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Does My Cat Think I’m Its Mother?

By Cuteness Team
published: August 24, 2018 - updated: January 17, 2023 • 3 min. read
orange cat in persons lap

Key Takeaways

  • Cats often show humans a level of affection that is similar to how they would treat their biological mothers.
  • Domestic cat behavior is modeled after natural kitten-mother behavior.
  • Cats learn to influence human emotions just like human babies do.
  • Cats find comfort in memories of their nursing mothers, which is why they like to knead our bellies with their paws.

If you’ve lived with a cat, then you know that cats consider your home their home. Cats do what they want as they wander about, and you might wonder why. The answer is actually cuter than you think.

Our cats treat us as equals as opposed to a totally different species. According to recent studies, dogs behave differently around humans than they do other dogs. This clearly indicates that dogs view humans as different from themselves. However, cats treat humans the same as they treat other cats.

John Bradshaw, author of Cat Sense and a cat-behavior expert at the University of Bristol explained, “They obviously know we’re bigger than them, but they don’t seem to have adapted their social behavior much. Putting their tails up in the air, rubbing around our legs, and sitting beside us and grooming us are exactly what cats do to each other.” In fact, cats treat us as a very specific kind of cat.

cat pet parents


Cats treat humans as their mothers.

No, your cat doesn’t actually think you’re the mama cat that birthed it. But cats show us a level of affection and respect that is very similar to the way they treat their mama cat. And this sweet fact flies in the face of anyone who thinks cats’ “aloof” personality means they don’t care about us. Because what being doesn’t love their mother figure?

In fact, cats behave independently because they think humans are cats like them. They think we’re just one of their kind. And cats reserve their affectionate behavior usually for the humans in their homes. Researchers found that cats were more relaxed and content around their humans, but more on high alert around strangers.

So how exactly did cats come to see us as “mom”?

Because cats socialized themselves, it seems like they saw us as potential caregivers from the beginning. Dr. Bradshaw explained, “Almost all domestic cat social behavior must have started out as mother-kitten behavior. Their ancestors were solitary, territorial animals, and the only friendly behavior between two cats would have been between mothers and their kittens.”

So if cats learned to recognize their loving mamas as safe creatures that they could be friendly with, then they probably drew a similar conclusion about humans.

cat nuzzling human legs

But how do we know that cats see us as mother figures?

Cats respond to our loving behavior. When animal behaviorists try to pinpoint how cats choose their “favorite person,” one major factor was how the person behaves towards the cat. If a human feeds, playWhite cat being petteds with, and nurtures the cat, then the kitty is more likely to reciprocate with affection. So clearly, cats recognize our nurturing behavior and give it back to us.

Secondly, cats learned to prey on our emotions like human babies. Cats don’t meow with other cats. They developed the “meow” to play to our loving emotions because it sounds like a baby’s cry. Because of that, these sounds are particularly effective for getting humans to do what they want. Clearly cats noticed how to prey on our parental instincts, and it works.

Also, cats knead our bellies with their paws, which they probably learned from their mother. Kittens knead the area around its mother cat’s teat to help improve the flow of milk. While they don’t need to do that later in life, scientists believe that cats knead because it reminds them of the comforts of a nursing mother. Just another way that our cats treat us like their mothers.

Because our cats sometimes don’t always want to show affection, it’s comforting to know that their affections come from such a strong place.

And let’s be real, we do fall immediately into our mom voice when we find our cats did something naughty. So, it fits.

Want to learn more about your pup? Check out How Do Cats Choose Their Favorite Person?, Why Do Cats Knead?, and Can Dogs & Cats Distinguish Between Human Genders? at!

This article is provided by Cuteness—the go to destination for passionate pet parents. Cuteness has answers to all of your health, training, and behavior questions – as well as the cutest, funniest, and most inspiring pet stories from all over the world.

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By Cuteness Team

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