Does my cat think it is a hu­man? Does he un­der­stand that I am a dif­fer­ent species? (As he clearly un­der­stands that dogs are NOT cats).

Asked by Julie Grob

Guru Magazine - - Ask A Guru - An­swered by Artem Chep­rasov (An­i­mal Guru)

An­i­mals have a wide arse­nal of tools in or­der to help them dis­tin­guish their own kind from oth­ers: vis­ual, au­di­tory, and ol­fac­tory (smell) cues. This in­cludes your cat, which is def­i­nitely glad it is not a slob­bery dog or in­fe­rior hu­man. That be­ing said, one prob­lem with re­spect to species recog­ni­tion that may arise is called im­proper ‘im­print­ing’. ‘Crit­i­cal pe­riod’ im­print­ing is thought to be a stage in the early life of many an­i­mals (birds es­pe­cially) – a stage his­tor­i­cally re­garded as 1–2 days af­ter birth – when they learn what ‘kind’ they are or what ‘group’ they be­long to. For ex­am­ple, a baby duck that sees only you dur­ing the first few days of life will not only think that you are its ‘mother’ but may also try to at­tract you sex­u­ally once fully ma­ture. Some an­i­mals un­dergo much longer, more flex­i­ble, and rel­a­tively less pro­nounced spans of ‘sen­si­tive pe­riod’ im­print­ing; this in­cludes dogs, cats, and hu­mans. How­ever, de­spite this, im­prop­erly im­printed an­i­mals

will of­ten read­ily min­gle with an­i­mals of their own kind as well, and may even learn to more fully adapt to their own kind over time through ad­di­tional en­vi­ron­men­tal stim­uli. This begs the ques­tion of whether or not they truly think they are a dif­fer­ent species or not. So far, the re­search on this spe­cific point is in­con­clu­sive and scarce.

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