If cats are supposed to be solitary animals, why are they so affectionate to people?

I know that cats aren’t always affectionate, but I know quite a few affectionate cats. Our neighbor has an orange cat that will go up to strangers and meow at them until he gets petted (this worries me, I fear he’ll get catnapped or attacked).

A lot of cats also like to be petted. What would be the equivalent sensation for a person? A really nice back rub? And where did petting originate? Is this some sort of ‘instnctual’ behavior to stroke furry animals, or do we learn it from other people? I’m sure it had to start somewhere, did some more intelligent species of pets (cats/dogs) ‘train’ people to pet/scratch them?

Feral cats – wild *felis domesticus * – don’t much care for being petted by people. However, they will form social attachments with each other. One way they show affection for each other is by washing each other (licking each other).

Socialized cats – cats conditioned to cohabitate with humans – generally get this way by being handled and petted as kittens. They come to associate humans with being petted, food, affection, attention, and suchlike. If humans continue to treat them in this manner, the cat will stay socialized forever. It’s not unheard of for socialized cats to go feral, but only after being ignored or abandoned.

Never having been a cat, I’m not sure what it feels like to have a furry coat and be petted by a human. I do know my wife really likes it when I carefully insert my fingers into her hair and caaaarefully scratch/massage her scalp. By the same token, I really like it when she does the same to my beard. For that matter, my wife and I pet on each other quite a bit, by way of being affectionate and providing each other with love and attention, but that may be TMI, so I’ll stop there, and change the subject back to cats.

Any cat likes being the center of attention, in a non-threatening kind of way. Socialized cats are used to being petted by humans, being shown affection, and so on, and certainly some cats would get the idea that if one human will pet you, perhaps others can be persuaded.

As to why people pet cats… well… cats are cute. Cats are soft and furry. Petting cats is fun, if you’re so inclined in that direction, particularly when the cat in question is affectionate back (had one cat once that would wash members of the family. My roommate actually held still once to see how far the cat would go. Durn cat literally washed her from head to foot, while she lay there on the couch. Very patiently.)

Y’r a cat person, or you’re not.

As to how it began: well, from what I understand, around the time agriculture was really getting started, humans faced the problem of storing leftover food. This is where the vermin came in. Cats like to eat vermin, and even if they don’t eat them, they tend to kill them for fun, and generally just make 'em keep their distance, as well as keeping the population down.

Our neolithic ancestors, being no dummies, did not bother the proto-cats who moved into the neighborhood.

As to how they got socialized… well… not sure. I suspect someone found a litter of kittens, and raised 'em, and kept ‘em around, socialized them to human contact, and bred them. Certainly this would be a profitable sideline in an agricultural community, and pretty soon, domestic cats were a happenin’ thing.

Master Wang-Ka, you put that well. My own pet therory to add is that stroking probably reminds a cat of being groomed by mom which may explain the kneading behavior whichis part of nursing. That’s why I just grit my teeth and accept it when Dusty grooms my beard and face because I know she’s just returning the favor to me even though that &%$# sharkskin tongue hurts after a while. Her favorite toys are plastic shotgun wads so we find lots of these synthetic rodents buried in our bed, just her way of bringing us food.

This is probably a good sign.

My wife had a cat when we were dating that she did not need to feed. He preferred birds, particularly grackles. He’d eat most of the bird, and then arrange the head, wings, claws, and guts on the porch in a little tableau. Weirdly enough, he remembered pretty much how the parts went together, despite the fact that most of the bird was missing; he always got the head on top, left and right wings on the appropriate sides, claws beneath, and bird guts right in the middle.

Took me quite some time to learn to look before going out of a morning to get the newspaper. Many’s the time I found a land mine consisting of cold wet bird guts with my bare foot.

Cats are not necessarily solitary, either. In a situation where food supply is plentiful, they’ll operate in terms of a society and form relationships with other cats of either gender; anyone with more than three cats can tell you about that. This behavior has even been observed in feral cat populations.

They do tend to HUNT in a solitary manner, as opposed to dogs, who instinctively fall into alpha and beta categories, and hunt in a pack.

Where I grew up, cottontail rabbits were plentiful. Our cat would catch and eat them on a regular basis. After devouring her kill, she would leave one eyeball and one ear on the porch for us to find. Every single time.

Seems to me the “cats are solitary” meme (heh) comes more out of comparison to the other common domesticated house animal, the dog, and less from any objective definition of the adjective. Dogs are extremely pack oriented, and prefer to spend virtually all of their time in company with their humans. By comparison, cats (when socialized to people) certainly enjoy being friendly, but are also capable of taking care of themselves to a fair extent, and usually go on “patrol” alone.

Next to a dog, which follows its people around the house for most of its waking hours and practically begs to be loved, the cat seems like a veritable hermit.

The cat that owns my wife and me is pretty social. He runs around by himself quite a bit, but when he comes to be with us, he comes to be with us. He sleeps in the same room as us, next to us on the couch or the bed, and sometimes just hangs out. When he’s “home,” he wants to be with us. Hardly solitary at all.

“Why are cats so affectionate to people?”
In one of his “Catwatching” books, Desmond Morris came up with a theory that made a lot of sense to me. It’s that the cat’s social structure primarily revolves around itself and its kittens. So the cat adopts, at various times, one of two roles in dealing with humans – the role of kitten, or the role of adult. “Kitten” would explain the fondness for petting (being groomed by Mom) and kneading behavior, while “Adult” would explain why the cat brings prey to its person (teaching them to hunt).

Now that I think of it, a third role is kitten to kitten – before maturity, cats spend a lot of time in close proximity and engaged in play with their siblings, so a cat who is playing probably regards you as (sort of) a fellow kitten.

