Cats and Dogs
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Do cats feel sorry?

Do Cats Feel Remorse or Guilt in the Same Way Humans Do?

Sad Cat

While your beloved cat feels connected to you, he won’t feel bad if he pees or poops outside the litter box, scratches up your furniture, or does something outrageous in your home that creates chaos. Unlike us humans who feel guilt or remorse when we do something wrong, cats don’t feel remorse or guilt so don’t expect your feline to apologize for his bad behavior.

If you want to know more about why your cat does not feel guilt, keep reading!

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Cats Are Wired Differently Than Dogs

If you have a dog and have scolded your canine for a naughty deed, he probably showed you that he was ashamed of what he did. Maybe he put his head down and slinked away or perhaps he came up to you with those big puppy dog eyes and asked for forgiveness. It’s easy to see guilt or remorse in a dog’s eyes or in its body language.

woman training her dog

It’s a whole other story with cats.

You may think that your cat feels guilty for something he’s done wrong because you notice a physical change like flattened ears, a tucked tail, or a distracted look in his eyes. However, this feline body language is a sign that your cat is feeling fear, and not a sense of guilt.

If your cat takes off with his tail down after you’ve scolded him for something he’s done like scratching the couch, he’s not feeling guilty. Instead, he’s responding in fear of your verbal scolding and finding a quick place to hide. He probably doesn’t even remember scratching at your couch with his claws any more than he knows it was the wrong thing to do.

Unlike dogs that express their remorse and guilt, cats are wired to live in the moment. This means that they react to things happening to them in real-time. Cats simply don’t have the ability to show remorse or guilt for shameful actions they’ve done in the past.

Your cat isn’t scratching your couch to mess with your mind. He is doing that to sharpen his claws which is a natural, instinctual behavior. So how do you correct the bad behavior if your cat can’t feel guilt? You give him something better to sharpen his claws on like his very own scratching post.

cat scratching on Sofa-Scratcher Squared

Is It Still Okay to Scold My Cat?

By now you’re probably wondering if it’s okay to scold your cat when you catch him doing something wrong like scratching the couch. The only time it will be useful to scold your cat is when you catch him in the act of scratching your couch.

If you come home from work and find cat scratches on your couch, it would be senseless to find that cat of yours and give him a chewing out. He won’t have any idea why you’re scolding him, and your behavior may irritate him to the point that he slinks away in sheer confusion.

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It’s All About the Timing!

Unless you scold your cat at the exact time he’s doing something wrong, you’ll be wasting your time. Your cat won’t have a clue why you’re raising your voice at him even if you scold him five minutes after the deed was done.

Instead of feeling remorse or guilt, your cat may become confused and scared because of your yelling and may even think you’ve lost your mind! Scolding a cat is all about timing. The bottom line is this: If you don’t catch him red-handed, don’t scold him.

cat sits on a sofa and sniffs owner finger

Better Ways to Deal with Bad Cat Behavior

Things like scratching furniture, jumping on counters, and attacking your feet when you walk by are all behaviors motivated by your cat’s natural instincts.

When your cat jumps up on a countertop, he’s doing what wild cats do when they’re hunting prey so they can see what they’re after. Batting at your feet when you walk by is also instinctual. Wild cats often play with their prey and since your cat is tame, your passing feet are the only available prey in your feline’s life.

The sensible way to handle these types of unwanted cat behaviors is to give your cat plenty of toys to play with. In addition to a scratching post to replace your couch, give your cat some balls or stuffed mice to chase after.

two cats playing with toy at home

Use Aversive Surfaces and Smells

If your cat still partakes in these undesirable habits after giving him a scratching post and toys, you can associate something unpleasant with the behavior you’re trying to stop.

Cats don’t like sticky or slippery surfaces so place some adhesive paper or aluminum foil on the surfaces you want to keep your cat off like the tops of your kitchen cabinets.

You can also place smelly items around that your cat won’t care for like citrus peels or scented oils that smell like mint or wintergreen. Simply soak some cloth in these smelly substances and place them where you don’t want your cat to go.

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You’re never going to get a feline apology from your pet cat when he does something you don’t like so don’t expect one! Cats don’t feel remorse or guilt like we do.

Unless you catch your cat in the act, there’s no sense in scolding him when he’s done something wrong. Give your feline companion plenty of love and attention and some items he’ll love using like a scratching post and lots of fun cat toys to play with!

Featured Image Credit By: g3gg0, pixabay

Ending Your Pet’s Life Was the Right Decision. So Why Do You Feel So Guilty?

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Dr. Fine is a veterinarian and the author of “The Other Family Doctor: A Veterinarian Explores What Animals Can Teach Us About Love, Life, and Mortality.”

Marula was an orange kitty, a purr machine with multiple birth defects, so he was the perfect cat to be a veterinarian’s companion. He purred against my belly when I was pregnant and, years later, he never missed story time, seeming to read the book from one side of me while my son sat on the other. “Did you know your cat is limping?” new visitors to my home often asked with alarm. I’d point out the cat’s shortened leg and funky paw and reassure them that, despite his awkward gait, he got around just fine.

