'd treat one of their own.
And cat people, brace yourselves for more sweetness: In some ways, cats don't just treat us like fellow cats — they treat us like we're their actual cat-moms. "They are using behavior that they would use toward their mother — all the behavior they show toward us is derived in some way from the mother-kitten relationship," Bradshaw told National Geographic. Take their "making muffins" or kneading on you with their paws, for example. According to TIME, "When a cat kneads your body or the surface of a bed, it’s a behavior that’s meant for its mother’s belly, a message to keep milk flowing." Obviously, cats are intelligent enough to eventually gather that milk isn't going to be flowing from their human parent any time soon, but they continue this behavior regardless, which may show that they relate to us as more of a cat than as a member of a different species.
But humans don't really act like cats, and don't really look like cats, so cats must see us somewhat differently, right? As Bradshaw shared with National Geographic, "They do think we're clumsy: Not many cats trip over people, but we trip over cats." 'Tis true. So we're viewed as clumsy and very large cats, but according to Bradshaw, typical cat behavior doesn't imply that they think of us as any less intelligent or inferior, so I'm cool with it. As time goes on and more research is hopefully devoted to this subject, there may be a way to determine exactly what the cat sees and what they think about humans. But until that day comes, we can just assume they think we’re a bigger version of themselves.
Cats are known for being sassy and endlessly self-confident, so when you think about it, it actually makes sense that they naturally assume their big, goofy guardians are nothing more than fellow cats. And if cats think I'm also a cat, then to tell you the truth, I'm truly honored. At least someone out there sees me for who I really want to be.
Additonal reporting by Siena Gagliano.
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