Cats often seem like they don’t have much to do. It’s either they are sleeping, eating, licking themselves, or just staring into space. Unlike dogs that seem to have so many responsibilities, our feline friends don’t really do much. This kind of leaves them with little to think about. So, are their minds usually blank or is there more to their thoughts than meets the eye? The truth is cats are very enigmatic and we feel like we don’t always understand them. We know that cats are smart, but I bet you’re dying to know what goes on in their curious little brains.
What is your cat thinking about? Cats have more cognitive skills than we imagine, meaning their brains are very active. Like other animals, they often think about things that concern them such as food, prey, their owner, and the likes. Despite being very smart, they probably aren’t intelligent enough or their brains aren’t as developed to think in-depth or about anything interesting.
The connection we have with our feline friends is so strong it feels as though they can read our minds. Because of this, we usually end up projecting human-like thought processes onto them. This shouldn’t be the case though since they process information differently than we do. Thanks to scientific advances over the past century, we now know more about cats’ brains and have the opportunity to understand them better. Scientists have been able to make remarkable discoveries, studying the feline mind, which explains how they think and possibly what they think about. Although scientists can’t say everything that goes on in your cat’s head, they have done some interesting research on cat cognition that explains what your feline friend likely thinks about. Keep reading to find out more!
What Cats Think About?
As mentioned earlier, cats think all the time. But since they’re less complex than us, their scope of understanding and thought is quite limited. We’re yet to unravel the mysteries behind our own minds, let alone cats’ minds. Scientists can only measure brain activity but still can’t figure out what animals, or even humans, think about based on the readings they get. Although scientists can’t say for sure, chances are cats only think about things that affect their lives. Given that cats have unique personalities, some probably think more than others.
Cats have always had a reputation of being curious, aloof, and mysterious. They have lived with human beings for thousands of years, yet they still remain enigmatic to humans. In a world full of possibilities, maybe someday humans and animals will be able to see the world through each other’s eyes –possibly feeling the same desires and drives. Until then, all we can do is guess what they could be thinking about by studying their behaviours. Here are a few possibilities:
All animals need food, and predators like cats often think about how they’ll get it. Although domestic cats have an easier time finding food than wild cats, they likely still think about their meals. If a behaviour is anything to go by, cats think about food even at the slightest provocation like if they see you enter the same room as their food bowl. When that happens, you’ll hear a stream of needy meows. Your cat thinks about being hungry, as well as the taste of the food. If another animal tries to get their food, it will definitely think about how to stop it.
While they may not show it, cats think of us all the time. After all, humans are constantly in their lives. If you haven’t noticed, cats are always staring at us. That’s because they are watching and thinking about our physical and emotional state. That way, they can interpret our feelings and gauge our reactions to decide how to respond. They also think about what we are doing and imitate our actions.
Sources also state that cats are independent because they think of us as big, dumb cats with less agility. They do, however, display positive behaviours on humans that they don’t with other cats and animals as they consider humans superior in some way. Many behaviourists theorize that cats view their owners as mother figures, and behave accordingly. This includes thinking about them all the time, showing respect, always looking to please them, and reserving their affectionate behaviour for them.
The past and the future
Cats have strong memories. Thanks to their heightened senses of smell, hearing, and sight, they can record detailed mental images of what they experience. Even after a long time, they will still be able to remember things, places, people, and even exhibit the same reactions they did before under the same circumstances. Even though your cat can remember, it’s unclear to what extent they think of the past. If they repeat certain behaviours, it’s probably because it’s a learned behaviour and not as a result of them thinking. As for the future, it’s unclear to what extent cats can imagine the future.
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Do Cats Think Deeper?
Although cats think about the things I’ve mentioned above, it is unclear the depth at which they can do so. There are a few things that prevent a cat from thinking in detail, including:
Lack of a well-developed language: Despite being able to communicate to some extent, cats’ language isn’t complex enough to allow them to think at length. For this reason, cats lack verbal/narrative thoughts or abstract thoughts.
Their brains aren’t as physically developed as ours: One of the main differences between human and animal brain is the cerebral cortex, which is considered the complex seat of thought. The cerebral cortex in humans is folded, allowing the brain to have a larger surface area with more neurons per unit volume. Unfortunately, a cat’s brain isn’t as developed and neither is the cerebral cortex anywhere near as folded as a human’s. A larger surface area equals more intelligence, which, in turn, means the ability to think deeply. In short, cats’ brains aren’t designed for deep, logical, or even reasoned thoughts.
From my perspective, cats’ thoughts aren’t that complex at all. Most of them are about their comfort like the best place to sleep. The next level of more complex thoughts that cats exhibit is probably through curiosity. There’s a popular quote that says, “Curiosity killed the cat…” Cats are naturally very curious and that’s probably when they think a bit deeper. The most complex level of thinking that cats have is mental mapping. A cat will explore all the corners of a new room and build a map in its head. Such intense 3-D thinking involves pretty deep thinking in my opinion.
How Do Cats Think?
Some human beings think in words while others think in concepts. Since cats lack a well-developed language, it’s likely that they think in concepts as opposed to words. This means that they rely on imagery and their emotional instincts more than they do on language. To help you understand, this kind of thinking, have you ever had a thought that you can’t even express in words? Well, that’s more like it.
Cats don’t think in noises too. Keeping in mind that cats have a small range of language, making noise as thoughts is probably of little benefit to them.
Human thoughts are often emotional, logical, or complex. You can only express them in words because your feelings are not complex enough to handle them within. Since humans have well-developed languages, they often have thousands of vocabularies that they don’t use frequently. This is what allows one to ponder things at length. That being said, if a cat thought of things in meows, it would hardly have anything else to think of.
What this leaves us with is reasonable guessing. It’s impossible to say whether our feline friends think in a language or not since we don’t experience what they experience. One thing is for sure, cats mostly think about easy-to-understand things and don’t need words for that.
How Can You Tell What Your Feline Friend Is Thinking About?
Without understanding how cats communicate, it’s impossible to know what they are thinking about. That’s why I’m going to help you decode cats. Cats usually communicate through facial expressions, body language, and sometimes use different types of vocalisations depending on the situation and whom they are conversing with. Although this won’t give you a direct insight into your cat’s mind, you’ll have an idea of what they’re thinking about. Understanding your cat’s thoughts may start with:
If your cat’s tail is resting, then it’s chill. But if you notice the tail flinging about, something has caught its attention or they are being irritated by something. If that’s the case, check to see what it might be.
If the tail is vertical, it could be a sign of amicable greeting or being alert and up for some playtime. On the other hand, a tail between the legs suggests that the cat is anxious, fearful, or upset. Last, but not least, if the tail looks big and bushy, the cat is frightened.
Cats use their eyes for direct communication. If they end a stare with a long, slow blink, it means that they love you, are contented, or they’re enjoying your company. When the eyes are wide with dilated pupils, your cat is ready for some action. They’re probably thinking about playing, chasing, or hunting.
If the ears are pointed backwards, it means your cat isn’t feeling it. This usually happens when cats feel over-petted or stressed. Cats also move their ears to point towards something they want to hear, indicating that they are thinking about it.
Body language tells us more about what felines are feeling and sensing than it does about what they are thinking. The good news is your cat’s thoughts don’t go much deeper than how it feels.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.