How Do Cats See Humans?

Cat and People

Smithsonian says that the domestication of cats could have started as early as 12,000 years ago. Said claim is speculation. However, National Geographic reported in 2001 that we have been keeping cats since at least 9,500 years ago. Archaeologists found the remains of both a cat and a human in a Cyprus gravesite from around 9,500 years ago. On its own, those remains would have indicated that cats mattered in some way to the people who lived in that place in those times. What implied the existence of a pet-pet owner relationship is that cats aren’t native to Cyprus. That means that someone brought them over to the Mediterranean island, which would make sense if they had already been domesticated but would not make sense if they were still wild around 9,500 years ago.


In any case, there is a reason why some scientists speculate that the domestication of cats was 12,000 years ago. Still, the general line of thought is that they domesticated themselves for the most part. Essentially, 12,000 years ago was when people started transitioning from being hunter-gatherers to being farmers. Due to that, they started storing large amounts of food to see themselves through the growing season. They are tempting targets for rodents and other vermin.

In turn, those vermin became tempting targets for wild cats that posed no threat to that stored food whatsoever because those wild cats would have been like their domesticated descendants in that they would have been obligate carnivores. Gradually, cats domesticated themselves because those that were friendliest toward humans would have prospered the most. Ever since, we have been bringing our feline companions with us, as shown by how they are now on every single one of the human-inhabited continents.

Wild Ancestors

Curiously, Ars Technica and other sources say that domestic cats remained much the same as their wild ancestors until very recent times. That makes them quite different from dogs and other domesticated animals, which have undergone enormous changes because of their domestication. To name an example, dogs have extra facial muscles that provide them with extra facial expressiveness for interacting with humans. Meanwhile, cats showed much less change until very recent times when people started breeding them in earnest. A trend that went hand-in-hand with their transition from being pest control for the most part to being personal companions. As such, cats see humans differently from how dogs see humans. Although, every single species sees humans differently because every single species is one of a kind.

Do Cats Feel Emotions?

For starters, cats have emotions. There is a longstanding notion that animals are so much lesser than humans. And, that we must have nothing in common with one another. René Descartes might be the most famous individual to make this argument. As far as he was concerned, animals were mindless machines. They are nothing but mindless machines because they had no souls and thus no minds. Since then, countless thinkers have attacked this idea. Their ranks include scientists, who as The Conversation relates, have found evidence that a wide range of animals experience emotions. Cats are no exception to this rule.

Strictly speaking, we can’t be sure that these emotions are indeed emotions. This is because we can’t ask animals questions in the same way. However, if animals are acting in a way that looks like emotion it seems reasonable to say. This is particularly true because the big epistemological questions are not 100 percent. This means that one can make the argument that we can’t be 100 percent sure that we know. Instead, we just have to settle for what seems to be true based on our experiences. This works with scientific experimentation well enough.

How Do Cats See Humans in an Emotional Sense?

Moving on, cats have quite a range of emotions, according to Catological. Every single one of these emotions can show up in their interactions with humans depending on the circumstances. For example, cat owners should be familiar with their cats affection for them. Although, different cats will express the same emotion in their particular ways because of their different personalities. Some cats might nap on their cat owners. In contrast, other cats might restrict themselves to more subtle signals. This include grooming, head bunting, cheek rubbing, certain kinds of vocalizations. Even special eye blinks called cat kisses might work.

Similarly, it is very much possible for cats to feel fear when interacting with humans for one reason or another. Often, they will show that fear by freezing up. They hide, and even losing control of either their bowels or their bladder. Moreover, cats that are feeling fear may become aggressive. This is meant to warn others to stay away from them. Interested individuals should heed the signs of aggression such as hissing, growling, and hair standing up. That aggression can be redirected towards them if they approach too soon.

Cats and Grief

On top of these emotions, some argue that cats are even capable of feeling grief. Unfortunately, grief can be hard to detect. A cat has clear physical indicators of happiness. Likewise, a cat has clear physical indicators of fear and aggression. Unlike these emotions, grief isn’t quite as obvious. Instead, people tend to interpret behaviors that can mean grief in humans to mean grief in cats as well. One example would be a cat that seems listless, with the result that it experiences both a reduced interest in food and a reduced interest in play.

