Are you wondering, “Do cats imprint on humans?”

As you’ll learn, it’s not a simple yes/no question, and it requires us to delve deep into how cats think and act.

So, keep reading to learn more about cat imprinting and how it works.

Do Cats Imprint on Humans?

The short answer is yes, cats can imprint on humans. However, it’s not really as simple as a one-word answer.

Before we talk about it more in-depth, though, we first have to understand what imprinting means and how it relates to feline behaviors.

What Does It Mean to Imprint on Someone?

When you hear the word “imprint,” some people think about a popular series of vampire books and werewolves. However, imprinting is much more complicated in the real world.

So, what does it mean to imprint on someone, besides falling madly in love?

As specialists explain, “Imprinting is a form of learning in which an animal gains its sense of species identification.” [1]. For example, birds don’t know what their species is until they hatch and see their mother.

The imprinting window is short, and it’s not reversible. The animal (often birds) will identify as the species they’ve seen, consider it their mother/parent, and follow it around.

couple hugging their cats

On the other side, imprinting also means recognizing someone as a parent or a trustworthy figure.

That’s called filial imprinting and establishes a social attachment between an animal and a person or an object.

Do Cats Imprint on Humans?

For cats to imprint on a person the way a bird would do, the process must occur in the first few hours/days of the kitten’s life.

As such, actual imprinting, as scientists observe in birds, is rare since most orphaned kittens spend at least the first few hours of their lives with their mothers.

But if you raise a kitten from the first few days of its life, it can imprint on you, consider you a parent, and follow you obediently around the house.

And here’s some more good news. While people consider cats aloof, felines can have a strong affection for their human friends and feel love for other cats. 

lady kissing her black cat

In fact, according to a study, over 60% of the studied cats had a secure attachment to their owner, meaning they trust you to take care of their basic needs. [2]

Cat behavior expert Mikel Delgado also says, “Cats can have a lot of the same emotions that we do, including liking to be around us.”

So, even if cats don’t imprint on you like kittens, they can still love you, see you as an adoptive parent, or pick you to be their favorite person.

Do Cats Imprint on One Person Only?

So, if it’s possible for cats to imprint on humans, do cats imprint on one person only? It depends on the cat’s personality and upbringing.

Do cats have a favorite person? Some cats pick a favorite human and will only show affection for this person, imprinting on him/her.

However, other felines love all family members and will be affectionate towards several people at once.

Why Do Cats Imprint On Humans?

Let’s talk about the possible reasons why cats imprint on a human and what causes such a strong relationship to develop.

#1 No Mother Cat

As we already explained, classical imprinting happens when an animal is born and sees a human instead of its biological mother.

beautiful kitten following her owner

So, it’s no surprise that orphaned or abandoned kittens have strong bonds with their adoptive human parent, who cared for them around the clock.

You see such kittens following their human around the house when they’re big enough, the same way they would follow mother cats.

And kittens often meow loudly to communicate their needs to their human foster mother. That’s interesting because adult cats never meow to each other but use body language to “talk.”

So, from your furry friend’s point of view, humans are surrogate parents, on whom they can count to take care of them.

Studies also confirm that newborn animals are capable of bonding to a mother from another species.

#2 Source of Food

Do you know that we didn’t domesticate cats? They just moved into the neighborhood to take care of pests and stayed because humans started feeding them.

ginger cat looking at the cat food

So, cats will often “imprint” on their human companions and regard them as a parent because the pet owner provides food. Mother cats do the same for their kittens.

And studies say that cats see people as giant cats, based on similarities in how felines communicate and show affection for humans and other animals.

But don’t worry. You’re more than a food source to your cat. You’ll see why in a bit.

#3 Source of Comfort

In some cases, cats can imprint on people because they see their owner as a source of security and comfort.

For example, rescue cats can get very attached to humans who provide shelter, food, and safety from the dangers of the outside world.

sweet cat sitting on his owner's lap

So, such cats become obsessed with you and follow you around the house like a shadow. They also like to sit in your lap whenever possible and are extra affectionate.

Pets with previous abusive owners can also become quite clingy in a new environment and imprint on any human who treats them with kindness.

READ MORE: Why is My Older Cat Suddenly Clingy?

