Many cat owners feel a special connection to their furry friends.
Cats are known for making good companions based on their tame and loving nature. However, felines also have the reputation of being standoffish and not too social.
For many, cats are more than just pets; they’re family.
But do cats really know their owners?
Plenty of pet owners and researchers think so, but there is a lot of debate around the topic.
It’s obvious that cats and dogs are very different creatures in the way that they react to humans.
Cat-behavior expert John Bradshaw sums it up by saying that dogs recognize humans as something different from themselves, whereas cats basically treat us like, well, giant cats.
While they probably do recognize that we’re not the same creatures, cats tend to exhibit the same actions toward humans as they would toward other cats, like kneading or rubbing our legs.
Dogs, however, automatically change their behavior when they spot a human, usually rushing over to us and getting excited.
Dr. Bradshaw admits that cat behavior is a field that hasn’t been explored much yet, so there’s still quite a bit to learn about how cats actually see us.
A big point in the “Do Cats Know Their Owners?” debate is the difference in the way we treat cats and dogs, along with the expectations we have in these relationships.
Humans domesticated dogs, and we often expect them to be loyal, playful, and sociable. We know our dogs love us by the way they come running when we get home or when they lick our faces and we have to pretend we’re not grossed out.
On the other hand, we don’t have the same expectations for cats. We typically expect cats to be more relaxed and laid back than dogs.
But as Dr. Elizabeth Stelow points out: “Cats domesticated themselves, so there must be something in the relationship for them.”
While it may not be outright clear, it is likely that cats like us in some capacity; otherwise, they wouldn’t have stuck around us for so long.
It’s also important to note that, while dogs have been befriending humans for more than 30,000 years, cats only became domesticated around 10,000 years ago.
This gap in time may well account for how these animals relate to us since dogs have clearly had more time to evolve with humans in mind, while cats may still be trying to figure us out.
Something else to consider when wondering if your cat knows you is simply its personality.
Just like humans, some cats want to snuggle you every waking moment, while others are content just passing you in the hallway and meowing at you until you feed them.
While introversion tends to be the stereotypical cat personality, that’s certainly not always the case. Many cat owners say their pets have just as much spunk as their human friends.
Often, it just depends on the nature and the length of the cat/human relationship as well as your cat’s personality.
If you think your cat doesn’t know you or like you, chances are they just haven’t had enough time to figure out how to show you, or that’s just not their style.
One major personality trait of cats is their introversion though. It may be a relief or an annoyance that most cats would rather run away when a stranger comes in your home instead of sticking around to socialize (again, that totally depends on your cat’s character).
While we’re used to pampering our pets, cats are naturally lone creatures and don’t mind solitude.
They actually prefer to fend for themselves a lot of the time, as a result of their ancestry and predatory nature. This behavior can often seem standoffish and unrelatable to humans, making some people think that cats don’t truly know their owners.
However, Japanese researchers Atsuko Saito and Kazutaka Shinozuka found that cats can use vocal cues to differentiate between humans.
The researchers say that the lack of domestication and training in cats may play a factor in their perceived unfriendly nature, but it is clear that cats are able to identify humans based on our individual voices.
Other research has shown that cats recognize body language, facial expressions, and smells to pick out which human is theirs.
Cats have even been known to pick up on and respond to different human emotions, tending to gravitate toward people who appear happy.
So while your cat may know who you are, it’s up to the animal whether you get a response when you try to get its attention.
Saito and Shinozuka’s study was the subject of an article from the Independent, whose title sums up many cats nicely:
“Cats recognize their owners’ voices but never evolved enough to care, says study.”
One 2007 study also solidified the idea that cats know their owners. Edwards et al. conducted what they called the “Ainsworth Strange Situation Test.” In this study, the researchers found that cats were more receptive and responsive to their owners than they were to another random human.
The cats were more relaxed and comfortable with their owners, while they were on high alert and were much more vocal when alone or left with a stranger.
It is also possible that cats experience separation anxiety when they are apart from their owners; they are likely to become stressed and, in turn, meow loudly and do their business outside of the litter box.
These findings all go to show that cats do form strong attachments with their humans, even if they may not display their fondness upfront.
If you really want to make sure your cat knows you, there are ways to train your pet.
Similar to dog training, you can use treats or toys to encourage the behavior you’d like to see from your cat, whether it be responding to their name or coming out from behind the furniture when your mother-in-law comes in.
Training a cat may take a little more patience than when training another animal, but persistence is key.
This extra bonding time can also help solidify your relationship with your pet, perhaps turning your otherwise unfriendly feline into the cuddly pillow of your dreams.