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
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.