A young girl sits on her living room rug trying to gain the attention of the family’s first feline, a robust and satiated orange tabby. The girl wriggles and twirls a new toy purchased from the local pet store complete with feathers and bells. No response. She starts to clap and wave her hands calling the cat’s name and blowing kisses. No response.
Finally, somewhere from the depths of the kitchen a tuna can is opened and the ambivalent cat races away, leaving his young admirer starring after him. “Why is my cat ignoring me?” she asks. “Darling, he’s a cat,” replies her father.
With close to 90 million domesticated cats living in 34% of homes, cats are the most popular household pet in the United States. Recent evidence indicates that cats have likely lived with humans for more than 12,000 years. Yet, popularity and a long-term relationship have not necessarily bred cats with high social needs. So strong is the stereotype of the aloof cat that several famous quotes have been penned to express the feline mystique.
“As every cat owner knows, nobody owns a cat.” -attributed to Ellen Perry Berkeley
Not all cats are without social skills and manners. Several cats love interacting with their feline and human companions, and even other non-feline members of the household. These sweet cats are often labeled as acting more like dogs or thinking they are people!
Perhaps, these attention-seeking kitties are acting more on their own desires than a true need for affection. Fortunately, the human love for cats is strong and few cat caregivers mind that the where, when, and how’s of securing a cat’s attention are up to the cat’s preference and discretion.
When faced with a cat that turns its back, keep the following three points in mind:
“The phrase ‘domestic cat’ is an oxymoron.” -attributed to George F. Will
1. Domestication Still in Progress
Twelve thousand years may seem like a long time for an animal to become domesticated, but most scientists believe that the earliest domesticated animal was the dog. There is some evidence that dogs may have been domesticated as early as 27,000 to 40,000 years ago, depending on reference. Using either date, cats still have several years left before they are on the same domestication playing field as their canine counterparts.
“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” – attributed to Terry Pratchett
2. Historic Human and Cat Interaction
Human’s initial relationship with cats did not require much social interaction to be beneficial. In ancient times, cats were often revered as gods or held sacred. When much later in history cats were enlisted for work efforts, they were used primarily as mousers, a skill that utilized ingrained instinct more than training.
Cats were depended on for rodent control, but little else. Humans certainly didn’t spend hours training them to respond to commands. In comparison, dogs were potentially first used to help humans hunt and gather, a process that requires far more training and social interaction than rodent round-up.
“A dog is a man’s best friend. A cat is a cat’s best friend.” -attributed to Robet J. Vogel
3. Limited Social Needs
Most animal behaviorists agree that the social needs of the house cat are lower than that of the dog. Their natural behavior precludes them from going out of their way to express compassion and affection. Sure, they may purr when content and come running for tuna, but they are unlikely to work too hard for a pat on the head.
Cats do show affection for their owners, whether marking them as theirs or asking for a scratch on the rump, but all requests are on their terms. It is simply the destiny of a cat caregiver, no matter how dedicated, to occasionally be ignored by the cat.