How Cats See Human Faces?

How Cats See Human Faces?

Have you ever wondered whether your cat can actually tell you apart from other people? Or whether your cat recognizes you to be a completely different species from itself? Are all those internet memes joking about cats thinking they are superior over humans rooted in actual fact or are they fictionalized depictions of human and cat interactions?

In this article, we will dive deep into the topic of the feline perspective, both literally and metaphorically. What do they see when they look at us? How do they see us in their hierarchal power order? If studies about the human-cat dynamic interest you, then keep on reading.

Can cats tell humans apart?

Short answer is, it is either that cats cannot tell human faces apart or they just don’t care to try. 

A group of scientists in Penn State and University of Texas did a study where dogs and cats were asked to choose between two pictures to get a treat. When the cats were shown a picture of their owner next to a picture of a stranger, they were only able to pick their owner’s picture 50% of the time.

When the same procedure was performed but instead of using human faces, they were shown a picture of a familiar cat and a picture of an unfamiliar cat, they picked the familiar cat 90.7% of the time. Cats scored a similarly high score of 85.8% when they were shown a familiar outdoor setting and an unfamiliar outdoor setting.

Even if cats are not as astute in recognizing their human using visual aids, they use their other senses to differentiate humans, such as their sense of smell, touch, and hearing. 

In a 2013 study, cats were made to listen to the voices of their owners and of strangers, they responded more noticeably to the voice that they recognized.

Can cats see in color?

First, let us discuss how a cat views the world with regards to their biological makeup. Cats see their surroundings in a different light compared to us. Cats have lesser cones that respond to light in the red and green color spectrum. To cats, the world is a mix of yellows, blues, and grays. Red and greens don’t exist almost entirely for cats, so buying them a red or green toy might not be all that striking to them.

Studies done by London researchers have theorized that cats, as well as other animals, can actually see colors that us humans can’t, specifically ultraviolet colors. Meaning the UV colors we see only under a blacklight, cats can see with their naked eye.

If you are standing far away from your cat, you may register just as a blur to them. Unlike human eyes that have specialized muscles that change the shape of the lens to adjust to objects in different distances, cat’s eyes do not have these muscles so they are kept always focusing on objects between six and twenty inches away.

Do cats see humans as a different species?

Basically, cats see humans as bigger, uncoordinated fellow cats. Dogs communicate and play with humans differently compared to other dogs, which means they can differentiate humans from dogs. Cats, on the other hand, greet humans the same way it might greet another cat, which is by rubbing up against our legs.

Cats do not see us as inferior to them, if a cat rubs up against you as it purrs, this means that he is greeting you as an equal. So, those internet memes joking that cats look down on humans, aren’t factual in any sense. 

Am I in charge, or is my cat in charge?

According to studies, cats don’t really respond to calls from their owners or from strangers. But they have noted that cats are more quick to respond to calls when they know that they are about to be fed or led outside to play or go to the bathroom.

Cats more or less domesticated themselves 9,000 years ago. Way after dogs became man’s best friend. Cats integrated themselves to human society when they followed mice and rats into villages, who ate the people’s grains. This became a mutually beneficial relationship, where cats caught the mice and rats, while the humans fed them.

Since their species has been around man for less time than dogs, they have not developed the same level of behavioral conditioning. They also have not changed much, genetically speaking. Cats don’t directly help humans, the way dogs do, in a dogs-with-jobs sense, so they never paid attention to human facial expressions as much as dogs did. That could be a reason why cats never developed enough to recognize their humans apart from strangers.

Cats are far more independent than dogs. Either way, cat and dog owners alike are equally emotionally attached to either animal.

How do cats bond with humans?

Research has shown that cats do experience separation anxiety when away from their human. This goes to show that they may have the ability to form a bond with their familiars. When they are taken from their humans or left alone for long periods of time, they can display negative behaviors. They can become noisy, be needlessly aggressive and destructive, they can go to the bathroom in places they should not have, or they can excessively groom.

Cats see us as family. The roles that they give us in the family may depend on the situation. For example, when a cat licks and grooms you, the cat is treating you like a kitten. But when a cat kneads you, the cat may be looking at you as a mother or parental figure. Since kneading is a habit cats have as kittens when they want to be breastfed and ask for milk.

Kneading you and grooming you are a cat’s way of telling you that he is content and happy with the quality of life you are providing for him.


Cats cannot tell human faces apart as well as they can other cats or places around your house. This is not because they do not care about you, but because they may rely on other senses to tell you apart from strangers, like through your smell, voice, and how you feel. 

Cats are colorblind and nearsighted, and they can see a version of the world that humans can only see using a blacklight.

Cats do not see you as an inferior, but as a large, clumsy cat they feel they should take care of. So, they might groom you or knead you because they recognize you as family. They can experience separation anxiety so they do feel a kinship with their owners to a certain degree.

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