The Cat-Human Bond

Cats and humans started their relationship 10,000 years ago. It was a symbiotic relationship – the cats ate the mice that fed on the grain and, consequently, the farmers were able to keep more of their grain. The relationship has changed over the years – we no longer need the cat’s mousing abilities but value their independence, and cleanliness; they also fulfill a social need for many, a chance to care for another creature. The cat receives food, shelter, and social interaction.

How Cats See Us

When we adopt a cat, we take over the role of the mother cat, particularly for kittens. We provide food, comfort and security. Cats, who have been house-raised and  are well socialized with humans, seek out and enjoy human company.

Cats that are not particularly well socialized with humans view us as a valued resource – a source of food and care. These cats may think of us big, clumsy cats and rub against our legs, and sniff our hands. These cats are not inclined to solicit attention unless they want something. What Makes a Friendly Cat? A Good Pet Cat?

The Tale of Gus…


Gus was trapped when he was  about 2 years old. He had become a neighborhood nuisance, prowling around and fighting with other cats. After being neutered and undergoing 6 months of drug therapy (for agression and anxiety) and training, he became tolerant of humans and now lives in a multi-cat home. His behavior contrasts with his housemates, 3 house raised-cats. He does not engage in “snuggling” or sitting with humans; he rubs up against our legs and monitors our activity with regard to feeding times and walks. A human is a  big, clumsy cat that provides food and shelter, not  a surrogate mother for Gus, a tamed, previously free-roaming cat.

The Cat-Human Bond: How We see Cats

Cat are not little people in fur suits.  It is easy to treat them this way and attribute human motivations to the things they do.  We cannot totally understand  why cats do things – we see their behavior through the lens of our human experiences. To successfully understand and interact with cats, we must empathize not anthropomorphize.

The Cat-Human Bond – Empathy vs Anthropomorphism

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Empathy can help us understand why cats do what they do.

Anthropomorphism is attributing human characteristics to animals or objects.  The famous meme of Grumpy Cat attributed a sour disposition to a cat afflicted with feline dwarfism. She looked as if she were scowling, and therefore “grumpy”, to humans. Per her owners, she was a friendly cat who liked to be held and snuggled. 


  • I had a bad tooth and it was painful – maybe my cat’s bad tooth hurts too.
  • If I were small and a giant scooped me up without warning,  I would be frightened. Maybe I should greet my cat before picking her up.


  •  My cat pees on my clothes just to be mean.
  • I did not feed my cat on time  so he punished me by scratching the carpet.

When we anthropomorphize our cats, we are expecting a human response from them.  Cats are designed to hunt and eat mice, mate and raise kittens – they are not capable of understanding human ideas of right and wrong. If your cat pees on clothing you left on the floor, she may have a bladder irritation, she may like the soft texture of the cloth on her paws, or another cat is blocking her access to the litter box.  She is not trying to be “mean” or spiteful. What does my cat feel?

Your cat may  be tuned in to feeding time but he can’t read the clock. Scratching is a normal behavior for him – it feels good and he is marking his territory. He is not able to connect scratching the carpet with your displeasure.

Don’t expect human responses from your cat. Instead, try to put yourself in her paws and view the world from the Feline Purrspective!

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2 thoughts on “The Cat-Human Bond

  1. The cat that visits me, I call him Smoke, he actually belongs to a neighbor but he likes what I feed him. He must think I am pretty clumsy and dumb because he does like to rub on
    me a lot. Come to think of it I am feeding my neighbors cat…what’s up with that!!! Cats do have so many facial expressions it is hard not to assign human traits to all that they do.

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