Do Cats Recognize Faces?

Closeup portrait of one sad calico maine coon cat face lying on bed in bedroom room, looking down, bored, depression, woman hand petting head
There's no doubt that cats and humans bond but it is less clear whether they recognize us or not.
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Cats can be notoriously disdainful of human companionship, choosing to interact with us only when they want to and not when we want to. While it's clear that humans love cats (History World says it is believed that we domesticated cats earlier than 3000 B.C. ), it has not always been clear whether cats love humans. There's no doubt that cats and humans bond but it is less clear whether they recognize us or not.

Cats recognize human emotion

The BBC says that the cats in our lives pay attention to us and seem to be able to tell when we are happy. They reported on a study in the journal Animal Cognition which revealed that cats behaved differently when they were in a situation with a stranger than when they were in a situation with their owners.

In that study, the owners of 12 cats either smiled or frowned. When the owners were smiling, the cats seemed much more likely to be affectionate (purring, rubbing, or sitting on their owners' laps). The cats also generally were physically closer, as in wanting to spend more time with their owners, when they were smiling rather than when the owner was frowning.

When the cats were with strangers, they showed the same amount of affectionate behaviors regardless of whether the strangers were smiling or frowning. The researchers came to the conclusion that cats and humans bond, and that cats can read human facial expressions. Cats recognizing faces, however, is another story.

Do cats recognize faces?

National Geographic studied cat genetics and came to the conclusion that cats started hanging around humans because they were catching the rodents that came along with human societies. They coexisted alongside humans but their basic genetic makeup hasn't changed much from their wild cat days.

When dogs became domesticated, on the other hand, humans chose certain traits in dogs because they wanted help with certain tasks. Since humans selected for certain traits within dogs, their genetic makeup changed more drastically and they also developed a closer bond with humans. It was beneficial to dogs to be able to read human facial expressions, whereas since cats weren't directly "helping" humans, they didn't have to pay attention to our facial expressions as much. While cats can recognize the emotions of their humans, they aren't really great at reading or recognizing faces.

Cats and humans bond

Scientific American says that cats do seem to experience separation anxiety, which would make it seem that they do indeed bond with us. When cats are taken from their humans, they exhibit more negative behaviors such as urinating and defecating in inappropriate locations, meowing a lot, being more destructive, and grooming themselves excessively.

A cat kneading a blanket or kneading on your lap while she's sitting with you is also a sign that cats and humans bond. Animal Plant explains that kittens begin kneading early in life, when they're still with their mothers. They knead (pressing with each paw in turn) on their mothers to gently encourage milk to flow while they are nursing. They also knead, and frequently purr at the same time, to show that they are content and happy.

When a cat kneads on you it is a way for him to show you that your lap is his favorite place to rest. He is saying he loves you. A cat kneading on a blanket doesn't hurt, but a cat kneading on your bare skin does! Trim his nails if he is not an outdoor cat (he needs his nails for self defense if he does go outside) or place a folded towel or blanket on your lap, so he can show you how much he loves you while kneading without you crying in pain.

Cats and hissing

If you have a new cat that hasn't bonded with you yet, you may ask yourself, "Why is my new cat hissing at me?" Cats hiss for a variety of reasons, and the basic reason is that they feel afraid or insecure. Hissing is a warning message, and there can be many reasons for it.

Cats Pro explains that a cat may hiss at you because they are in a new environment, for instance, when you first bring them home, or because something in their environment changes. For instance, a cat might not recognize your smell or the smell of your home because you got the carpets cleaned or you are wearing a different cologne. If you're worried that your new cat hasn't bonded with you yet just give her a little more time.