Other examples would be a cat that spends more of its time sleeping or a cat that spends more of its time on its lonesome. People with a more skeptical outlook have been known to argue that these are the results of cats being affected by the disruptions to their normal routines caused by the absence of often encountered figures. Still, there is a study in which a majority of cats showed what seemed like the impact of grief upon the loss of another cat from the same household. In other words, this is one of those things that need to be studied more because too much remains unclear for something certain to be said.

Cats and Humans

Another topic that has seen much debate is whether cats see humans as humans. In short, we know that dogs see humans as humans. After all, our canine companions don’t communicate with us in the same way that they communicate with other dogs. Indeed, they developed a new set of communications for use with humans, which is a great example of how much they have changed through their domestication. Meanwhile, Inverse says that the situation is much murkier for cats because there is evidence that can be interpreted to support both conclusions.

Generally speaking, cats are seen as being very aloof creatures whereas dogs are seen as being very deferential creatures. As a result, it is no wonder that cat owners often think that cats just see them as bigger cats, meaning that there is a kind of fundamental equality between them and their feline companions. To be fair, cats do communicate with us using some of the same methods that they use to communicate with other cats. This can be seen in how cats will use both head bunting and cheek rubbing to express affection towards other cats in much the same manner that they would use these two things to express affection towards humans.

Humans as Bigger Cats

Having said this, there are reasons to be very skeptical of the idea that cats see humans as bigger cats. Fundamentally speaking, wild cats should be capable of distinguishing other cats from other animals. Out in the wilderness, that would have been a critical skill because cats are predators that can be predated upon, meaning that they needed to identify not just animals that they can eat but also animals that they can be eaten by. Wild cats wouldn’t have lived very long without that basic ability. There is no reason to believe that domestic cats would have lost that basic ability upon being domesticated, particularly since domestic cats didn’t change much from their wild ancestors until very recent times.

Additionally, we know that cats don’t see humans as just bigger cats because cats don’t react to unfamiliar cats in their living space in the same way that they react to unfamiliar humans in their living space. Beyond these things, it should be mentioned that cats don’t seem to be quite as aloof as their reputation makes them out to be. Previously, it was thought that cats weren’t capable of reading human emotions in the same way that dogs can. More recent investigations suggest that previous efforts were very much flawed. Cats are indeed capable of reading human emotions. Furthermore, they are capable of adjusting their behavior based on that information, which speaks of a level of sensitivity that interested individuals might not have expected.

How Do Cats See Humans in a Physical Sense?

Of course, it should be mentioned that cats aren’t getting their information from just their eyesight. Our feline companions see us well enough in the physical sense. They have a number of differences in their eyesight that make them more suitable as crepuscular predators. Chances are good that interested individuals are familiar with how cats have better night vision than we do, though it is important to note that night vision means low light vision rather than total dark vision.

Besides this, cats are better at detecting motion while also being capable of seeing more of their surroundings when compared with humans. In exchange, our feline companions lose out when it comes to color. They just don’t see the same range of colors that we do. Even worse, cats are near-sighted from a human perspective, though that is very far from saying that cats are either blind or near-blind in this regard.

Cat Vision

Summed up, cat vision has both its upsides and its downsides when compared with human vision. These have presumably had an impact on how well cats see humans. Certainly, there is a widespread belief that cats aren’t as good as dogs at reading human expressions, though this is one of those things that are being contested because more recent findings don’t quite agree with their less recent counterparts. Despite this, cats are capable of reading human emotions, particularly because they don’t get all of their sensory information from their eyes. It isn’t talked about in the same way that the canine sense of smell is talked about.

Nonetheless, cats have very good noses, which is why they use smells so much in their communications. Now, our noses aren’t as good as theirs, so there is a limit to the information that we can take in from a cat’s smell. The opposite is not true because cats can glean a great deal of information from our smell. No matter how well cats can see our faces, the sensory information that they get from their eyes will be supplemented by the sensory information that they get from their noses so long as interactions are happening in person.


Ultimately, there is still much that remains unknown about the exact cognitive capabilities of cats. Naturally, we see cats as very interesting creatures. The issue is that learning about their exact cognitive capabilities takes study after study, which isn’t helped by the fact that our communications with our feline companions are so much more limited than our communications with one another. Much progress has been made but much more progress remains to be made.

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