Science Reveals What Cats Really Think of Us

ByBecca Stanek

Cat haters rejoice: Science is on your side.

There's a common stereotype about America's favorite household pets: Dogs will love you unconditionally, and cats couldn't care less if you died as long as they get fed (horrifying aside: For some cats, sometimes that's the same thing). Contrary to the protests of feline fanatics everywhere, the stereotypes are actually on point. While cats may look all fuzzy and adorable on the outside, research shows that they really are the cold, unfeeling monsters the world thinks they are.

Your cat doesn't love you back.


Experiments by the University of Lincoln in the U.K. found that cats just don't love their owners back in the way that dogs do. This can likely be explained by the animals' respective evolutionary histories with humans. Mankind's domestication of dogs may have begun as long as 32,000 years ago, explaining our close relationship with canines — both species have evolved together over millennia. Meanwhile, cats have only been cohabiting with humans for 9,000 years, and much of that was spent lurking in doorways and eating the rats that followed our messy forbears — hardly as rapport-building as hunting, eating and sleeping side by side.

Moreover, humans chose dogs to be their companions by selectively breeding positive traits, choosing the most docile and trainable dogs for breeding. Cats, on the other hand, chose themselves. While humans adopted dogs to serve a particular function for human societies — herding animals, protecting cattle and warding off predators — cats selected people as providers of dropped food and vermin that came to clean up the crumbs. While the relationship between man and his best friend could be characterized as mutual necessity, cats simply stick around for the fringe benefits of human society.

Your cat poops on the carpet because it thinks you're a loser.


One of the points made by cat-owners regarding feline supremacy is their relative cleanliness — try training a puppy to use a litter box sometime. Cats instinctively go to the bathroom in small areas and bury their mess, a leftover tactic from pre-domesticated days when vacuum cleaners weren't their only known predator. It also lets your cat avoiding challenging any more dominant felines in the area. The corollary of that behavior? When your cat doesn't bother to bury its business, it's because it knows you're not man enough to do anything about it.

By cleaning up after Fluffy, you're letting him know that he's succeeded in claiming his territory — namely, your house — and asserting himself as the Alpha Cat. We're not sure how to combat this behavior, beyond peeing on his scratching post to reassert dominance.

Your cat doesn't care whether you stay or you go.


Researcher and professor Daniel Mills of Lincoln University staged a modified version of the Strange Situation experiment, the famous study by psychologist Mary Ainsworth that proved that children have a special bond with their parents or caretakers. In the experiment, strangers and caretakers entered the room intermittently that the subject was in, and the subject's reaction to the entrances and exits were monitored.

Mills and his team first conducted the experiment with dogs, and their response mirrored that of children: Dogs reacted to their owner's presence with enthusiasm and joy, both clear signs of attachment to their owners. Cats, on the other hand, typically ignored their owners entirely, and sometimes even chose to approach a stranger over their owner. Their lackadaisical response underscores just how unattached they are to their human benefactors

Your cat has ulterior motives behind those displays of affection.


You probably love it when your cat purrs and rubs itself against your legs — those displays of physical "affection" are probably one of the biggest pieces of evidence a cat lover would use to prove that Bootsie loves them. Unfortunately, getting all rubbed up on by your cat isn't a sign of their emotional attachment as much as it is a display of ownership. 

Cats are all about marking their territory, and among their main markers are the pheromone-oozing scent glands they use to communicate with other cats, mostly about sexual availability and territorial ownership. The most active glands are located on your cat's face, the side of its body and its tail — all the parts it loves rubbing on your ankles, conveniently leaving its own personal scent on you. The pheromones tell any other nearby cats that you, Human, are its property (also, that it's ready to get down). Research published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology in 1994 found that even feral cats rub up against trees or other objects in the wild, because it allows them to rub their scent on and thus mark that area.

Research into purring has shown that even that ostensibly telltale sign of contentedness may come with ulterior motives. In 2009, researchers from the University of Sussex found that while sometimes cats might be purring out of happiness, other times it's simply a method of manipulation. Researchers concluded that cats "have figured out how to purr in a way that triggers humans' parenting instincts" and thus gets them food.

Cats actually hate it when you touch them.


While not all cats share this sentiment, for a lot of cats being touched is far from soothing. A 2013 study by the University of Lincoln researchers measured the levels of stress hormones in cats while they were being petted. Some cats' stress levels spiked, rather than dipped, after they were petted. This was especially true for cats that tolerated being petted, as opposed to cats that disliked it so much they just ran away.

Your cat thinks you're too damned stupid to feed yourself. 


Fluffy sure seems to enjoy murdering small woodland creatures: mice, rabbits, songbirds (some 3.7 billion every year), whatever else he can find. Every time he does, he trots back to your screen door, drops his latest victim at your feet, and looks up at your face expectantly. "Come on! Dig in!"

Some find the behavior of "bringing us a present" a little cute (environmental catastrophe notwithstanding) but the deeper motivation of your cat's slaughter-thon is the implication that you are too weak, inexperienced or stupid to catch your own prey. Cats teach their kittens to catch food in much the same way, and by dropping the corpse of Fievel Mousekewitz on your slipper, Fluffy has enrolled you in How to Get Away With Rodent Murder. 

Sorry, cats, your secret is out. But an even more sincere sorry to all of the cat owners facing dismal cases of unrequited love. At least we can all keep enjoying cat memes.