Does Your Cat Think You’re Their Mom? · The Wildest

Skip to main content

Does Your Cat Think You’re Their Mom?

You love them like a child, but is the feeling mutual?

by Charles Manning
January 16, 2024
Man cuddling his gray cat.
Drazen_ / iStock

Cats are like kids: You feed them, keep them safe, and maybe even make provisions for them in your will. You love them, cherish them, and put five percent of every paycheck into their college fund. Vassar’s expensive, but they’re so smart, and you know it’s their dream, so you’re doing everything you can to make it happen. 

You love them like a child, but do they look at you, notice how you nurture them and care for their every need, (just like their feline mom did when they were a kitten) and think, regardless of your gender identity: “Are you my mother?”

According to a study out of Oregon State University, the answer is: kind of. Or, at least, cats demonstrate the same style and level of attachment to their human caregivers as human babies do to their mothers. 

They don’t think you’re a big cat, though.

This does not mean, however, that your cat sees you as the big, hairless fellow feline who birthed them. “Cats are a lot smarter than that,” says cat behavior specialist Kristiina Wilson. “They can differentiate between species. We smell different and have different behaviors. So, I think this idea is probably just another example of people anthropomorphising them.”

Now, you might be thinking, What if their cat mother rejected them at a tender age, and I held them against my bare chest and bottle-fed them for weeks on end? Surely, then, their wires must have crossed in my favor!

“No,” says Wilson, “I had a cat I bottle-raised, but he still didn’t see me as his mom. We were more like best friends.”

You’re still incredibly important to them.

“Best friend” or “maternal figure” might seem like a runner-up to bio-mom, but if you think about it, the above study says that cats do still demonstrate the same attachment style to you as they would a mother cat, even if they don’t see you as their actual mother. So, wouldn’t you rather your cat see you as the MVP in their life than their one and only feline mother?

After all, a cat mom’s job is to wean their babies, teach them to hunt, and then move on. Your connection, on the other hand, lasts much longer and is ultimately much more nurturing.

“Cat moms can be pretty harsh,” Wilson adds. “I’ve seen it many times. They are strict disciplinarians. And with good reason. They need to raise these babies to be self-sufficient in three months. So, it’s not all warm and fuzzy. There’s a lot of slapping and a lot of discipline. They are not super nice, because nature is not nice, so [as far as a cat mom is concerned] there’s no sense in coddling their kittens.”

And just because your cat can differentiate between you and their birth mom, doesn’t mean they don’t love you. You know they do. They show you in all sorts of ways:

Sometimes, they even engage in behaviors with you that are similar to those they once engaged in with their own mothers, such as kneading you with their paws. But Wilson says you shouldn’t read too much into this. “Kneading is a self-soothing behavior, reminiscent of when they were kittens and pushing milk out of their mother’s breast. It’s like when a kid sucks on their thumb, and it takes them back to a time when they were nursing.”

In these moments, your cat no more thinks you are their actual mother than a child thinks their hand can lactate, but still, they wouldn’t make biscuits on just anyone. Indeed, kneading is one of the many signs your cat has imprinted on you, which is what you really want anyway.

However your cat sees you, the fact is that you are the most important person to them, and they know it. That said, if you want to think of them as your natural-born baby, go right ahead. Even if they don’t totally agree, they’ll never tell you; they love you too much. But, please, stop investing in their college fund. They’re never going to do well enough on the SATs to get into Vassar, and you should really be spending that money on yourself. After all, you deserve a treat for being such a great parent.  

Charles Manning

Charles Manning is an actor, writer, and fashion/media consultant living in New York City with his two cats, Pumpkin and Bear. Follow him on Instagram @charlesemanning.

Related articles