Have you ever wondered if your cat gets embarrassed when it throws up its dinner or a hairball? Does your cat cover its poop and look embarrassed when leaving the litter box?
These are all questions many cat owners ask themselves when they see their cats after a perceived embarrassing moment. It looks to owners like the cat has covered it up or looked away as if it didn’t happen.
Cat’s do not feel embarrassed when they throw up. The concept of embarrassment, while possible in a cat, is an anthropomorphized characteristic that humans place on cats.
The ability to feel embarrassment requires a cat to be able to understand societal norms and have a sense of self. While it is possible a cat is feeling shame at that moment, it is not possible to test the cat’s true emotion, and highly unlikely that they understand we see vomiting as a moment of possible embarrassment.
Cats have a pregenual anterior cingulate cortex, which is the section of a brain that controls advanced emotions; however, this section of a cat’s brain is so small it is unlikely they can process advanced emotions in the same way a human can.
Do Cats Feel Embarrassment
Many cat owners believe that a cat looking around after vomiting or doing something a person may see as embarrassing is a clear indication they feel the same way as humans.
Scientists do not believe this is a cat showing the emotion of embarrassment. Embarrassment is a complex emotion and requires an understanding and sense of self and societal norms. Cats have the same section of the brain that controls these emotions; however, they do not understand what would constitute an embarrassment.
Scientists believe cats can feel emotional shame. The problem with these two emotions is they cannot easily be proven. Shame is more likely as it has a basis in survival instinct, and hiding vomit could help cats from spreading disease.
Cat’s feel many different types of emotions, including happy, angry, frightened, and jealousy interpreted through body language like facial expression, tail, and body movements.
Many pet owners like myself anthropomorphize our pets. That means attributing human characteristics and behaviors to an animal. Owners see similar behaviors in their pets as for themselves and assume they are feeling the same emotion. Scientists and behavioral specialists cannot prove this is the case.
All animals have what’s called primal emotions, which include happiness, sadness, fear, and anger. These emotions are simple and require no external thought. An emotion like embarrassment requires a cat to understand what it did, how it looks, and what others think of them.
How Does Embarrassment Work in The Brain
Embarrassment is controlled in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex. This part of the brain controls emotional processing. Scientists have proven the smaller this area is in the brain, the less likely it is the animal or human can feel more complex emotions.
It is also difficult for scientists to study the understanding of self in cats and other animals as this type of study rely on the response of the person being studied. Cat’s can’t tell scientists how they feel about something.
Are Cats Embarrassed When They Poop
Cat owners sometimes think a cat is embarrassed when it poops because it buries its poop. Like vomiting behaviors in a cat, moments of perceived embarrassment are likely anthropomorphized.
Scientists believe cats bury their poop and urine for survival. In the wild, a predator can follow its prey through its poop and urine. A cat’s evolutionary instinct is to hide its droppings to keep predators confused.
Cats also use urine and poop to mark their territory. A cat sees its owner as dominant and would hide its droppings to ensure it doesn’t look like it’s marking its owner’s territory. If a cat isn’t using its litter box, there’s a chance it sees itself as dominant over you. This is not always the case, however, and it is best to check with a vet on any illness as that is also a possibility.
Some scientists believe there may be a similar survival explanation as to why cats look around after vomiting. If a cat vomits, there is a higher likelihood of passing on a disease or bug. If a cat vomits in front of a mate or another cat, the possibility of transmission is high.
Cats likely hid their vomit to ensure other cats near them were not exposed to the possibility of disease or virus transmission. Looking around after vomiting is a natural reaction to ensure the species survival.
Do Cats Pick Up On Human Emotion
It has been proven that cats pick up on human emotions. Cats use body language to share their emotions. While scientists can’t prove without a doubt which emotions cats feel, they can generalize that cats feel primal emotions with the understanding that a cat at ease and with closed eyes means love or, at the very least, comfort.
Cat owners have shared videos of their cat’s understanding when they need extra attention, especially during times of sadness. Studies have shown that an owner’s stress can actually make their cats sick.
There is lots of anecdotal evidence from cat owners that their companions understand grief, sadness, and stress. These emotions, while slightly above primal, still require only a basic emotional response and do not support the idea that a cat has a true sense of self that leads to the understanding of emotion like embarrassment.
How to Read a Cat’s Emotions
A cat can tell you how it is feeling about a situation using its body language. Understanding a cat’s emotions will help you stay on the positive side of all cat encounters while helping you better understand what a cat is feeling and what it is trying to tell you.
A cat can have a flat back, arched back, or be rolled up in a ball. The back posture tells you the comfort level of a cat. A regular flat back is a sign of comfort or confidence when paired with a relaxed face and tail. An arched back likely means anger or fear and should be approached with caution.
A high tail can mean two things for a cat either come say hi, or go away. The way the fur is positioned will help you determine what a cat is saying. Prickled fur means caution but flat at ease fur means everything at this moment is comfortable.
The position of the body can also help you determine a cat’s feelings. A cat will point towards the thing it is most comfortable with, so if it is staring or walking directly at you, it is comfortable with you at that moment. A tucked tail can mean fear, and a flicking tail is a common sign of agitation.
Ears & Eyes
A cat’s face is one of the most telling parts of a cat. The ears can be high and alert, calm and forward, or flattened and fearful. Paired with the way a cat is looking at, you tells you everything you need to know. A cat who is blinking slowly is comfortable, while dilated eyes and slit-like eyes mean you should be cautious.
Each emotional and physical cue from a cat is not guaranteed. If you have ever owned a cat, you know they can switch their mood in an instant. Always be prepared and know the cat well before getting yourself too close. While cats don’t feel the same deep emotions like embarrassment as humans do, all other emotions are possible, and fear and anger are a possibility in a cat.
The posture and visual cues on a cat’s body are the best way to understand the emotion the cat is feeling. But be careful not to anthropomorphize a cat and give it behaviors and characteristics (like revenge) that are likely not felt by cats. Cats simply can’t understand the self or the idea of cause and effect. It is highly unlikely your cat is peeing on your carpet to spite you.
It is much more likely they are peeing on your carpet because something in the home has changed or something may be wrong with your cat, and the best way to get started on fixing the problem is to talk to a vet. If you are concerned about your cat vomiting, we also advise you to speak to a vet in case their vomiting is being hidden due to a health issue.