Friday, April 1, 2016

Attitude: Why People Think Cats are Aloof

Why do cats have the reputation for being aloof? Today marks the start of the infamous "A to Z" blogging challenge. I've entered Six Cats and Counting into the challenge. Each day, excluding Sundays, I have to post an article starting with the letter "A" and ending with "Z" on April 30th.

Today...attitude and aloof, two words that even cat lovers acknowledge are often appended to their favorite felines.

But why do people perceive cats as aloof? Are they really so aloof, or are they just harder to understand than dogs?

Whitey's expression may seem aloof...

...until you get to know his crazy personality!

Are Cats Really Aloof?

Leave it to the Japanese, known worldwide for their special love of cats, to do some research to actually prove that cats aren't as aloof as people make them out to be.

  • Atsuko Saito, co-researcher at the University of Tokyo, explained that while cats were never trained to follow commands the way that dogs were, they do indeed recognize and acknowledge their owners' voices.

  • Saito studied cats' response to recordings of their owners' voices and strangers' voices. The results indicate that cats do indeed recognize us.

    But do they love us? A dog's face is easy to read. When Shadow, my German shepherd, sees me after I've been gone for a few hours, the joy practically radiates from her dark eyes. She trembles from nose to tail, her whole body wagging.

    Yet standing behind her on line to greet me at the back door is usually Pierre and Rocky, my two indoor house cats. They don't shake with joy, but their ears are pricked forward, and they look interested in what I'm doing. It's as if they are more curious than happy to see me.

    Cats express themselves through the position of their ears. This is called orienting. They do not move their facial or body muscles in the same way that a dog can. Dogs can "smile" and express happiness through the mobile of their faces. Cats, on the other hand, lack similar flexibility, so we must look for other more subtle clues to determine whether or not they are interested and engaged in interactions with us.

    Another clue as to whether or not cats like and respond to us is pupil dilation. According to Discovery, pupil dilation reflects extreme excitement in cats. It may be a reaction to a hunting instinct or it may be happiness at seeing their humans come home from work.

    Cats Evolved to Hide Emotions

    Another fascinating insight from Dr. Saito's research is the reminder that cats and dogs evolved differently. Dogs, like wolves and coyotes, are pack animals. They hunt in packs, and wolves have been known to protect pack members and care for them.

    Cats, on the other hand,  evolved as solitary hunters. Solitary hunters evolved characteristics that hide their emotions. While a wolf or a dog might whimper to get the attention of pack members, cats have no one to come to their aid in the wild. Therefore they evolved to be quiet, and hide their emotions. This is why when cats are sick, they often hide under furniture or mask their symptoms, making it hard for owners to understand what's wrong. Because they are predators, they know instinctively that any sign of weakness can make they themselves the prey.

    Does My Cat Love Me?

    Cats are social animals. Their social structure differs from other animals, but they do like company. Given Dr. Saito's research and other observations by cat behaviorists, I'd venture to say that they do form strong bonds with their human caregivers.

    I don't know if your cat loves you, but I'm convinced that my cats do love me and care about me. In their own way, of course. But something has to explain why, in this house, when it's just me home alone with the two indoor cats and the dog, all three animals will sit practically on top of me. They could go anywhere in the house. They have many soft beds and couches to choose from, but they choose to sleep on top of the hard surface of my work desk just to be close to me.

    If that's not love, then what is?


    1. I have to admit, I do think cats have an attitude - it's all on their terms!
      [Suzanne] from
      Suzannes Tribe

      1. It is all on their terms, but they do love us their own way. Thanks for stopping by!

    2. I have 2 dogs - it's always fun to read about the differences between cats and dogs. Good luck with your A to Z Challenge!

      1. Thanks! Love your dog profile picture!

    3. My cats are anything but aloof. I think it's part innate personality, part how you interact with them on a regular basis.

      As with any species, there will always be jerks. :)

      1. Indeed! All species product jerks lol! Thanks for dropping by. I tried to leave a comment on your blog but couldn't find the comment section....

    4. Insightful. I've been pet sitting part time on weekends for almost four years and I'm still learning about cats. They definitely aren't as easy to read as dogs are, in my opinion of course.

      I'll be by for more posts during this month. Glad I found your blog. :)


      1. Thanks Lindsay! I own both a dog and cats, and yes -- cats are harder to read. Once you get to know them it gets easier :)

    5. Great post! I'm looking forward to reading more throughout the challenge!!!

    6. I agree, those are perfect examples of cats showing love.
      Living alone, I think one day I'd like to get a cat.