I spend a lot of time wondering what cats are thinking and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
After all, our feline friends sometimes seem so mysterious and weird but other times seem completely transparent in what they want.
But one of the most interesting areas to explore is how cats see us. Are we just another cat to them, although not quite as skilled when it comes to hunting. Or is it something a bit deeper?
There’s a lot of evidence to support that cats and humans have a strong bond, but do cats think that we’re their mother?
Even though cats primarily treat us the same way they do other cats, it’s unlikely that cats think we’re the mother that gave birth to them. It’s possible that they think we’re some sort of surrogate mother but there’s also plenty of evidence to suggest that they simply see us as a big resourceful cat.
I lean more towards the idea that cats view us as a feline that they have a strong bond with but not one that they think they’re related to.
Still, we’ll look closely at the evidence for both sides starting by learning how cats view their human companions and from there we’ll try to understand how cats view their actual birth mother and why they probably don’t put us in the same category.
But we’ll also learn why that’s not such a bad thing!
Let’s get into it!
How Do Cats View Humans?
While cats might not see us as their mother, it’s likely that they do see us as some kind of cat.
That’s a big difference from dogs, which clearly seem to treat us a different species, and one of the things that I love about cats.
Feline behavior expert John Bradshaw explains that “There’s been a lot of research with dogs and how dogs interact with people. [It’s] become very clear that dogs perceive us as being different than themselves: As soon as they see a human, they change their behavior. The way a dog plays with a human is completely different from [the way it plays] with a dog.”
But with cats, that’s just not the case and the same body language that cats use with other felines they also use with us.
That includes vocalizations like trilling but also rubbing their cheeks and tails on each other. When a cat greets a friendly feline that they feel comfortable or bonded with, they’ll often rub their cheeks, tail, and entire body on them the same way that cats rub on our legs.
However, there is a power dynamic here and speaking to Scientific American, Bradshaw further explains that “when living in a family group, kittens rub on their mothers, females rub on males and smaller cats rub on bigger cats. The reverse rarely occurs—an indicator of the small imbalance of power in each of these relationships.”
For cats, they’re really living by the rule of treating everyone the same but in their case, it means treating everyone like cats!
Bradshaw summarizes his point further by saying that cats “obviously know we’re bigger than them, but they don’t seem to have adapted their social behavior much. Putting their tails up in the air, rubbing around our legs, and sitting beside us and grooming us are exactly what cats do to each other.”
This is also the first piece of evidence that cats could think of us as their mother. The fact that they don’t change their behavior suggests that they don’t think there’s much difference between us!
What About Meowing?
While cats may not show any change in body language when they’re around us, there is one thing that’s different in the way cats interact with us compared to other felines and that’s the meow.
In most cases, adult cats don’t meow at other cats. Instead, the meow is usually reserved for humans and it’s thought that cats independently figure out that meowing is the best way to communicate with humans.
This video from the BBC (which also features John Bradshaw) explains that kittens meow at their mother but they stop making the noise as they age and their mother stops responding.
That suggests one of two things: either cats do view us as their mother which is why the meow is their go-to form of vocalization or they do see us as a different creature or a at least a different kind of cat.
The explanation could be as simple as our feline friends figuring out that meowing works for the very specific type of cat they live with (that’s you).
But it’s unlikely we will ever really know which is part of the fun.
Probably not. But not because they don’t love you. Instead, cats probably don’t spend any time thinking about their origins and who gave birth to them.
At the end of the day, these are mostly human concerns.
Cats want to know who’s going to pet them, when is their next meal, and how long until you break out their favorite toy- not their mysterious origin story!
However, we can’t rule this out entirely since it’s impossible to really understand a cat’s opinion on a concept like their birth.
Still, I can’t help but be interested in this idea since I raised my cat Debbie since she was 2 weeks old. It was hard for me not to think that she imagined me as her (male) mother but again Debbie probably didn’t spend much time contemplating who birthed her!
What About Very Young Kittens?
Up until now, we’ve focused almost entirely on adult cats but what kittens?
When it comes to kittens that are nursing from their mom, it should be pretty clear to kittens that you’re not their mother. It’s obvious to the hungry kitten who gives them milk and so it’s also obvious who their mom is.
But things get a lot less obvious when you consider a very young kitten, especially those without a mother like my cat Debbie.
At two weeks old, is it possible for a very small kitten to think you’re their mother?
In this case, it certainly seems possible!
After all, you’re providing everything that a mother cat would, at the appropriate age that they would provide it, and without the presence of any other actual feline mom. While a kitten may not contemplate their origins or wonder who gave birth to them, it isn’t a stretch to imagine that they’d see their caretaker the same way that they’d see their mother.
As is often the case with complex cat behavior, whether or not cats see us as their mother isn’t completely clear.
We know that cats treat us the same way they would other cats, at least for the most part.
But adults cats wouldn’t have a relationship with another cat, including their mom, that’s quite like the relationship they have with us.
Sure, mother cats will bring home food for their kittens but they wouldn’t keep up the behavior once their kittens became adults.
So in most cases, it’s more likely that cats are closely bonded to us and beyond that, there isn’t much consideration of mothers, surrogate mothers or birth origins.
The big exception here are very young kittens without mothers. Without a mom cat to care for them, these young kittens may assume all cats grow up drinking from bottles with human mothers.
But what do you think?
Do you think your cat thinks you’re their parent?