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Do cats recognise emotions?

Amost every cat owner or cat lover I know will tell you that their cat knows how they are feeling. They know if you are happy or sad or angry. They are extra cuddly or sweet when you are feeling sad as if trying to comfort you.

It is difficult to say for certain that cats know how we feel and adjust their behaviour accordingly. However, research by Quaranta et al (2020) suggests that cats do indeed recognise happy and angry emotions in other cats as well as people. The also link audio recordings of angy or happy sounds to the correct visual representation of the emotion. When they heard angry sounds they looked longer and more intently at the face with an angry expression, of a cat or human. When they heard purring they looked at the picture of a cat with a content facial expression and when they heard a happy human voice they looked at the picture of the smiling human.

It also seems that the cats in this study showed more signs of feeling stressed when confronted with an angry human; however, this needs further research. If cats do indeed feel stressed when a person is angry then this indicates a functional understanding of anger in humans. It would mean that cats have learned that this emotion in humans may well have negative consequences for themselves and therefore they adjust their behaviour accordingly to avoid this.

What this study definitely shows is that cats have developed social skills that allow them to understand human emotional signals. This skill is important for domesticated cats as it helps strengthen the bond with their owners.

Flat faces negatively impact cats’ ability to communicate

Most of us know that flat-faced cat and dog breeds have breathing difficulties, but research by Finka et al (2020) found that “exaggerated” features may make it more difficult for pets to communicate with us.

Facial expressions help owners understand whether or not their pet is in pain. However, the researchers found that the “neutral faces of several of the brachycephalic breeds (e.g. Exotic short hairs, Persians and particularly Scottish folds)” showed more pain associated features “compared to the neutral expressions of most other breeds”. In fact,”[i]n the case of Scottish folds, their neutral facial landmarks indicated greater pain-like features even compared to the DSH cats that were actually in pain.”

These findings are potentially relevant when facial expressions are used to identify pain, especially in flat-faced breeds. This research suggests that facial expressions of domestic shorthair cats cannot be confidently applied to flat-faced breeds.

“The ability of companion animals to readily solicit care from humans is obviously advantageous. However, it is possible that permanently vulnerable looking individuals might have a diminished capacity to clearly indicate when care is or is not required, as well as to display other information relevant to their actual state or intentions. Thus, if certain cat breeds are being selected to display “pain-like” features on their faces, these features may serve to solicit unwanted or inadequate attention from their caregivers.”

“More generally, such types of anthropocentric selection might lead to increased anthropomorphic tendencies. If, for example, the animal has the appearance of an expression which humans find relatable on some level, even if it is not necessarily reflective of that animals’ affective state, it may be used to attribute emotions or characteristics to them. For example, “grumpy cat” a cat made famous by her coverage on social media achieved her moniker due to her perceived “frowning” facial appearance. However, this was likely a result of a combination of her feline dwarfism and paedomorphic features, rather than an expression of her irritability.”

Dirk the Rocket Cat

* Originally written by me for katzenworld.co.uk

The MelloCat Rocket Roller is one of those toys I wasn’t quite sure of initially. I mean, it looks like a rocket (complete with take-off smoke) which is sort of cool. But rockets and cats?

Once again, Dirk took me by surprise and was immediately taken with this toy.

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Give me that, I know it’s for me!

I’m sure you all know what Dirk is going to do with this toy! Yes, that’s right: give it a good kick 😉 And he can be really quite ferocious when kicking it so this is a proper workout for his hind legs. The toy is quite large: he can easily grab hold of one side and then kick the other side of the rocket.

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My favourite thing is to send it ‘flying’ through the house so Dirk can go and chase it. He doesn’t really let go of this toy very easily though. I guess he’s happy he’s our only cat because sharing toys would be a serious problem…

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Look at me and my cool rocket! We’re totally going places 🙂
(No, not really Dirk, you just look silly)

The MelloCat Rocket Roller is handmade and it looks amazing. It’s really well made and quite sturdy, it can take a lot of kicks! Cats that love kicking toys and want to look cool doing it: this is your toy 🙂

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Going to take a nap now, but don’t even think you can have the rocket back now!

Say my name, say my name: do cats recognise their names?

Cat owners or lovers would probably say that of course cats recognise their names. More sceptical people might wonder whether they really recognise their name or just respond to their owner’s voice.

Research by Atsuko Saito, Kazutaka Shinozuka, Yuki Ito and Toshikazu Hasegawa shows that cats do indeed recognise and respond to their names! Their study showed that cats respond to their name when said by their owner and also when said by a test person. Cats also distinguish between their name and other words, both by owners and test persons.

Cats can learn a variety of words: they form associative meaning between words and things. As owners, we often say “treat” and find the cat comes running: they have learned that this word means they’ll get some tasty food. They can learn other words too: I often ask Dirk if he wants to cuddle. He has learned that when I say cuddle he will get a lot of strokes and fuss so depending on his mood he’ll come over. Another word he knows is “coffee”, although his association of the word is not with the drink, but with time to sit in my lap 😉

Did you just say coffee?