Cats don’t say sorry the same way humans do, but they might show other relationship-building behaviors. They simply don’t have the same concept of apologies. Humans have a pretty complicated social system and our social concepts do not always exist in a cat’s mind.
We don’t know exactly what is going on in a cat’s mind—we can’t exactly ask our cats what they’re thinking, after all. To apologize, our cats would have to feel guilt for their actions, understand that they hurt someone, and seek to make amends. While these steps aren’t impossible for a cat (as far as we know), we also don’t know if they can feel guilty or have the wiring to make amends.
Cats did not evolve to live in packs to the same extent that humans or even dogs did. Therefore, these relationship-building behaviors may just not exist. Why would a cat need to apologize if they didn’t build relationships with other cats very often?
What Does the Science Say?
Studying emotions and intentions in science is hard, especially when animals are involved. How do you prove why an animal was doing something without being able to ask them? Intentions are practically impossible to prove for this reason. Science may be able to determine that cats may perform certain actions after hurting their owner, but it cannot prove that these cats are apologizing.
It’s similar to the “crow funeral” phenomenon. When a crow dies, other crows will gather around the bodies. Early researchers attributed human emotions to these gatherings and stated that the crows were mourning. However, modern researchers are a bit more cautious about assigning human emotions to animal behaviors. For all we know, the crows just could be figuring out how the other crow died so that they don’t end up dead too.
It’s the same with cat behavior. We need to be cautious when assigning intent to actions.
With that said, there are many behaviors that cats perform to maintain and build social bonds. If one of these bonds was harmed (through accidental or purposeful hurt, for instance), then the cat may make several attempts to repair the bond. These behaviors often include mixing scents, which makes all the cats smell the same.
Cats explore their world a lot through smell. Therefore, if a cat smells the same as another, then that cat can typically assume the cat is a friend. This behavior is how colonies of feral cats exist. They all smell the same—even if two particular cats aren’t very close or even know each other directly.
These behaviors involve head butting and rubbing, usually. Your feline has scent glands on their face, including their forehead and cheeks. Therefore, they will rub their face against you to mix scents. (Cats also have scent glands between their toes, which is one reason they scratch on things. However, let’s hope that they aren’t using these scent glands on you.)
Cats may also reinitiate the relationship in different ways. For instance, they may simply decide to cuddle and purr. While this is enjoyable for you and your cat, it also helps mix your scent. If your cat approaches you and acts like they normally do, it may be that they’re trying to reconnect with you.
Of course, we don’t exactly know why your feline is doing this. As we’ve stated, we can’t figure out intention.
How Might a Cat Apologize?
In most cases, your cat’s first reaction will be to run away. They may hide for a bit (or even days, depending on the level of anxiety they’re feeling). After that, you may find them staring at you without approaching. However, you shouldn’t consider this bad, necessarily. Cats show kindness partially by giving people space. In many cases, this is why cats like people who don’t crowd them. Your cat may apologize partially by giving you space.
However, cats may apologize in different ways, as well. For instance, your feline may just start acting like everything is normal. They may approach you and cuddle (if that’s how they normally interact).
Cats may also do a lot of purring and slow-eye blinking. Slow eye blinking is one way cats invite close physical contact. Therefore, if they blink at you slowly, it could be a sign that they want you to cuddle and pet them.
Head butting and rubbing may also be signs of an apology (if cats do, in fact, apologize). Cats have scent glands on their forehead and cheeks. By rubbing and butting their head into you, they mix their scent with yours. This is how felines express their friendship.
Cats don’t have the same social structures or emotions that humans have. We don’t know what cats are thinking, as we can’t exactly ask them. Intention is impossible to determine through studies (until we figure out how to read a cat’s mind, at least). Therefore, we really don’t know if they apologize.
Still, cats may display some relationship-building behaviors that may or may not be related to apologizing. Felines may attempt to cuddle or rub against you to mix your scents together. Of course, these are also behaviors that felines and humans simply enjoy, so they may not be related to apologizing.
Simply put, we simply don’t know what these behaviors mean and if cats try to apologize.
Featured Image Credit: medveda, Shutterstock