Do Cats Have Emotions?

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Cats are wrongly perceived as indifferent and ‘none of your business’ type pets. Oftentimes, especially to non-cat people, they are seen as aloof and disengaged. 

Various researches done on canines’ minds have piled up through the years due to their higher Emotional Quotient (EQ), Intelligence Quotient (IQ), and other cognitive skills. Dogs with the highest emotional intelligence include German shepherd, Labrador, etc.; imagine how trainable a German shepherd lab mix would be!

According to BBC, dogs were domesticated about 30,000 years ago, and cats got domesticated only 10,000 years ago. Probably, it led to a lack of in-depth research on feline mind and behavior.

Do Cats Recognize Human Emotions?

Recent research on feline recognition of emotion has found that cats can recognize human gestures and expressions, and they behave differently to these emotions.

Cats can pick on human emotions. BBC mentions a study by Jennifer Vonk and Moriah Galvan, from Oakland University, that was conducted on 12 cats. It found that the cat stayed near the owner during happy moods, i.e., smiling expression, and behaved defensively when the owner frowned or expressed anger.

Are Cats Emotionally Intelligent?

A new criterion of success at the academic and practical level is the high emotional quotient (EQ). Pets are considered emotionally intelligent and are role models for kids as well as elders to learn to handle emotions. Companion dogs are proven to polish children’s emotional responses in a better way, but cats are equally emotionally intelligent too.

Before the debate begins, it should be made clear that emotional intelligence is the self-awareness of emotions, managing emotions wisely, and having an ability to understand others’ emotions better. It helps in developing moral values and better social skills.

A self-awareness of emotions in cats is not proven yet. However, they can recognize emotions across species, that is, human emotions and gestures.  

Charles Darwin studied emotions more than a hundred years ago and predicted that emotional exchange works way better than verbal interaction. His viewpoint is that “verbal channel, language, is a relatively poor medium for expressing the quality, intensity, and nuancing of emotion and affect in different social situations…[and] the face is thought to have primacy in signaling effective information.” (1, 2)

1. Management of Emotions in Cats:

According to traditional thinking, emotions are culprits of bad decisions as was portrayed in tragic plays like Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare. Research has shown that emotional management is the key to making wise decisions.

Cats are good managers in terms of emotions and use moods smartly by getting things done. A cat will complete the task no matter what and how.

You can see your purring ball chasing a rat for hours, or playing with the kid only to avoid fights. The owner’s happy moods are used by cats to convince him to pet her in the lap.

2. Understanding Human Emotions:

Companion pets are attuned to the owner’s mood swings and expressions and respond accordingly—as per their respective emotional intelligence.

A cat may avoid the owner when he is angry or may act defensively, but a dog simply stays silent and obeys the owner till he feels happy again. Both cats and dogs have interpersonal skills that help them overcome negative thinking and feelings.

If they stay in contact with the owner, they can boost his mood within no time. The sense of touch increases the release of oxytocin, the bonding hormones, as well as endorphins, the feel-good hormones.

3. Self-awareness of Emotions:

Regarding self-awareness of emotions in cats, no single answer can be provided. Some researchers consider that cats are well aware of their own emotions, and know how to use them for staying determined on a decision. Some consider that cats are not clear about their emotions, but are able to recognize human emotions, which act as precursors for a change of body language in cats.

Cats are emotionally intelligent in their unique way. Due to a lack of research on a cat’s brain and emotional responses, no single line of defense can be drawn.

View Sources

1 Bradshaw, G.A. 2010. You see me, but do you hear me? The science and sensibility of trans-species dialogue. Feminism and Psychology, 20(3) 407-419.

2 Schore AN (2005b) A neuro psychoanalytic viewpoint: Commentary on Steven Knoblauch. Psychoanalytic Dialogues 15(6), 829-854.

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About Dr Hannah Godfrey MRCVS

Hannah graduated from the Royal Veterinary College, UK in 2011 and began work straight away at a busy mixed practice. Initially, she treated all species, but as the small animal hospital became busier, she focussed on small animals. She has a passion for soft tissue surgery as well as canine and feline dentistry, having completed additional training in both areas.

One thought on “Do Cats Have Emotions?

  1. Jo Ellen Hart Deasy

    I have 2 orange tabbies who are the loves of my life. Reading this information caused me to say repeatedly “that’s my boys”!!! One in my arms purring loudly and the other stretched out in his purple bed. They make me smile all day!!

    Reply

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