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What Goes on in a Cat’s Mind?

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orange tabby cat with a black tag eating out of a white food bowl in a kitchen

Around 1 out of 4 American homes have a cat in residence, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). But we know surprisingly little about what goes on in the minds of our feline friends.

What is my cat thinking?

While we can't know for sure what our cats are thinking, it's fun to make some educated guesses. You can tell a lot about your cat's thoughts and emotions from their body language and behaviors.

For instance, cats will stick their tail high in the air and arch their back to make them look bigger and more intimidating when they're scared. Their body will have a more relaxed posture when they're at ease.

Cats also learn the best methods to get our attention. You might hear your cat yowling or making a weird noise in another room and wonder why they're doing that. So, of course, you go check on them. And that's exactly why they're doing that. They've probably noticed that whenever they make a certain noise, you come running.

Cats don't have the words to tell us what's going on for them. But they have other ways of communicating. Get tips on understanding what your cat is trying to say.

What do cats think about all day?

Cats have lots of time on their paws during the day. So what goes on in their mind while they whittle away the hours? We can make some assumptions depending on what they're up to at the moment.

  • Cat watching the birds outside the window: "There are so many birds hopping around in the yard. If only I could get outside. I really, really, really want to get outside!"
  • Cat hiding under a fresh pile of unfolded laundry: "They'll never spot me here. When they try to grab the clothes, I'll get them good with a sneak attack."
  • Cat walking across your laptop while you attempt to check email: "Hey, what are you doing? I'm right here. On your keyboard. I command you to pay attention to me."
  • Cat standing near their empty food bowl: "Come on, seriously? Empty again? Feed me now. Hurry up. I have naps to take."
  • Cat snuggled up next to you on your couch: "This is nice. I love my human. If only I could get them to keep my food bowl full all of the time."

We can't know what goes on in the minds of dogs either, but we can guess what they're thinking based on how they're behaving.

Do cats think about the future?

Our cats' wild ancestors certainly had to think about the future to survive. They'd need to figure out safe places to rest and the best times to hunt for food.

Our pampered kitties don't need to plan in the same way, but they're probably still inclined to think ahead. For instance, they might look forward to their next meal or that time of day when they know you like to play with them.

white and gray tabby cat with a red collar and blue tag being held by a man with glasses

Do cats think we're their parents?

We often treat our cats as children. We shower them with affection, spoil them with goodies, and correct them when they're doing something they shouldn't. And it's quite possible our cats see us as a replacement for their mama cat.

Indeed, our cats often treat us like their mamas. They follow us around, rub up against our legs, nuzzle next to us, and groom us with their sandpapery tongues. They may also bond more closely with the member of the family who does the most to take care of them.

Do cats think we're like them?

Cats are different than dogs in many ways, including how they interact with their humans. Canines typically change their behavior around us. They interact and play much differently with people than they do with other dogs. Cats, on the other hand, treat us like cats.

They engage with us as they would a fellow feline. Even if your cat is standoffish, they probably act similarly around you as they would another cat in the house.

What do cats think when we kiss them?

Cats aren't like dogs when it comes to kisses. They typically don't lap them up and give you wet, sloppy ones in return. They may see kissing as more of an annoyance than a sign of affection.

But not all cats mind kisses. Some may allow it because your breath smells interesting. Maybe you just finished lunch, which they hope was tuna fish. They might let you continue to kiss them while they sniff around and try to identify the scent.

Ever wonder why your cat head bumps you or drinks from the faucet? Learn about odd cat behaviors.

What is my cat thinking when they kiss me?

It may not happen often, but your cat might wander over and give your arm or leg a lick. Is this your cat's way of saying how much they love you?

The answer could be yes. Some cats groom their person as a sign of affection. Mother cats groom their young, and cat roommates often groom each other. You may even catch your cat grooming the dog if they're good buddies.

But this isn't always the case. Your cat might be curious about what you taste like. Maybe they picked up a scent of something of interest, whether it's a bit of food or salty perspiration, and decided to give it a lick. There are also cats who will lick almost anything, including blankets and walls.

tabby cat with a red collar looking out a window

What does my cat think when I leave?

Many cats barely notice when you walk outside unless the noise of the door wakes them up from a nap. But there are cats who have unwanted behaviors when they're home alone, especially for a longer period of time than usual. For instance, they might spray the furniture or scratch up the carpet.

If your cat has separation anxiety, there are some things you can do to try to help them feel less lonely. For instance:

  • Leave a nature show on the television so they can watch the animals.
  • Set up a two-way video device and drop in on them virtually.
  • Buy an interactive toy that they can play with on their own to help prevent boredom.

In cases of severe separation anxiety, you should talk to your veterinarian. There could have an underlying illness that you'll want to rule out. Your veterinarian can also provide you with advice on handling the situation and possibly prescribe anti-anxiety medication.

Complete CoverageSM can cover the diagnosis and treatment of behavioral conditions, including separation anxiety. Find out more about our coverage.

How can I stimulate my cat's brain?

Cats can get bored, which can lead to anxiety and undesirable behaviors. Make sure you provide your cat with a rich environment. For instance, you can hide small bowls of food around the house for them to find. This plays on their natural instinct to hunt for their food. You can also set up an obstacle with paper bags and boxes from them to navigate.

You can even teach your cat tricks, such as sit, high-five, or fetch. This takes time and patience, but it's a fun way to keep their mind active and bond with your kitty.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.


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