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We’ve all seen videos of dogs reuniting with humans they haven’t seen in weeks (or even years) and going into absolute paroxysms of pleasure. But what about cats? They tend to be less demonstrably affectionate than dogs, but a cat’s imprinting instinct is still strong, says Los Angeles-based certified feline training and behavior specialist and The Wildest Collective member Cristin Tamburo (a.k.a. The Cat Counselor). Recognizing it is just a matter of knowing what to look for. Here’s what Tamburo says about imprinting.
What does it mean when a cat imprints on you?
Cat imprinting can mean several things, but typically it is defined by an establishment of trust. “Imprinting is something that happens during the sensitive, early development period of an animal’s life,” Tamburo says. “During this stage, an animal will (hopefully) build bonds or attachments — usually with their (cat) parents or the person who is taking care of them.”
Does my cat know I love them?
While cats might not understand the concept of love, they do pick up on the affection you show them, your body language, and the care you provide them. All that love helps your cat build a strong bond with you. Even the grumpiest cats can sense the love and affection a person shows them; they just don’t always return it in a way that’s super obvious.
How to Tell If a Cat Has Imprinted on You
If a cat has imprinted on you, they will strongly bond with you and seek your attention and affection. Cats may show their affection by becoming your shadow, following you wherever you go. They may demand constant attention with a loud barrage of meows, purrs, and other vocalizations — or they may be more content to be left alone. Every cat displays affection differently; it’s up to you to read your cat’s love language.
At what age do kittens begin to imprint?
“The initial imprinting stage for kittens tends to occur between two and seven weeks after birth,” Tamburo says. “Though a very short window in a cat’s relatively long life, the stimuli that they are and are not exposed to during this time can really shape their behaviors and personality for the rest of their lives.”
After eight weeks, once a kitten has imprinted on their mother and littermates, the next stage of socialization begins — connecting with humans. “Additional socialization also occurs through their first four months, which is why, in the rescue world, we generally try to get kittens socialized and trusting humans by this four-month mark.”
So a person shouldn’t try to take a kitten away from their mother too early, in the hopes of getting them to imprint with them more strongly? “Kittens need and deserve time with their mothers and siblings. It’s important for their overall development,” Tamburo says.
Can older cats imprint on you?
Yes, older cats can imprint on you, although it may take a bit longer and manifest in different ways. Socialization after four months is still possible but can be more challenging. “Cats, like humans, imprint throughout their lives,” Tamburo says. “[Once] properly socialized, cats will often become imprinted on a human, even if they were not together during that early, sensitive period.” Older cats may be more likely to get attached to one person. “Often, this will occur with whichever human in the home provides the cat with the most care and attention,” Tamburo says.
What are the signs your cat has imprinted on you?
Communicating with you — meows, purrs, and all the other happy noises a cat makes.
Kneading you (a.k.a. “making biscuits”).
Choosing to be close to you — following you around, cuddling and sleeping with you, being on your lap whenever they get the chance.
Greeting you when you come home.
Rubbing on you, marking you with their scent.
Enjoying playing with you and even instigating play.
Bringing you “gifts” and going on “hunting” excursions for you.
Showing you the ultimate trust by showing you their belly! (Although this may not be an invitation to touch said belly.)
Are certain breeds more likely to imprint than others?
Siamese, Ragdoll, Sphynx, and Maine Coon cat breeds tend to be needier and are more likely to imprint on a person. Some cats can be too attached to you. Separation anxiety can be a real issue for cats (just like for dogs), especially for those adopted during the pandemic, who got used to having their humans around all the time and now have to adjust to them spending more time out of the house.
Do some cats show fake affection?
Cats don’t “fake affection” to get more food or be let outside, but they do use their body language to communicate their needs to you. Every cat is different, though, and thus how they express affection or demonstrate their bond with their person is different too. But the desire to imprint — to connect and trust — is hardwired into cats (and humans). It’s a survival instinct.
“This is something we usually see in stray or feral cats, who may have missed their socialization period but still trust that one human who cares for them,” Tamburo says. “For instance, a colony of feral cats will likely run from most humans but will be excited to see the person who feeds them and cares for them. In some cases, they may show affection, but often they will accept the food and go back to their daily routine.”
Explaining Common Cat Imprinting Behaviors:
Why does my cat follow me everywhere?
When your cat shadows you from room to room, it can be super cute (when not a major tripping hazard). Cats follow people around for a number of reasons: to get attention, because they love you, or they’re hungry or need something. Your cat knows you are their main source of food and attention, so they’re bound to follow you around wherever you go.
Why does my cat lick me?
Cats often use their sandpaper tongue to give you some much-needed grooming, a form of affection. But when it’s not about love, cats lick people to mark their territory, to get your attention, or because they’re feeling a little stressed out.
Why does my cat bite me?
Sometimes cats will gently bite on your fingers and hands during a petting session. These light nibbles can be a sign of affection from mouthy kitties. But watch out for subtle warning signs for strong cat bites, such as tail swishing or staring, indicating a cat is feeling a bit overwhelmed.
Why does my cat sleep on me?
Cats will sleep on their humans as a sign of affection to show how much they want to be near you. Cats can feel comfort from the sounds of your breathing and heart beating and your body’s warmth. You may even notice them slow blinking to communicate just how comfortable they are.
FAQS (People Also Ask):
How do you tell if a cat imprinted on you?
You can tell your cat has imprinted on you when they communicate happy meows and purrs, follow you around, sleep and cuddle with you, and show you their belly.
What does it mean when a cat has imprinted on you?
When a cat has imprinted on you, this means that they trust you and have a strong bond with you. They feel at ease with you because you make them feel safe, happy, and well-cared for.
Do cats get attached to one human?
Cats form deep bonds with their humans and can get attached to one or more people depending on their history, personality, and socialization.
Does a cat trust you if they sleep next to you?
Yes, a cat trusts you if they sleep next to you. Sleeping, cuddling, and following you around are signs that a cat has formed a bond with you.
Should you hug your cat?
Generally speaking, cats do not like to be hugged or constrained. But each cat has their own personality and preferences, so some cats may enjoy being cuddled and hugged while others may prefer to be left alone.
How attached do cats get to their people?
Studies show that cats can actually become as attached to their pet parents as dogs — they just express their affection differently.
Do cats show fake affection?
No, cats do not show fake affection or exaggerate their feelings but they do use their body language to communicate their needs to you.
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