Imagine this: your cat knocks your most beautiful, expensive vase off the table and it shatters right in front of your eyes.
Your cat then looks at you with a blank expression and leaves the room. Does he know you’re upset? Does he even care? But more importantly, does your cat feel guilty?
Keep reading to find out!
Cats show emotion differently
Most people believe that cats never look guilty, while dogs are always guilty. But that’s not true!
Humans show and recognize emotion from facial expressions and tone of voice. Cats are not wired like this.
They may be able to recognize when we’re upset, but they can’t demonstrate they’re upset in the same way as humans. So in order to know if cats feel guilty, we need to start speaking their language!
When dogs hear anger or displeasure in our voice, they get anxious. They show they’re anxious by lowering their ears and tail, whimpering, and showing you their sad eyes.
When cats hear anger or displeasure in our voice, they simply walk away. They typically hide until they know you’re not upset anymore.
Don’t expect cats to think like us
Guilt is a complex human emotion that comes from the understanding that you are responsible for doing something wrong and feel remorse for it.
For example, let’s say you knocked your friend’s vase off the counter instead of the cat. Why do you feel guilty?
Well it might be because you know your friend spent a lot of money on the vase or that it was very special to her and you can’t repair it. You know that your friend didn’t do anything to deserve having their vase broken.
These are your morals speaking! Cats don’t have this understanding.
Cats don’t know what money is. They don’t know what a vase is. They don’t even know why you’re upset!
This is because cats are not wired to have human morals – we have to teach them right from wrong. They associate positive feedback from us with good behavior and negative feedback from us with bad behavior.
Even when they do something wrong, they don’t know why it is wrong. They just know it makes us act upset, which in turn makes them anxious. So to answer the question, both cats and dogs do not feel guilty – they feel anxious.
How Do I Know If My Cat Is “Guilty”?
Fear, frustration, and anxiety look the same for cats.
Here are some signs of anxiety:
- running away from the scene of the crime
- enlarged pupils
- lowered ears
- fast swishing tale
- lower, distressed meow
How to teach your cat right from wrong
Timing is everything. If you catch your cat doing something wrong, show them you’re upset as soon as they do something wrong. Don’t wait – it could cause some serious confusion and distress for your cat.
For example, if your cat is scratching the couch or knocking things over, you need to give negative reinforcement right then. Otherwise, they won’t understand which behavior you don’t like.
Avoid delayed punishment. If you come home form work and see that your cat has made a mess, you can’t punish them.
At that point, it’s too late – they’ll get confused and think you’re upset for a different reason. You need to catch them in action before using negative reinforcement.
SURVEY: Do You Consider Cats Family?
Your opinion matters!
How to gently discipline your cat
Never physically hurt your cat. It’s cruel and makes them distrust you. There are much more ethical and effective ways to demonstrate negative reinforcement.
1. Spray bottle: This is a “water spanking”. Make sure your spray bottle is on a light mist setting to avoid hurting the cat and only spray once when they are acting naughty.
Keep them close to areas of your house where your cat typically acts up. Eventually your cat will associate the bottle with bad behavior and you won’t even have to spray them.
2. Time – Out: Put your cat in time-out immediately after they behave badly. Look at them and say “NO” with a firm tone of voice, and put them in another room by themselves for 5 or 10 minutes.
Vocal Cues: For some cats, a firm “NO” is enough for them to know they’re doing something wrong. It just depends on your cat.
Remember not to only to focus on bad behavior. Reward your cat with treats and chin rubs when he/she is behaving well!
Cats are motivated by food. Keep treats handy to show them how much you love and appreciate them!
No, cats do not feel “guilty” because guilt is a complex human emotion that requires an understanding of human values. However, cats feel stress and anxiety when doing something that upsets you because they are able to recognize when you are upset.
QUESTION: Do you think your cat feels guilty?