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Do Cats Feel Human Emotion?

Cats feel every emotion humans feel, animal behaviorist Warren Eckstein said. “They may not react the same way, but they definitely feel the same emotions we feel.”

On a less definitive note, Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D., said cats probably experience emotions, but we can only infer from their behavior.

Cats feel emotions “but not necessarily in the same way we think of them,” Debra Horowitz, DVM, DACVB, said. “There are emotional aspects to their behavior.”

“A lot of problems arise,” Eckstein said, “when owners don’t realize the cat has a range of emotions and don’t know how to react to the cat when it might be feeling anxious or depressed.” These are emotions that he feels are common in cats. “When you take a cat into a home, you have to treat it like part of the family.”

One of the hardest things for cat owners to understand is their pets’ behavior. Wilbourn said certain behaviors express a cat’s happiness, such as purring and relaxing their bodies. Dr. Hunthausen said fear is expressed through opposite actions, such as withdrawal and avoidance.

Cat owners are prone to ascribing human emotion to their cat’s behavior. Dr. Hetts urges owners to use caution when doing this, because the interpretation of the animal’s behavior may lead to punishing animals because they are convinced the animal acted out of spite, which is most likely not the case. Wilbourn noted that a cat isn’t a person, but people and cats share emotions.

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