Cats are often vilified as callous creatures and critiqued for their independence. Two recent studies have even revealed that cats don't love their owners in the same ardent way as dogs love their owners. But if cats don't see us as companions then what exactly are we to our mysterious feline friends? One anthrozoologist has yielded a surprising answer.
According to John Bradshaw in his new book, Cat Sense, the unique history of cats and their relationship with humans have created a unique mentality. Unlike dogs, cats are naturally solitary hunters and were never bred to deviate from this tendency. So, whereas dogs were bred selectively to perform jobs such as herding, cats naturally hunted vermin so successfully that there was no reason to implement any form of artificial selection. What's more is that our expectations of cats have only recently changed. Until recently, cats were only expected to be reliable exterminators. Only in the recent decades did we expect them to put down the paw and warm up to their owners.
These three factors give the cat a uniquely wild perspective of humans. Cats first started interacting with humans when our practices of aggregating food supplies began to attract rodents. The cats followed their natural prey and humans appreciated the help removing unwanted pests. Naturally, the two began to coexist in the same habitat until humans began to develop a personal relationship with their cats. This development has led cats to view us as a mix of parental replacements and as larger, non-hostile cats.
Keeping it "Au Naturale"
Despite never intentionally breeding cats to be good pets, it seems reasonable to expect that cats have developed more pet-like tendencies through the generations. However, according to Bradshaw, this is not the case. Our tendency to spay or neuter pets has diminished the impact of this effect. Currently, 85% of cats breed with feral tomcats- ensuring a consistently feral ancestry.
Furthermore, because the role of a house cat was largely to hunt and remove vermin from particular areas, only recently are owners dismayed by "unnecessary" killings performed by cats. These killings often result in the retrieval of dead animal that appears to be presented as a sign of affection. According to Bradshaw, this interpretation is misguided. Cats don't present their owners with "gifts"- but rather they kill to eat and only leave their kill behind after realizing that it's not as tasty as the Fancy Feast to which they've grown accustomed.
Learning to Love Your Cat As A Large, Non-Hostile Cat
Despite the enigmatic disposition of your cat- there are a few ways you can tell what your feline friend is thinking. Because cat's think of us as larger felines, we can understand their actions in that context by studying the way cats interact with one another. Surprisingly, the gestures we deem as signs of affection are actually misinterpreted.
One such action is a cat's tendency to rub against your leg. Though this is a standard practice between cats, it's actually to determine whether or not you are hostile. According to Bradshaw, the clearest indication of feline affection is the unique greeting of an upright tail. So, if your cat's tail goes up when he sees you, feel loved- even if he really only think's you're OK.