Have you ever had a bad day, ending with your crawling into bed and hiding under the covers, only to have your cat snuggle up beside you a few minutes later? There’s something so reaffirming and reassuring about having a little ball of fur curled up on you when you’re sad or upset.
Reading the signs on our faces
The reason they tend to comfort us may be a learned response based on our expressions. In the study, cats tended to respond more to a smiling owner because the cat learned to associate the smiling facial expression with things like petting and treats. The implication is that this theory may very well work in reverse.
Think about it this way. If you’re sad, depressed or downtrodden and you crawl into bed, your cat may just be looking for a warm place to nap. But, you might find it soothing to pet them or cuddle them when they approach. Over time, the cat may learn that your sad mood comes with plenty of petting a scratching, which will make them more prone to seeking you out when you’re exhibiting signs of sadness.
So, while your cat may not exactly understand your mood, it does understand the nuances of your behaviour while you’re exhibiting a certain emotion. It’s a bit less romantic than the idea that our cats have the capacity to comfort, but it does mean they care enough to recognise our behaviours!
Situational cues for comfort
In addition to checking out your behaviour for cues on when they’re most likely to get love and attention, your cat is also going to pick up on situational clues. Here, your habits when you’re sad or depressed won’t go unnoticed by your cat.
Time spent in bed is a big signal that your cat may come to associate with snuggling or attention. For example, if you spend all day in bed because you’re down in the dumps and just don’t have the energy to get up, your cat may take this as a cue to sleep in next to you, reaping the benefits of warmth and comfort. Similarly, if you eat when you are upset, your cat might take this as a signal that crumbs are soon to be found, making them more prone to spending time near you.
Cats are extremely observant creatures, which means they may be picking up on habits you didn’t even know you had—especially when your emotions are running high. Even something like crying or blowing your nose can be linked to some sort of action that benefits the cat—petting or praise, for example—that they’ll pick up on!
Your cat is there for you… kind of.
Cats may not be emotionally intelligent enough to realize that you need comfort when you’re sad, but they are receptive to the concept that you’re paying them attention. If your cat associates your sadness with love and attention, it’s going to seek you out at your low points. In this way, there’s a mutually beneficial exchange that happens. You get the comfort of a snuggling cat and your cat gets the attention it wants from you. The science behind it might not be so tender, but the moment you share will be.
Kitty therapy is good for the soul
Sadness affects us all differently. And, even though they might not understand it, your cat can be a great coping mechanism for getting you past your blue mood. If you’re down in the dumps, don’t be afraid to give your cat some love—chances are, they’ll find you the next time you need a little TLC, even if it is for their own selfish purpose!
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