Cats, I’ve often told clients, usually live long enough that when they leave us, it feels like the end of an era. And that was definitely true with Marula.

He was an old kitty when I noticed a lump on his leg that looked like a callus. The next day, it was bleeding and ulcerated, and I started him on antibiotics. The mass continued to grow by the day and continued bleeding off and on. Within a week, several more bumps had formed. A sample of cells sent to the lab confirmed a rare and aggressive cancer.

As a holistic veterinarian, I asked for advice from colleagues and mentors and treated my cat quickly with everything I could, using both Western medicine (corticosteroids) and Eastern medicine (Chinese herbs). The lumps got smaller, and although his energy was low (always a high-energy feline, he was finally acting his age), he seemed himself.

It’s hard enough when loved ones die, but the ability — and necessity — to choose the moment of their death can feel overwhelming. Euthanasia, or assisted suicide, is rare (and often illegal) in human medicine, yet it is a common end to the lives of our companion animals, relieving suffering of a terminal condition. It’s very likely that if you have an animal, you’ll one day be faced with it. Many pet caretakers and veterinarians consider the ability to make the decision to relieve suffering through euthanasia to be a blessing. So why are we often so racked with not only sadness but also guilt when we look back at the moment we made it?

The word “euthanasia” comes from Greek, meaning “good death,” but deciding on that death is a huge responsibility. Each situation is unique, and there is no playbook to follow. It’s a formula for doubt and shame to sneak in and manipulate our emotions, especially after the fact. I’ve watched many clients rewrite the narrative of their animal’s death from “I made the best decisions I could at the time” to “If only I’d done this or made the decision earlier.” They feel they failed as a caretaker and family member. “If only I’d noticed sooner” becomes “I should have noticed sooner.”

For this, we can blame hindsight bias. In psychology, hindsight bias is a documented phenomenon that clouds our judgment about what we actually knew in the past and the extent to which an event could have been foreseen and avoided. When hindsight bias becomes entwined with guilt and grief, they can overwhelm our memory of a beloved animal friend.

It’s important to understand this bias and its effects. I’ve seen many people convince themselves that if they’d been better pet owners, they would have acted differently and there would have been a better outcome. The deaths of our animals hit us hard — often harder than we expect. “My parents died three weeks apart, but losing my dog was worse,” a client confided to me recently.

When my friend Dina thinks of her beloved cat Tigger, she sometimes feels guilty that she didn’t do enough for him at the end of his life. But I encourage her to remember that when Tigger couldn’t climb stairs, she and her husband slept on an air mattress in their living room for three months. She also made him shrimp smoothies in her blender. Our acts can seem inadequate to the depth of our love for our animals, especially when we are anticipating their loss.

Even in the worst-case scenario — if you really did hesitate for too long, despite knowing your pets were suffering, and your animal friends did not have the best possible end — that is not the whole of their story or yours. There is more to the narrative: How did you treat your animals when they were alive? Did you care for them, love them, cherish them?

“Remember that you made the best decisions you could with the information you had at the time,” I’ve often told my clients. When Marula’s condition declined, I had to take my own advice.

After about a month of low-energy but high-quality life, Marula suddenly slowed even further. I started him on a new medication, but I knew his cancer had most likely spread internally. The next morning, my beloved cat could barely move and seemed uncomfortable.

Clearly, it was time. My husband and I talked to our son, who decided to miss school and go with us for the ride to the clinic.

Later, I berated myself for waiting. Why didn’t I make the decision the night before? At that time, I had what I thought was a realistic hope that his condition might improve in the morning. Yet what if I hadn’t waited so long?

Death is a decision that cannot be undone, a button that can’t be unpressed. I didn’t want to cheat Marula or us of more quality time if it was at all possible. But looking back, I doubted myself and the decisions I made. I felt I had failed.

This is where an awareness of hindsight bias helped me — and can help anyone who has had to choose to end an animal’s life. When I look back now, I remind myself that I did my best to make difficult decisions while weighing love, hope and grief. It was unfair to judge myself and my actions as if I’d known the outcome in advance.

I also recognize that animals comprehend mortality in a way that we do not. Even if animals don’t choose their own time and die on their own (as we veterinarians say), they may have known that death was coming. And the circumstances, timing and manner of my friend’s death — even if imperfect — should not define his life.

Now when I remember our quirky, loving orange cat, feelings of guilt and shame still lurk, but they are lessening. I’m certain Marula knew he was beloved. And I know he loved us, too, with all his feline heart. I think of Marula with love and longing, and I hope to focus not on the way he died but on how he lived and all his magical, purr-filled, funky-pawed days.

Dr. Karen Fine is a veterinarian who, in addition to her recent memoir “The Other Family Doctor,” is the author of the textbook “Narrative Medicine in Veterinary Practice.”

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