Let’s face it — for all the centuries that cats have been domesticated, they still remain enigmas. We find ourselves still puzzled by the question, “how do cats think?”
This post will offer some suggestions and ask some questions, as Lucinda the literate cat and her CCL (Cantankerous Cat Lady) give their views on the question. Let’s see what they have to say.
CCL: I have long been bothered by information that tells us a cat’s intelligence is equivalent to that of a toddler. Perhaps in some ways, as a cat tends to keep life much simpler than we humans do. However, I see too many examples of things a cat does that a toddler would never know how to do.
Lucinda: I’m so glad you realize that, CCL, as we can certainly outperform a toddler in many ways. We may not have what you call opposable thumbs, but we come equipped with the tools we need to survive.
CCL: In the past, many people viewed cats as low-maintenance pets who don’t require much of our time. This belief can be very harmful or unfair to the cat, who does not share its feelings in the same way as a dog.
When you do not pay attention to your cat, the cat will respond in kind. He will become an observer, on the outskirts of your world. However, the cat may feel lonely and yearn for more love and attention. I’ve noticed that when we pay attention to our cats, they may become more attentive and loving in return, and may respond to you
in a more positive way.
Pogo can furnish a good case in point when it comes to the difference in an animal who receives attention and one who does not. When I first brought him home from the shelter, his fear sent him under the bed much of the time. It took me two weeks to convince him to sleep on the bed, not under it.
As time has gone by, and friends come to visit and they meet the cat, he’s started to lose some of that fear. He will actually come up to the new person, give him/her rubs, and ask for attention.
Just showing him that I want to include him and introducing him to visitors has done a great deal to change his behavior. Now he’s more outgoing and more willing to accept strangers. Time and loving attention make the difference.
Lucinda: You speak truth. We remain aloof if we feel you do not wish to interact with us. If you give us attention regularly — talk to us, play with us, pet us, share with us, you are much more apt to find us responsive and interested.
CCL: It is great to regard the cat as one of the family, but we must remember that it has a life of its own and desires of its own that may differ from ours.
A couple things to remember about your furry family members: If you do something that upsets the cat, he will not plot ways to get even. He behaves in a certain way to produce a certain result, and not as retaliation for an imagined wrong.
Also, cats do not feel guilt. If you punish your cat because he pees on the floor, all you succeed in doing is frightening him. He reads your anger, but does not understand the reason for the anger. For whatever reason, the cat felt that the floor furnished the ideal place to pee.
Perhaps his box needs cleaning. Perhaps it hurts him to urinate and he thinks the litter box causes the pain. Perhaps his box is covered; many cats do not like covered boxes, because it traps the smell in there and also causes the cat to feel trapped and vulnerable.
Just remember — his behavior stems from some reason that seems logical to him, but he does not act in a way to get even for something you have done.
Lucinda: You understand, CCL, which pleases me. A cat acts from his own understanding of a situation, and he may not see things in a way that pleases you.
Also, it seems that we cats do not understand your social relationships as well as dogs, probably because the dog studies your behavior and tries to respond in ways he feels will make you happy.
We do not work so hard to pander to your feelings. We wish acceptance on our own terms.
CCL: I’ve read that cats spend a lot of time thinking about and watching us. They check out our emotional state so they can decide how to respond.
Lucinda: It’s because we wish to know if you are in a good mood or a bad mood, and we want to know what things bother you. Because we, too, are emotional creatures, it becomes important to us to understand your emotional state.
Do we need to comfort our two-legged with some purring? Is he sick or in pain?
We do have very active brains and think a lot about our world and our place in it.
CCL: The references I consulted all confirm that you cats think. However, you do not have speech. Without a language, what makes up your thoughts? It is my theory that you think in images. However, I don’t know if there can be any way to show if this is so or not.
Lucinda: Yes, we think in images, and with one other very important thing: emotions.
You have learned that the cat brain and the human brain are constructed in much the same way, unlike other animals.
We cats therefore have a section of our brain that deals with emotions, just as you two-leggeds do. So, when you notice us studying you, we are sending out emotional feelers from that part of our brain to determine what your mood is, or what you are feeling.
We use this information to decide how we should respond to you. Are you mad? Do you need comforting? Thus, we think our way to understanding you.
CCL: Lucinda, do you feel it is better if a home has more than one cat?
Lucinda: Not necessarily. Some cats might enjoy more company, if the new companion is one they can accept. However, adding another cat to the family might be a very bad move.
If you have a cat that is very protective and particular about territory, he may not appreciate the newcomer.
It is very important for you two-leggeds to decide if your cat is stressed by something in the household. Stress in cats, as in people, can lead to a physical illness or problem. Be sure to determine if something could be bothering your cat.
CCL: I know that scientists feel that much can yet be learned about cats. I feel that you cats have some talents that we have not even discovered yet.
It might be nice to be a cat for a short time just so I could understand exactly how you think.
Lucinda: Think of us as aliens. Though we live in the same world as you, our brains work in unique ways. Something we regard as completely normal may not be understood at all by you two-leggeds.
Our capacity for original thought still needs more study by your two-legged scientists. We can amaze you by the ways in which we can understand and interact with the world.
CCL: I do believe that there is much about you cats that we don’t know. Over time, we will learn more.
My cat, Carlos, showed his intelligence in many ways. One of my favorite memories stems from the time he assessed the gates in the yard to discover if he could get out.
The gates — four of them — had been built of plywood as temporary closures in our six-foot fence, and they weren’t all the same height. I watched from inside the house as the cat navigated the entire yard, looking up at the top of the gates.
He discovered that, of the four gates, the front one did not reach as high as the others, by about a foot. He backed up as far as he could from that gate and made a run for it. Over the top he went, though he had to claw his way up the last foot after his jump.
Now, it had to take some careful calculation and good observation to find the shortest gate. He got the correct answer through his own observations. I offer this accomplishment as a minor example of the cat ‘s ability to think things out.
I do believe that, as time goes by, we will learn more amazing things about cats and how they think.
References I used for this post:
4 thoughts on “Lucinda And CCL Discuss: How Do Cats Think?”
I’ve even missing Lucinda! Good to see her back.
Oh, Lucinda will be glad to hear she’s been missed. I must commend her for an idea that had not occurred to me before…using emotions as a way to think. Consider — we think in words. How foreign to be a cat and have no words, so it becomes necessary to think by other means. Makes me feel like I need to put a definition of “thinking” up here somewhere.
Lucinda is back and spot-on too! I agree that cats have their own way of thinking they we don[t completely understand. I’d LOVE to know what mine are thinking when they sit there and stare a hole in me.
What are your’s and Lucinda’s thoughts on cat-speak? I have one that loves to talk to me. He meows and expects an answer. I meow back mimicking his meow and he answers with a little bit different sound. I just hope I’m saying things he wants to hear! LOL
It’s quite humorous and this has become to be an everyday thing. I only wish I understood as much cat-speak as Fatboy understands English.
Great article, Fran.
Hi, Casey — glad you liked the story. I think that when cats speak to us, they are making a statement or asking a question, and when we meow back to them, it doesn’t give them the answer they want to hear. Often when Pogo comes to me and meows, I know he wants something, so I’ll say, “Show me what you want,” and then get up and follow him where he leads me. Often he wants to door open so he can go out to the yard. Besides, when you attempt to imitate him, you may be making horrible grammatical mistakes. Not sure I want to take such a chance…although I do sometimes answer Pogo also. I do believe Lucinda presented one original idea on how cats think…by using the emotional portion of their brains. Since they can’t think in language, it kinda makes sense.