#4 Source of Safety

Besides comfort, cats also imprint on people because we make our furry companions feel safe in times of stress. That’s why your cat is extra clingy when anxious and afraid.

Moreover, people are often the best source of safety in a novel environment, such as moving houses or traveling with your pet in the car.

#5 It’s a Breed Thing

Some cat breeds are more likely to imprint on people than others. That’s because they’re more affectionate than other breeds and form strong bonds with their owners.

an affectionate Siamese cat sitting on her owner's lap

For example, Siamese kittens are people-orientated and hate to be alone. They’re also quite vocal with their owners and can be jealous of other cats and family members.

Besides Siamese, other one-person cat breeds forming special attachments are:

  • Turkish Angora
  • Siberian 
  • Ocicat
  • Somali
  • Chantilly
  • Manx

Check our list of the most loving cat breeds if you want to see more adorable cats.

What Does It Mean When a Cat Imprints On You?

We answered the question, “Do cats imprint on humans?” but let’s see what goes through your cat’s head when they imprint on you. 

Your Cat Thinks You’re a Cat 

As we already said, newborn kittens meow to communicate their needs to the mother cat. Adult cats have the same behavior towards human caregivers. 

Moreover, unlike dogs, cats don’t change their behavior when they interact with humans. They use the same body language to “talk” to humans and other felines. 

cat kneading on her owner but Why do cats imprint on humans?

So, your cat can consider you its mother, especially if he/she has imprinted on you as a kitten. That’s why cats knead and seek a place to nurse when you pick them up. 

Of course, cats probably know we couldn’t have given birth to them, but they probably don’t care about this small detail. 

You’ve Got A Good Relationship with Your Cat 

Imprinting is a very good sign for the status of your bond with your cat. It shows that your cat is very attached to you, even if your kitty seems to ignore your calls at times.

You will also notice that your cat wants a lot of physical contact with you and doesn’t miss an opportunity to sleep in your lap or cuddle next to you in bed.

Your Cat Trusts You and Loves You 

tabby cat putting her hand to the lady's hand

Cat imprinting also means that your feline companion loves you in their unique feline way and trusts you. It’s important not to break this trust because it will be almost impossible to restore it.

So, don’t be harsh even if your cat annoys you with its lack of respect for personal space. 

Is It Normal For Cats To Imprint On Their Owners? 

It’s normal for cats to be attached to their owners and have strong bonds with the family. After all, we do our best to spoil our cats with food, toys, and other luxuries. And cats appreciate it in their own way. 

However, don’t be sad if your cat isn’t overly affectionate or doesn’t show any signs that they have imprinted on you.

Some breeds are too reserved to express their feelings, but it doesn’t mean they don’t like you or enjoy spending time with you. 

Researchers explain why cats may like their owners in this video:

9 Signs Your Cat Has Imprinted On You

Cats have some strange ways of saying, “I love you.” So, you can easily misinterpret or miss the telltale signs your cat has imprinted on you.  

#1 Grooming

cat licking the woman's face thinking

Grooming is the most obvious sign of affection and imprinting. That’s because cats only lick people and animals they like and enjoy spending time with.

Mutual grooming is also very important in the cat’s world because it strengthens the bond between animals and establishes trust.

So, don’t be quick to push your kitty when they lick your hair. 

#2 Rubbing Against You 

Cats have glands in their cheeks, which release pheromones when the kitty rubs against an object. These pheromones mark the object/person and warn other cats to stay away. 

domestic cat doing cat headbutt

So, if your cat loves to rub against your legs or face, they are claiming you as their favorite person and won’t be happy to share you with others. 

Related: What Does it Mean When a Stray Cat Rubs Against You?

#3 Lack of Personal Space

Birds, who’ve imprinted on a person or an animal, often follow the animal/person around like a shadow. Cats and kittens do the same. 

So, don’t be surprised if your cat doesn’t let you go to the bathroom by yourself and insists on being with you every moment of the day. 

#4 Purring Loudly

Who doesn’t love it when a cat jumps into your lap and starts purring loudly? But do you know that kittens purr to communicate with their mother and say that everything is OK?

So, when your cat chooses to purr when near you, it’s a clear sign your fluffy kitty has imprinted on you and wants to express its affection and love.

