Why do Autistic people like cats?

It’s often said that Autistic people tend to be cat lovers. (Although I don’t know of any survey showing we’re more likely to like cats than allistic people are.) Of course, people of all neurologies like cats because they’re elegant, affectionate, playful or cute. But these are some of my ideas about why cats could have a particular appeal for Autistic people.

I’m not sure of the idea that Autistic people relate to cats because they’re loners. Cats, as well as autists, often seek out and enjoy the company of humans and cats. But cats can become stressed when living with too many other cats, which is probably something Autistic people can relate to.

Nonhuman animals in general give us easy, straightforward companionship. Spending time with a nonhuman animal can bring relief to those of us who need to be with other people but are confused, or treated badly, by humans. Nonhuman animals accept us as we are, and are not nasty to us, and don’t say things they don’t mean.

Cats are often compatible with our sensory processing. Cats tend not to be loud or smelly like other nonhuman animals can be, so they can be a good companion species for people with intense perceptions of sound and smell. Also, one way cats show their affection is by ‘kneading’ – pressing their paws up and down on someone’s lap with claws digging in slightly; kittens do this to their mothers’ bellies when they suckle. Humans often push cats away when they start to knead, which I think must be a bit upsetting for the cat, but autists with low pain sensitivity probably don’t feel the need to do this. I find kneading very relaxing. It’s like being massaged and the gentle pricking of claws feels refreshing. And stroking a cat and hearing him purr is like a calming stim.

Cats don’t like eye contact either. To cats, staring is a threat, and they will break off eye contact to relieve tension. I reckon this helps Autistic people bond with cats, because even if we don’t know not to stare, we’re less likely to look into their eyes anyway, and are less likely to be bothered if a cat doesn’t look at us. But an uninformed allistic person’s attempts to make eye contact with a cat could feel threatening to her.

Traits that are seen as negative in Autistic people are seen as positive in cats. It’s seen as fine for cats to go alone and quietly engage with their own interests, but often less so for Autistic humans. In particular, when Autistic people are described as aloof it has negative connotations, but when cats are described as aloof it’s said admiringly. So cats could make us feel better about ourselves.

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9 thoughts on “Why do Autistic people like cats?

  1. i love all animals, but although love to pet other people’s dogs, i have a cat and used to have two before that. they arent as demanding as dogs. they give us our space, our time alone. besides, I communicate through touch, and that’s part of the reason I love animals, especially lap cats. those that like to curl up on your lap. they also walk on their toes, and mine also tend to be hyper. they’re a lot like us, and dont open up to strangers very quickly. they have their own world, and they live in it. so I find it easy to understand and identify.

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    • My cat certainly has his own world. He goes off to places I can’t go, either because I physically can’t get there or because it’s someone else’s garden. And he can hear and smell things I can’t, and has passions and priorities I don’t share, like hunting and keeping other cats off his territory. But I love that even though I live in the human world and he lives in his cat world, we often come together and share things like a cuddle or playing, or just being together.

      I like petting other people’s dogs as well, and other people’s cats.

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  2. You missed one: Autistic people are more likely to be able to have a satisfying relationship with a cat. Because of higher levels of empathy in most Autistic people and the obviousness of feline body language, we’re more likely to make a cat feel happy and secure with us by respecting their boundaries. This often makes them love us more rapidly than they would NTs, to the extent of adopting us as honorary cats in half the usual time.

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    • I think I’m more able to interpret cat body language and respect their boundaries than most people, and I’ve always assumed that it’s because I read a lot about cats when I was little (they were my special interest for most of my childhood), but I wonder how common it is for autistis to be like that?

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  3. I know that I’ve always lived with cats, and loved them. My parents, after they retired, got dogs as well as cats (there was a reason our house was also known as the Goold Zoo – at one point when all four of us were children, we had six cats, two rabbits, an iguana, three red-ear turtles, and three feeder fish that the turtles made friends with).

    And while I am interested in large dogs, and hugely fascinated by wolves (as well as all kinds of felines), I find dogs harder to deal with. Most dogs have a tendency to want more direct/playful/exuberant attention than I can comfortably give, whereas cats are more likely to, if they want attention, settle on a lap or next to you and let you worship them via petting and rubbing. (And small dogs tend to be yappy, meaning loud, and even more hyper than the larger breeds – at least as I understand it.)

    As you mentioned in the post, non-human animals often do provide companionship in ways that we can’t get from humans, and cats also tend to fit in with our sensory sensitivities. While some of my (as in I was their human) cats have been somewhat attention needy at times, it’s a type of attention that I don’t have any trouble providing. Petting animals is known to reduce stress, and cat fur is generally softer than dog fur, so more pleasant to someone sensitive to textures. Usually cat purring is soft in comparison with a dog barking – even loud purring is still comparatively soft volume-wise. And while my cat has the occasional nickname of “Banshee”, because if she wants me and I’m in a different area of the house she tends to give sharp, high-pitched cries, and one of my parents’ cats whose name is Mew might well have been called “Scream” or “Shriek”, they still don’t shock my nervous system the way a dog barking does. And kneading is nice, as long as the cat’s claws are trimmed.

    Also – and I noticed this particularly with the first cat who was mine, and my current cat – they do tend to share in behaviour and traits that are considered “autistic”, and so tend to be more comfortable companions (at least for me, and for a number of my autistic friends, though not all) than dogs are. And part of that is that cats often want to spend at least part of their time alone; or if not alone, then just happily being in the area of their human(s), without necessarily interacting. That is my method of social interaction with humans as well! (I spend a fair bit of time preferring to be alone, and a fair bit of the remaining time wanting the companionship of someone being there, but not the interaction.)

    As well, cats tend to have a reputation of being both curious and mysterious, and I think – at least for me – that adds to the fascination. You always get this sense that they know something you don’t, and that tends to lead to people becoming interested in them. Well, me, at least!

    So, yeah. Just some more thoughts on cats and autistics – a pairing that I think goes very well together. 🙂

    🙂 tagAught

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  4. Maybe it is just me but I have high functioning autism and I am personally not a fan of cats, I love dogs more, I also love horses, chickens, pigs goats sheep and smaller pets like guinea pigs. I think part of that is because I grew up with cats and in my early 20’s had an old cat who crapped everywhere, I mean you guys can like cats all you want but for me, ehhh I don’t want another cat, I think i’ll stick to dogs lol

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  5. I’m quite sensitive to pain, actually, but as long as there’s a barrier to block the claws such as clothing or a blanket, I find kneading (or as our family calls it, ‘starfish paws’) relaxing. I think partly it’s hitting my craving for deep pressure. Whereas my dog likes to show affection by licking, which feels awful to me and is very hard for me to tolerate.

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