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Mommy, or Food Source? An Exploration into my Relationship with my Cats

Cat parents around the world went wild with glee when a study that stated cats are actually nice and like humans went viral. The study deprived cats of food, human contact, scent, and toys for a few hours, and once reintroduced, 50% of cats preferred human contact over all other stimuli (with 37% preferring food). Thus, the results proved that many cats prefer humans to the other things that cats are traditionally supposed to love.

But me and all other cat lovers weren’t happy about this study because we were surprised – rather, we were happy because now we had scientific proof to show all of the haters what we’d known all along: cats enjoy human attention! Our babies love us! Take that you lying dog people!

However, what about that other 37% of cats that preferred food? Were they just hungry, or do they just like humans less than other cats do?

And most importantly, where do I stand with my own cats?

My cats are hungry little buggers. Right away when I brought them home, I realized that they had one true love: wet food. In fact, my cats love wet food so much that I’ve started wondering whether cat food manufacturers put addictive substances into their canned food. Whenever it’s about time to eat canned food (and probably a few hours more), anytime I go in the kitchen, Chuck and Barry are there crying for some food. They follow me from room to room, just waiting until I’ll crack open a can and give them wet food. It’s probably their favorite part of the day.

And this hangry behavior has only gotten worse recently since I decided to stop free feeding my cats. Why? Because unlike Chuck, who has stayed thin and trim, Barry got fat. Although I find his big paunchy belly adorable, I also know it’s unhealthy, so I switched to scheduled feeding in an attempt to get him to shave some pounds.

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A chunky Barry 

So what does this lead to? Well, it leads to Chuck and Barry scratching my mattress in the morning until I wake up and feed them; when it’s wet food time, they’re just as crazy as usual; when it’s time for a little midnight kibble, they act like they hadn’t eaten in years.

What does this hunger look like? It’s them waking me up when I’m sleeping, their face in my face. It’s them kneading me and meowing until I get out of bed. It’s them crying and coming around for pats until I realize they want me to follow them to the kitchen. This increase of affection and attention from Chuck and Barry since I stopped free feeding is what lead me to really question whether they just love me for food or if they do recognize me as their mommy.

They definitely act super interested and attached to me when they are hungry. But there are other times, when there’s no way they are hungry because they just ate, that they seek out affection, pats, and love. Right now, an hour after I fed them, Barry is laying at my feet and Chuck is laying near me on the floor. There are random times when they knead me and cry for attention but clearly aren’t just interested in food.

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Chuckie starved for wet food, or starved for attention?

So what gives? I turned to some more research to try and get answers. An interview on National Geographic with John Bradshaw, a cat behavior specialist, helped shed some light on the personality of cats. One reason that Chuck and Barry might act like hungry piranhas when it’s close to feeding time is because, as Bradshaw points out, cats learn what reaction they’re going to get from certain humans. So wake me up, yell at me until I feed them? Yeah, they learned that’s when I give in and fill the food bowls.

Furthermore, unlike dogs, who see us as another species, there is nothing about cats’ behavior that indicates they recognize us as other species. Bradshaw doesn’t go so far as to say that cats think of us as gigantic furless cats, but they sure treat us like that’s what we are.

And most importantly, my favorite part of the interview, Bradshaw addresses a common cat behavior: kneading, something that both Chuck and Barry do. Kneading and purring and rubbing is something that cats usually do with their mothers. So, I wonder, what does it mean that they do it to me? Is it fair to come to the conclusion that they think of me as their mother?

So I guess now I can be honest and say I would’ve never let anybody convince me that my cats don’t love me, so maybe this blog post was done in vain. I realize that maybe they do think of me as Food Source – and that’s just one of the many reasons why they love me. They also recognize that I’ll pet them whenever they ask, clean their litter box, give them toys, and love them unconditionally. And they know that I’m Mommy.

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