A woman in stripes hugs a ginger cat to say sorry

How do cats say they are sorry?

As a cat parent, you’re likely aware that cats have a mind of their own. They have a reputation for doing things on their own terms. But are they capable of knowing right from wrong? Are they able to feel guilty? We all know, and have felt, that they can show affection. Here we explore how, and if, cats say they are sorry.

Are cats capable of saying sorry?

Cats are often described as being the boss. They also have a more devillish side: whether they scratch your furnishings, kick litter out of the dirt box or knock over ornaments: every once in a while your cat does something naughty. But are they capable of feeling guilt for such misdemeanors?

Well, guilt is a complex human emotion, which we cannot translate to animals. But scientists do believe that cats are capable of forming strong bonds with their humans. They are even very capable of reading our emotions. So, while your cat may not be able to feel guilt and apologize, they may well show you affection when they sense you are upset – sort of a cat’s version of an apology.

If you came home to find a mess that your cat created minutes or hours ago, they will not be able to link your frustration with their behavior. If your cat accidentally scratches you and you squeal out, they are more likely to be able to link the two. This is because the reaction is immediate.

So, if your cat seems to come over to you and apologize, it is more likely they are actually sensing and acting on your emotion, rather than feeling guilty themselves. Still, the affect is the same!

How do cats apologize to their owners?

If you are cross about something your cat has done, they may well run away and hide. This is the ‘fight or flight’ response. It is an instinctive behavior, to avoid conflict with other cats and dangerous situations in the wild. Once you are calmer, your cat may re-appear, with a display of affection. Whilst this might look like an apology, it’s more likely your feline friend senses that you are upset.

So, how do cats show affection?

  • Rubbing up against you or head butting you. Cats have scent glands around their ears, cheeks, chin, forehead and back end which they use to communicate.
  • Purring
  • Blinking slowly or narrowing their eyes
  • Licking, or ‘grooming’, you
  • Holding their tail high in the air, or presenting their behind to you
  • Kneading at you

All of these displays of affection should re-assure you that your special bond remains intact.

Should cats say they are sorry?

Despite popular belief, cats are not spiteful and do not act out to annoy their pet parents. So, if your cat is acting out, even if they appear to apologize after, it’s a good idea to consider why.

Sometimes frustrating cat behaviors are natural and innate, meaning they cannot control them. However, it is usually possible to redirect the behavior. For example, when they are scratching your furniture, they are actually marking their territory. Rather than getting cross and expecting an apology, redirect the behavior to a scratching post or similar.

Recommended: Here’s why your cat’s fancy new scratch post is not being used

Other times there may be a medical reason behind your cat’s behavior. A cat urinating outside of the litter box may actually have cystitis (a water infection or inflamed bladder). It’s a good idea to have a chat with your veterinarian if your cat is showing any new behaviors, or appears to be suddenly acting out.

Conclusion

So now you know why your cat seems to apologize when you’re upset with them, and how they show their affection to you. Whether they are actually saying sorry or not, it’s impossible to resist those feline charms and stay cross!  

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