We all know that our cats seem to have an opinion about everything we do. If we change the routine or veer away from the norm, we can bet that our cats will let us know that they've noticed our choice and they don't really approve.
Do Cats Feel Jealousy?
Research suggests that cats do have emotions, even if they're on a more limited scale than human emotions. Though they are sometimes labeled as "aloof," cats show us in numerous ways that they love us. However, it can be hard to pinpoint which emotions our animals actually have and which ones we're projecting onto them. All those cat lovers who spend hours talking to their fab felines know what I'm talking about.
And when it comes to kitty emotions, jealousy is one that's very hard to figure out. When we bring a new person or pet into the equation, our cats are bound to have a reaction. But are they giving into the green-eyed-monster of jealousy, or is there a simpler explanation for their behavior?
Research suggests that jealousy is a primal emotion.
For a long time, scientists placed jealousy in a higher echelon of emotions that required more rational thought. However, according to recent studies, jealousy really just needs two important things: a strong relationship and an ability to gauge threats to that relationship. In studying jealousy, scientists noted that human babies as young as 6 months old appeared to be jealous when their mother interacted with another baby. That, to researchers, suggests that jealousy is more of an instinct than a learned social emotion.
And cats are often considered very instinctual animals. Let's use the common example of a pet feeling jealousy when you bring a new pet home. In order for your cat to feel jealous, they need to understand the strong relationship between itself and you, and it would need to see that the new pet is a threat to that relationship. When it breaks down in that way, it's not hard to see that a cat could be jealous if it thought its relationship was threatened.
Cats' tendency to be territorial tells us they might actually be feeling jealous.
The difficulty we face when we're trying to determine what emotions cats feel is that we can't directly communicate them. They can't explain their feelings in words, so we're left guessing what their various behaviors and meows might mean. But they do offer us some clues. The fact that cats demonstrate a clear tendency to be territorial suggests that they actually might feel jealousy.
Historically, cats needed to establish and protect their territory for safety reasons. They kept a close watch on their surroundings to protect themselves from any surprises. Obviously, in your home, there isn't much chance that your cat will be attacked, but their instinct to establish and protect their territory remains. A new addition to their territory can set them on edge and make them unhappy and make them feel like something is being taken from them. And their reactions – sometimes destructive or sometimes needy – are a good sign that yes, your can might be feeling jealousy.
Our cats do love us, and we shouldn't forget that just because they ignore us.
Cats don't express their love in the same way that, say, a dog does. But that doesn't mean they don't love us. Cats experience a boost in oxytocin, aka the happiness hormone, when playing with their humans, which shows they do have an attachment to us. And because they are so observant, they can't help but notice if something or someone starts to take our attention away from them. So even if your cat isn't always affectionate when you want them to be, don't let that make you think they don't care. And if you plan to do something that might cause them jealousy, make sure you do what you can to reduce those unhappy feelings.
Remember that your cat might be jealous, so you don't take their emotions for granted.
Cats famously come off as "aloof," so sometimes we might not think of their feelings when making decisions. However. a jealous cat that isn't properly introduced to changes can become destructive or aggressive, so make sure to take proper steps to avoid that.
Try creating a positive association between your cat and the new addition, whether it's human or animal. You can show your cat that the newness means playtime or treat time, which will help your kitty feel more comfortable. Also, as best you can, introduce your cat to change more gradually. And of course, make sure to devote a good amount of one-on-one time to your cat, so they know they're still very important in your life.
Soon, your cat will hopefully learn that change can be good and more can be merrier!