However, keep in mind that sometimes cats purr when they’re in extreme distress or pain because it’s soothing for them.  

#5 Kneading 

Kneading and making biscuits is another sign your cat has imprinted on you. Young kittens use similar gestures when nursing to express happiness and pleasure.

So, whenever your cat kneads your body, it shows that your kitty is content being in your presents and wants you to know how happy you make them. 

As a cat specialist explains, it’s almost like you’re their mommy. 

#6 Cuddling with You 

cat cuddling with her owner

Cats never sleep close to people they don’t like and trust. So, if your cat likes to cuddle with you during the day or night, it’s an indication of a strong bond and a good relationship. 

#7 Playing

Is your cat acting silly and trying to get you to play? Then your cat considers you as close as a sibling or a mother and wants you to be their playmate.

#8 Cat Kisses

Do you know that cats give kisses by looking at you and slowly blinking? 

Of course, it’s not the human type of kiss, but it’s still a powerful gesture that shows affection and appreciation.

That’s because cat blinking shows your feline trusts you enough to let their guard around you. 

#9 Love Biting

grey cat giving her owner a love bite

Some people think that cats only bite when they’re irritated. However, gentle bites can also show love and affection.

If you observe kittens and their mothers, you’ll notice that there’s a lot of biting going on without anyone getting hurt. 

So, if your cat imprints on you, he/she can exhibit the same behavior and gently nib you on your hand from time to time. 

FAQs

Do Cats Mark Their Owners? 

senior cat being clingy on her owner

Yes, cats mark their owners the same way they mark territory – by rubbing their bodies on your legs, head, or whole body. Some male cats can even spray you if you don’t neuter them in time. 

Do cats only imprint on one person?

Some cats will only imprint on one person and consider him/her their most favorite human in the world. But other cats can have multiple favorite people and imprint them on them.  

Do Cats Change Their Favorite Person?

lady hugging her senior cat

A cat can change its favorite person. For example, if another human offers better food, spends quality time with the cat, and understands the cat’s body language, your feline can shift its attention to this person. 

Conclusion

Do cats imprint on humans? Yes, cat imprinting is possible, although not in the same way baby birds imprint on people that rescue them. 

Since we care deeply for your feline companions and take good care of them, many cats bond so tightly to their humans, it’s like they have imprinted on you. 

What do you think about this topic? Do cats imprint on humans? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section. 

References

  • 1. Human-imprinting in Birds and the Importance of Surrogacy [Internet]. Wildlifecenter.org. 2021 [cited 2021 Nov 24]. Available from: https://www.wildlifecenter.org/human-imprinting-birds-and-importance-surrogacy
  • 2. Wu KJ. Study finds kittens bond with their human caregivers like babies do | NOVA | PBS [Internet]. Pbs.org. Nova; 2019 [cited 2021 Nov 24]. Available from: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/cats-secure-attachment/
  • 3. Nicolaou E. 9 Signs That Prove Your Cat Loves You More Than Anything [Internet]. Oprah Daily. Oprah Daily; 2020 [cited 2021 Nov 24]. Available from: https://www.oprahdaily.com/life/a32884389/signs-your-cat-loves-you/
  • 4. Dvoskin R. Newborns Can Bond to a “Mother” from a Different Species [Internet]. Scientific American. 2007 [cited 2021 Nov 24]. Available from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/strange-but-true-newborns-can-bond-to-mother-from-different-species/
cat love biting his human

Do cats imprint on humans? How about you, what do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Grigorina S
Grigorina S

I’ve grown up surrounded by animals – dogs, cats, cows, goats, sheep, and horses and that has shaped me into what I am today – a crazy cat lady who always has a place for one more cat (or a dog). I’ve got two female cats – Kitty and Roni, and two tomcats – Blacky and Shaggy, but I also feed my neighbors’ cats when they come for a visit. I just can’t say no to them.

I discovered that writing is my vocation early in my school years. Since then I’ve taken part in several literature contests – writing horror and fantasy short stories and novellas.
For the past three years, I’ve been an ELS teacher, pouring my heart into showing children and teenagers how important English is for their future and trying to educate them how to treat their pets with care.

Find her on Instagram. Read her latest articles..

Learn more about Grigorina here