Do Cats Have Feelings?

Man with a ca

Is it true that only humans have deep emotions like love? What do cats really feel when they purr, head-butt or curl up with us?

We're told that only humans have deep emotions like love. Animals have only their natural instincts. A cat shows affection to you because he needs you for food and shelter. You give your cat what he needs, and his instinct tells him to buddy up to you.

Anyone who believes that never had a cat!

No one can "prove" that a cat feels love any more than that a person feels it. Love is one of those things that just can't be proven.

But what is love anyway? A feeling? An emotion? Here are some Merriam-Webster Dictionary definitions for love:

1. Strong affection

2. Warm attachment

3. Unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for others
Cats, of course, show affection — and not just when a meal is about to be served. Unless a cat has had a traumatic history with humans, she will seek out her owner for affection in the form of play, stroking or perhaps a chat.

With Love, Cats Are More Like People Than Dogs

Cats do what pleases them and show affection to their owners on their own terms. Because of this, some say that cats are unattached, unaffectionate and unloving — as evidence, they won't even come when called.

These people are comparing cats to dogs.

Think about one of the human relationships, where there is no question about love, such as between mother and child. When the child calls from another room, and mom is occupied, she may not even notice. If she does, she's most likely to call back, "Just a minute!" Unless she believes her child is in danger, she's not going to go bounding into the other room wildly excited to see what he wants. So coming when called is not a sign or test of love and devotion.

Or, a mother hugs and kisses her child, and the kid happily hugs and kisses back, and then squirms out of her arms. That doesn't mean the child is unaffectionate and detached — it just means she's had enough affection for now. Cats, like people, have their boundaries.

Do Cats Form an Attachment?

Cats form strong attachment to their owners. There are many known cases where the owner had to leave, or died, and the cat showed signs of distress. Cats have been known to sit at the owner's bedroom door meowing. They go into hiding. They even refuse to eat. Some perfectly healthy cats have had such a strong attachment that they simply died after the loss of their owner, the only cause seeming to be a broken heart.

But the most remarkable evidence that cats love humans comes from the many documented cases where cats traveled hundreds or thousands of miles through places they've never been to find their owners.

Is Unselfish Loyalty and Benevolent Concern for Others Part of a Cat's Love?

Loyalty and concern doesn't sound very cat-like. It's true that if you hurt a cat, she's going to run away. She won't come back to grovel and plead with you to love her as a dog may. Again, cats have boundaries and they are not terribly forgiving. But they are loyal, as shown by the long journeys many have taken to return home.

But selfless? Concern for others? Yes. Cats have been known to risk their lives for their owners. One kitty we know of fought off a poisonous snake and took the bite that was meant for her owner. Another cat jumped out a window right after his owner fell out. Whether this was an attempt to save the owner, or to die with him, no one can know. (The cat was injured, but survived.)

Cats Show Love Through Understanding

On a less dramatic note, many cat owners say that their cat knows when they are upset and will give comfort. Cats have even licked away tears. If cats truly cared only for themselves, they would stay away until the owner was more inclined to please her.

Though it may never be proven scientifically, those who give love and devotion to their cats get the same in return. Sometimes much, much more.