You will be familiar with the expression, “monkey see; monkey do.” Cat lovers may wonder why the idiom has not been adjusted to accommodate felines. Domesticated cats often imitate other pets – and even humans.
Due to their love of routine, cats often imitate their owners. Felines do not enjoy surprises. If they learn what their owner does, and when, they can emulate the action. Perhaps more importantly, they’ll learn where the food is kept, and how to open a cupboard.
Of course, this isn’t always good news. Cats can take on their owner’s less desirable characteristics too, which must be managed carefully. This guide will discuss cat imitation, and how to prevent your pet from adopting bad habits.
Do Cats Act Like Their Owners?
Cats often imitate the actions of their owners. They will do whatever it takes to gain sufficient attention and set up a routine. They will find this easier if they act in a similar way to their owner.
If you have children, for example, your cat will notice that noise and movement gain attention. This means that they may behave similarly. Similarly, if you prefer to root yourself to the sofa, your cat will notice this. They will still need some play and mental stimulation. If you like to cuddle while relaxing, though, they’ll usually be fine with this.
There is always the likelihood that you chose a pet that reminded you of yourself. This may have been a subconscious decision, but it makes perfect sense. An immobile human and a hyperactive cat that races around wouldn’t have much in common. If you adopt a kitten, however, they’ll likely model their behavior around your more appealing habits.
Why Do Cats Imitate Their Owners?
Cats have not always been pets. In fact, felines are comparatively new to domestication. This is why it takes a cat a while to adjust to a new home. Essentially, they feel they are being kept in captivity.
Like a form of feline Stockholm Syndrome, however, cats have learned to love their captors. This, in turn, leads to imitating their actions.
There are four main reasons why cats impersonate the behavior of their owners:
- Humans are role models. Cats do not think that you are human. Instead, according to National Geographic, it’s quite the opposite. They see us as a bigger, hairless feline. In other words, your cat thinks of you as their mother. As adorable as this is, it does mean that you’ll be looking to you for guidance. This means that it’s your responsibility to be a good role model.
- Humans control the food. Felines are typically very food-focused. This means that they’ll watch your every move when it’s mealtime! Learning where the food is kept is the first step. From there, cats will retrace your steps to see if they can open a cupboard themselves.
- Cats love routine. Cats take a great deal of comfort from routine and structure. Whether you realize it or not, so do humans. You typically engage in rituals when you come home from work, and so will your cat. Do you use the bathroom, drink some water and grab a snack? If so, your cat will want to do the same.
- It’s a bonding exercise. You’d be forgiven for sometimes thinking that your cat doesn’t care about you. Felines work very hard to portray an image of complete indifference to humans. This is just a defense mechanism, however. Cats feel a great deal of warmth toward their owners. It’s just that some consider showing it outwardly to be a sign of vulnerability. If your cat imitates your every move, they’re showing that they trust, respect and love you.
Cats will take the lead of a human, for good or ill. This makes it important that you teach cats respectable habits.
Common Cat Mirroring Behaviors
There are some human actions that a cat is incapable of replicating. Your cat will not be able to brew a pot of coffee, or turn on a computer. There are, however, many actions they will mimic. This include:
- Bathroom Schedules. One of the most prevalent examples of cat imitation involves elimination. Some people like to keep their pet’s litter tray in their own bathroom. This is fine if the room is dry. Avoid doing so if your bathroom grows damp or humid, as this makes litter clump. If you do share a bathroom with your pet, you’ll notice they eliminate whenever you do.
- Eating Times and Habits. Perhaps the most habitual replication between cats and humans surrounds food. As we have already explained, cats are very routine-focused. They like to know that they’ll be fed at particular times. This means that they’ll like to eat with their owner. The emulation does not end with timing, though. If you eat, then get up for seconds or dessert, your cat will want the same. If you like to snack on the sofa after mealtimes, your cat will also ask for treats. This is why overweight owners often have overweight pets.
- Energy Levels. If you rise at dawn and rarely sit still, your cat will likely be the same. They will follow you around the house, expecting constant stimulation and exertion. If you prefer to flop on the sofa, however, your cat is likely to lounge with you. It’s important to find a routine that strikes a balance, for both your sakes.
- Emotional Reactions. Arguably the most important thing to remember is that your cat often imitates your mood. A study in Animal Cognition discusses this in more detail. Cats are remarkably adept at understanding human emotions, and replicating them. If you are scared while watching a horror movie, your cat will become nervous. If you are laughing with a good friend, your cat will feel a surge of joy. If you’ve had a bad day, try to shake it off before interacting with your cat. Your dark mood could lead to them behaving aggressively.
- Vocalizations. If you live alone and rarely speak to your cat, expect them to be largely silent. If you live in a busy, noisy house, however, your cat will become considerably more vocal. This is your cat copying the sound patterns of their human family. According to Lund University in Sweden, cats even attempt to mimic your accent.
Your cat will also notice other things that you do, and react accordingly. For example, you may spend several hours watching TV at night. Your cat will notice that leaning a paw on the remote changes channel, copying your actions. Your pet is not searching for HBO in such an instance. Usually, they want you to stop focusing on the TV and pay attention to them!
Computers will often garner a very similar response. If your cat is tapping at your keyboard, they are not writing great literature. Instead, they are imitating what you do. Naturally, however, if they are doing this, then you can’t. This means that you’ll focus your energy on them.
Do Cats Imitate Other Pets?
As we have already mentioned, your cat doesn’t think of you as a human. They see you as just another cat in the house. You seem to know where the food is though, so they’re willing to follow your lead. Does the same apply to fellow felines, or even dogs?
The short answer is yes. Cats are observational learners, so if something seems to get results, they’ll do it. This is particularly common in kittens, who learn everything they know from their mothers. A cat shows her offspring how to hunt, and separate areas for sleep and elimination. Cats even learn to communicate through imitating their mother’s trills and meows.
Over time, however, adult cats start to mimic other animals. You will no doubt have seen your pet attempting to imitate birdcalls at a window. If you live with a dog, your cat may even copy some of their behaviors. After all, it seems to result in treats and attention. Over time, cats even learn to enjoy canine play, such as tug of war games.
Cats are clever animals. They know what they want – usually food – and they quickly learn how to get it. This is often achieved by imitating the behaviors of their owner to live a similar lifestyle. The fact that doing so means settling into a routine keeps both parties happy.
If your cat does start to act like you, however, don’t become complacent. You have a duty of care to your pet to give them the best life possible. This means curbing some of your bad habits, before your cat picks them up.
Living with a cat is like raising a child. There’s a miniature version of yourself in the house, albeit one with unique quirks and foibles.