Can cats feel love? Love is a difficult emotion for humans to describe, so it's even harder to put it into cat terms. Scientists and cat behaviorists believe that in spite of their aloofness at times, cats feel love in their own way. Cats do feel affection for the people who feed them, pet them, give them treats, and supply a cozy lap for lounging.
Do cats feel love?
Cats cannot come right out and say, "I love you" like humans can, but maybe it's more important that they show their love instead of say it. After all, many humans utter those three magic words freely, but their actions say otherwise. Cats react differently to their owners than they do to strangers, as evidenced by their head bumps, gentle nudges, and purring as well as wanting to lie close to their owners. These are not actions cats give to strangers or even to all familiar people.
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However, it isn't that cats feel love for their owners; cats feel love for the people who care for them, who often are their owners. So, while cats seem happy to see their owners after they have been gone, cats may also (eventually) warm up to the cat sitter who comes every day, feeds them, and spends time with them.
Cats are not pack animals
Few would describe dogs as independent or aloof, which are words often used to describe cats. That's because dogs are innately pack animals who gravitate to other dogs and the humans with whom they bond. Dogs consider their humans as part of their pack. Cats do not usually have a pack. With the exception of lions, cats in nature are solitary, and if anything, they consider other cats to be their rivals rather than their pack.
Cats do show emotion
Cats are definitely emotional beings. They will growl, hiss, and swat at another cat or a human when they are displeased. Cat owners are quite familiar with the angry, swishing tail that indicates supreme irritation, often seen from behind as the cat dashes or stalks out of the room in displeasure. Contrast that vision with cats who spring up onto your lap just to sit with you and be petted, nudging and rubbing against you in response.
Like all animals, cats have different personalities, so while they all have tendencies to act emotionally at times, some are more affectionate than others. If you have owned more than one cat through the years, you know that some like to cuddle next to you to sleep, while others prefer to sleep alone. Some will wiggle and squirm when being held, and others enjoy just about any attention you want to give.
Cats create bonds with their humans
Most research studies have focused on the emotional attachments dogs make with their human caregivers, which has been likened to the way infants bond with their caregivers. Neither infants nor dogs can speak, but they show their love through attachment bonding, wanting to be with their caregiver, and showing distress when they are separated. Puppies behave much the same way.
A recent study conducted with kittens and reported in Current Biology showed similar results. Cats showed the same types of attachment bonds as well as signs of being distressed, often vocalizing when separated from their caregiver. They also showed pleasure during the reunion phase when their caregiver returned by going to the person and sometimes vocalizing as well. The same experiment performed with adult cats found the behavior was the same and that the cats carried this behavior into adulthood and were still distressed when separated from their caregivers.
Cats prefer interaction over food
In another study reported in Behavioural Processes, both pets and shelter cats were given the choice of either interacting with humans, food, the scent of something they like, and toys. From the way cats come running when they hear their food being opened or hitting their bowl, you might assume food would be their first choice, but the cats overwhelmingly chose interacting with humans. Can cats feel love? You bet they can, and they show their love as well.
- Inverse: Does Your Cat Love You? Three Experts Reveal What to Look For
- Salon: Does Your Cat Love You? Here's What the Science Says
- Current Biology: Attachment Bonds Between Domestic Cats and Humans
- Behavioural Processes: Social Interaction, Food, Scent or Toys? A Formal Assessment of Domestic Pet and Shelter Cat (Felis silvestris catus) Preferences