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Do Cats Know They Are Cute? What Science Says

You’d think with all the cat videos out there that our pets would pick up on the fact that they know that they are cute. After all, who can resist a kitten playing with a new toy and roughhousing with their littermates? When it comes down to whether they’re aware of how adorable they are, the answer is probably yes. Let’s review what science can tell us about our feline companions.

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The Domestication of Cats

It’s helpful to see how cats and people bonded in the first place. Cats and humans share a common ancestor that goes back 92 million years. Today, we still share 90% of our DNA with our pets. The domestication of cats probably occurred under much different circumstances than dogs.

Anthropological and archaeological evidence suggests that our relationship with cats began about 9,500 years ago in the Near East. It’s essential to remember that dogs and humans were competitors on the hunting grounds, as were cats. Early peoples killed both animals and their related species. Canines may have bridged the gap by being bold and accepting scraps from humans.

On the other hand, cats likely started as predators of rodents that existed near human settlements. After all, survival depended on being an opportunistic feeder. It was the ancient version of the win-win. As any pet owner will tell you, the relationship that you have with a feline differs from that with a canine.

How Cats See Humans

Undoubtedly, your kitty is getting clues from you about whether they’re cute. That begs the question, what do cats see about people? Let’s consider the physical side of the answer. Your cat sees the world much differently than you do. They are nearsighted, with 20/100 vision. However, they can see better in the dark, with about 20% of the light that we need.

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Image credit: lenina11only, Shutterstock

These things will affect how your cat sees you and your response to their behavior. A study published in the “Journal of Vision” considered whether cats and dogs could recognize their owners. The results may surprise you. Canines made the connection over 88%, while felines came in at just 54%, which you can almost put down to chance. It’s worth noting that cats recognized others of their species over 90%.

Cats’ Relationships With Their Owners

So, your cat has to be sitting close to you to pick up on any cues that tell them that you respond to them being cute. That would confirm what your pet thinks and probably encourage the behavior. Is our response meaningful?

Remember that cats are quite expressive with their emotions. They’ll let you know when something irritates them with tail slapping. They will also rub against you when it’s close to feeding time and perhaps greet you when you come home. Your pet will likely purr when you cuddle with them. They may knead you like a kitten. These are all things that felines would do with another of their kind.

Cats and humans share a large portion of our DNA. One thing that we have in common is the hormone oxytocin. It’s primarily associated with female reproduction. However, researchers have found that it’s also essential for social bonding. Cats produce and release this hormone. It’s not a stretch to conclude that your pet can love you and therefore, respond to your reactions.

Cat-Human Communication

Communication is the crux of the answer to the cuteness question. All those years of domestication have created the bonds that we share with our pets. It also has paved the way for us to communicate with our cats.

A study published in the journal “Animal Cognition” found that felines can indeed recognize their owner’s voice and distinguish it from others. Interestingly, the participants responded by turning and looking at their owners. That makes sense with our conclusion that our pets are capable of loving us. The next thing to consider is whether they know their names.

Again, domestication is an essential factor. If cats can recognize our voices, can they pick out their names among all the other things that we babble about when talking to our pets? It turns out that they can. Most likely, they’re responding to the sound and probably all the other cooing that you’re doing when you baby-talk to your kitty.

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Image Credit: Vika Hova, Shutterstock

That makes sense when you consider how cats use vocalizations. A study published in the “Journal of Veterinary Science” found that felines are capable of making up to 21 different sounds. Of course, some cats are more vocal than others. Just ask anyone who owns a Siamese or Burmese.

Can we say for sure that cats know they are cute, though?

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Final Thoughts

Undoubtedly, communication between a cat and their owner exists on an understandable level. A pet can learn their name. They can read your emotions. If they’re acting cute, you are probably responding to them, which your kitty can see — if you’re close enough to them. Since a cat uses certain vocalizations to communicate specific things, it follows that they would learn that from you too.

We know that cats like to play and seem genuinely happy while doing so. If we associate cuteness as a part of play, it’s a logical conclusion to assume that they know that they’re doing something to get your attention. To a kitty that loves their owner, that’s their reward for acting in a way that you notice. Therefore, yes, we believe that cats know that they are cute.

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Featured Image: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek, Shutterstock