Now it’s probably a rather dim cat who isn’t aware that the person that they are interacting with isn’t * really * a cat – it’s just that not being pack or herd animals, they have a fairly limited instinctual set of behaviors for dealing with other creatures. And fortunately, they’re smart enough to know that the “hunting” behavior isn’t appropriate for creatures 20 times their size, at least, not those that feed them.

I think you can also give the cat a certain amount of credit for being smart enough to acquire some learned behaviors. If humans have generally been affectionate to it, the cat knows that going up to a random stranger might buy it some quality ear scratching time.

Actually the question is not quite correct. NOT ALL cats are solitary.

Lions are very social animals. Cheetahs form brother groups and hunt together. These cats are very social toward each other. The common house cat is also like lions and cheetahs.

Tigers, leopards and jaguars are solitary cats.

I remember a program on Nova that discussed house cats on farms. These cats always form bonds like lions.

So while most types of felines are solitary not all are.

Somehow, I find it disturbing that my wife’s cat, Tigger, was tryin’ to teach us to hunt, instinct or otherwise. Besides, he was male.

I’m quite sure he wasn’t tryin’ to teach us anything, and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t offering to share. Knowin’ Tigger, he was showing off.

On one occasion, though, Bunny brought me a dead grackle. I was lying in bed reading, and heard her m’rowpin’, and glanced down by my side of the bed. She was towing a dead bird nearly as big as she was.

Judging by her reaction, I’m pretty sure she was showing off, too. I don’t know if she was offering to share. In fact, I don’t know for sure than Bunny knows you CAN eat a bird… although they make wonderful toys when you can get them…

(I should probably point out that in recent years, the most recent generation of cats at Rancho Wanko are all indoor cats. I have no idea how Bunny found or caught a grackle…)

Maybe cats trained us to pet, or it was more of a mutually discovered physical expression of the human/feline bond.

A lot of the body language on the cat’s side of the petting equation involves scent marking. They rub the sides of their face and the base of their tail against whatever they want to claim as their own. If they want to keep you around, they’ll “pet themselves” with your leg, your doorframe, etc. Add an outstretched hand to the mix, and alakazam…petting is born.

Cats are believed to regard the humans who house them and provide for them as parent substitutes, and to adopt the behavior toward them that they would towards their parents.

Contrary to the standard myth, it is not the case that males are never nurturers – cat social behaviors are not such as to bring a tom in contact with kittens as a general rule, so they do not customarily nurture. But if a tom and a quean are raised together, and she has a litter, he will regard that litter as partially his responsibility, and provide “babysitting” service for her when she must leave the nest, and sometimes teach the weaned kittens how to hunt. When we had cats, this was almost textbook behavior for the toms of the household.

lol, i got tired of either waking up nose to little dead mouse nose if Banzai left me a mouse on the pillow, or getting up inthe morning to feel that cold wet crunch of mouse parts on teh floor by the bed…so I trained him to take his squeeky toys into the bath tub to eat. He trained the new kitten to take her mice into the tub as well…

and WHAT is that kidney beans sized and shaped little purple-green organ? they both refuse to eat it. They usually dont eat that, the tail, feets and heads. :rolleyes:

My friend has <counts> 7 cats, various sizes/shapes and genders all neutered/spayed) they are all fabulous cats, and some of them are very friendly towards people … one will curl up on your lap for hours, but doesn’t like being patted. One stares at you and demands to be patted, and when she’s finished with you claws at you. One might let you pat her if she’s in the right mood, her son runs away from you. Two brothers headbutt you and clmb on you. The other looks at you and if she decides you’re worthy will sit on your lap, and if she really likes you will cuddle into you. At feeding time (if there’s more than one cat there at a time) there will be hissing and spitting and a-scratching going on. When they are all in the house together they tend to find their own spaces to curl up in …

One of the tom’s from my youth, Pepper, actually took on the roles of both parents after the very sad death of the mother, Poca, shortly after giving birth to a small litter of 3 kittens. He would even crawl into the nursery box and let them “dry nurse” on him, purring through half-closed eyelids the whole time.

I think it was in Russia that they managed to train Foxes to become domesticated, by choosing the Foxes that they thought were tamer and taking their offspring and petting them too.
So we take cats that like us, their offspring take after them and we end up with domesticated cats.
That too simplified? Cos I’m a wee bit dwunk :confused:

The finding of a human/cat burial on Cyprus indicates that the domestication of cats goes back quite far in history: Human-Cat Relationship Goes Back Further:

No word on when petting began as an activity–though I’d speculate that it dates back to some transitional period between “cat as helpful eradicator of rodent pests” to “cat as cute little ball of fur.”

My WAG is that this would be the gall bladder, and they don’t eat it because it tastes bad.

It certainly has a ‘nature’ component, it’s not just how they’re treated. Our older cat is the typical ‘aloof, but I’ll accept love and worship when I’m in the mood’ cat attitude (catitude?). Our younger one, still kittenish at ~two years old, is insanely affectionate. I’ll tease her sometimes-“How come I can’t sit down in this house without ending up with a cat on my lap?” I imagine that if we bred her (which is no longer possible, as all of her remotely suspicious organs were removed long ago), her kittens would likely be more disposed to bonding …

I’ve had two neutered male cats who were excellent babysitters, one taught the other. On the other hand, my snotty spayed female, Abby, would not have anything to do with baby Hanna when I brought her home.

One thing I have noticed - my cats commonly snuggle with each other, none of my three dogs who have been living together nine years ever snuggle with each other. The cats are shy around strangers, the dogs are more open and friendly, even with people they don’t know. When it is just me and my SO in the house, the cats are very social with us, jumping up on laps, begging for pets, almost to the point of being annoying. The dogs love pets too, but aren’t usually so aggressive about asking for them.