Why Are Cats So Independent?

Ask most people to describe a cat and most likely you'll hear words like mysterious, stand-offish, composed, regal – and independent. Cats give the impression that they do not need us. They have a quiet composure and dignity that dogs rarely display. And they are not obedient like dogs – we usually can't teach them to fetch the paper or play dead. When they learn, they often learn things on their own.

The Nature of Cats

The notion that cats are independent has persisted for centuries. Perhaps this is because cats are solitary predators, unlike dogs who hunt within the pack. Dogs are team players, and their survival depends on it. But the cat must hunt alone; in fact, feline hunting methods of stalking, hiding, and pouncing would not be successful if performed as a group tactic. Although cats can live in groups, they don't actually need to.

Cats can be highly social animals. When provided with two "squares" and the comforts of home, they have no need to compete for these basic necessities and harmonious living can prevail. But most people don't see this "sociability" because a cat's signs of affection are so subtle – no jumping and face-licking here – that we often overlook them. We just don't notice how excited they are when they touch us with a nose, blink their eyes slowly, or solicitously raise their tail.

A Royal Reputation

Someone once said that thousands of years ago, cats were worshipped as gods – and they've never forgotten this. So if your cat acts like a snob, he's probably remembering his exalted place in history. The cat family can trace their genealogy back to ancient Cyprus and Egypt. Egyptians held cats in such high regard that laws were created to protect them. During the reign of the Pharaohs, it was considered a capital crime to kill or injure a cat, even by accident. If a house caught fire, it was cats first, humans second. If a cat were to die of natural causes the entire household went into elaborate mourning with chanting and pounding of chests as an outward sign of grief.

From 1000 to 350 BC, however, cats were also seen as deities, and worshipped as such. True to the cat's exalted status, a religious order of cat worship developed that lasted for more than 2,000 years. The cat goddess Bastet, with the body of a woman and the head of a cat, became one of the most revered figures of worship.

The Family Cat

As any cat fancier will tell you, cats do not have owners; they have caretakers whom they allow to live with them. However, although a socialized cat has the ability to care for himself, he does rely on the family for affection, mental stimulation, and for good health. And the more you learn about his behavior – his purring and rubbing against you – the more you will realize that he not as "independent" as you thought.