Do Cats See Humans As Their Parents?

woman hugs her cat

We, as cat parents, know how affectionate cats are. Not those uninterested and aloof creatures people sometimes make them out to be. 

Cats show their love in so many different ways, and it’s been scientifically proven that they really need us to take care of them. For that reason, you may wonder: “do cats think humans are their parents?” 

Cats don’t see us as their parents in the same way we, as humans, define a parent. However, cats consider their owner(s) their primary caretakers who provide food, shelter, safety, and love. Even though it often seems that cats are independent, the fact that cats domesticated themselves is a testament to their relationship with humans.

Do cats think humans are their parents?

Cats build meaningful relationships with their owners, but they don’t see us as parents. 

At least, if you define a parent as ‘biological parent’, then ‘no’, cats don’t think you gave birth to them. And besides, for a cat, that is something irrelevant. 

Once, as a kitten, they have weaned from their mother, they don’t acknowledge her as their biological mother. This is natural kitten-mother behavior. 

Their relationship will still be close but not extra special. After a while, mother cats don’t continue to take care of their young as humans do.

Once the caregiver bond between mother and kitten has ended, at around six weeks after birth, kittens can be placed in other homes without missing their mum or being dependent on her for survival.

showing love to a cat
Showing affection is an important factor in building a bond with your cat.

Since (domesticated) cats still need someone to take care of them (other than their mother), they will consider their human as a parental figure or caregiver. 

Because of this, they form a close bond with their pet parents and often choose one lucky ‘favorite person‘ as their mother figure.

On top of that, there is solid evidence that shows our cats form loving bonds with their caregivers. 

If you wonder how your cat shows they consider you as a mother figure, look for the following behaviors.

Your cat looks at you for guidance

More compelling evidence that a cat depends on its caregiver is that researchers have concluded that cats look for their owners in stressful situations and act depending on their owner’s emotional response.

When your cat feels uncomfortable or in danger, it will look for you and see how you respond to that situation. By your reaction, it will gauge whether its own safety is at risk. 

If your cat sees you panic or be startled, it will likely flee the scene, but if you stay calm, this will reassure your cat that everything is under control.

Cats form emotional attachments with us.

Based on popular belief, people often think that cats don’t form strong bonds with their owners but that’s far from the truth…

Research shows that most cats form so-called ‘secure attachments’ with their human or primary caregiver in the same way human babies do with their parents.

This attachment style means a strong emotional relationship between two beings (people or animals). This relationship is based on trust, affection, and a sense of safety. 

Interestingly, we now have solid, scientific evidence explaining what we as cat parents already knew, which is that cats bond with us, not unlike how dogs bond with their owners.

Parent figure or not, cats look to us for security and love. This may be the reason why even adult cats show ‘kitten behavior’ (kneading, cuddling) with humans they trust.

Cats experience separation anxiety.

As described above, cats feel safe and secure when they’re with their human parent by having an attachment.

This result is that scientists have observed that cats can experience Separation Anxiety Syndrome (SAS).

In other experiments, cats have shown signs of stress when their owner (or the person they have an emotional bond with) leaves their presence. 

This was observed when their person leaves for several hours, for example, to go to work, and even when left alone for just a few minutes. 

This is even more evidence that cats and humans have a stronger bond than often thought, surely stronger than a casual observer would think.

All of this helps us better understand how cats perceive the world and, specifically, their relationship with humans. 

cat touching a human hand
It has been scientifically proven that most cats form an emotional attachment to their caregivers.

Do cats see humans as the leaders?

Although cats don’t see us as their parents, we cannot deny there is a strong emotional bond between a cat and its owner.

This would suggest that cats also look up to us for guidance and will follow our lead in the same way as dogs do.

Do cats see us as leaders of the pack?

Cats do not see their owners as leaders in the way dogs treat their owners as leaders. This is because cats don’t operate under an ‘Alpha figure’ or group leader as dogs would. Cat communities have a far more complex social structure. Without a single leader, the group’s survival is a shared responsibility.

For that reason, you should not expect to (easily) teach your cat commands or follow your lead. Cats make up their own mind and will usually only follow instructions if there is something in it for them as well.

In small colonies, cats are constantly fighting for territory. But they also perform bonding activities with the cats they like. Humans are seen more as caregivers rather than leaders. 

How can I develop a close relationship with my cat?

Developing a relationship with your cat usually happens naturally as you take care of your feline furry friend. 

By feeding your cat, tending to its needs, and showing love and affection, a bond between you will naturally develop. It is usually not something that needs special attention other than what a loving cat parent would already do.

However, there may be situations where a conscious effort is needed. For example, when giving an adult cat a new home or taking care of an abused cat or a stray.

Here are some things you can do to develop a close relationship with your cat.

  • Give it space: Give your cat time and space. Forming a bond does not happen when forced. Cats need to feel relaxed and want to be in control. Make sure it is comfortable, and it will come to you when ready.
  • Get to know your cat: Every cat is different, so be considerate and spend some time with your cat. Discover what your cat likes and dislikes. This goes for food, behavior, toys, daily routine, the level of affection they are comfortable with, etc… Basically, get to know all aspects of your cat’s life and preferences.
  • Feed them and take care of them: Cats develop a close relationship with the person that feeds them. Take care of your cat, and you will soon feel their love and display of affection. 
  • Play with your cat and show affection: Playtime is vital for cats. Apart from the physical and mental advantages playing has for cats, it also strengthens the bond between you.

Signs your cat sees you as a “mother” figure:

When you’re successful in building a bond with your cat, it will reward you with the following displays of affection.

Cats communicate differently from humans. Once you understand their language, you realize how affectionate and caring they can be. 

Sometimes they act like kittens, and sometimes it feels like they’re taking care of us. Here are some signs your cat sees you as a parent:

  1. They knead you.
  2. When you enter a room, they greet you.
  3. They meow at you.
  4. Headbutting.
  5. Your cat lets you touch it.
  6. Your cat makes eye contact with you.
  7. Showing you their belly
  8. Purring in your company.
  9. They follow you.
  10. Your cat licks you.
  11. Your cat sleeps on top of you.



Sources

Attachment bonds between domestic cats and humans
Vocal recognition of owners by domestic cats
Social referencing and cat-human communication
Separation Anxiety in Cats

At Cat & Friends we are passionate about everything feline. We are a team of cat parents and writers who love to write about everything related to cats. Our goal is to provide the most helpful and accurate information about our little furry friends through extensive research and experience.

2 Comments

  1. Hi, I love the article. Thank you for sharing it. One thing I want to point out though is that referring to a cat or any animal is “it” sounds like they are reduced to objects. I would recommend adopting language that recognizes them as individuals.

    1. Hi Joseph, thanks for your comment and for visiting our website. We completely agree with you and we’ve been switching to ‘them’ as we wanted to use genderless language. Not all of our content has been updated to reflect this. Thank you!
      –Tom from Cat & Friends

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