Your kitten is part of the family. You treat him as a fluffy child: naming him, chatting with him, making sure he's well-fed, healthy and safe. You may wonder how Kitty looks at you: as his adoptive mom … or a well-trained minion who feeds him on command.
Feral cats definitely don't treat humans like a mom. Even if you feed the feline who's taken up residence under your porch, you're not likely to see much of him or get friendly head-butts like you do from your kitten. Even as your kitten grows up, he'll still chase a string well into adulthood and meow at his food dish letting you know it's time for a refill. This is because he's domesticated. Taming and domesticating Kitty means that, unlike his feral counterparts, he never grows out of the kittenish behavior of play and dependency.
Living in a Human World
Since your kitten is domesticated, he's spent his entire life in the presence of humans. He doesn't see you as a potential threat, despite you being so much bigger than him. To him, you're a just a freakishly tall, funny-looking cat. He'll treat you much the same way he would another cat, cuddling with you and grooming you. He's also learned that humans like to talk, so he'll talk with you, too. When he's a kitten, he'll first learn the distress call to get attention from his mom. As he grows, he'll have a whole repertoire of calls from saying “hello” to begging for food. In the wild, cats tend to use vocal communication mostly as kittens, and grow out of the behavior when they leave the nest, at about 10 weeks.
The first experience a kitten has, even before feeding, is grooming by his mother. When kittens stay with their mother, this behavior continues into adulthood. Kittens and queens who stay together will groom each other and snuggle together long after the kitten is weaned. If the kittens do leave the mom, which is more frequent for males than females, after a time she won't recognize them anymore. Mom recognizes the smell of the nest, and the when Kitty leaves home he comes back smelling like a whole slew of new things that his kitty mom will no longer recognize as belonging to her kitten.
Kitty is dependent on you for everything. You feed him, provide shelter, groom him, train him what's right and wrong -- all the things he's feline mother did in the nest. Since your domesticated buddy stays like a kitten his entire life, this leads Kitty to form a special bond with you. He doesn't just view you as another feline, but he'll treat you like a surrogate mom. He'll view your affectionate strokes as comforting, like when his mother would groom him with her rough tongue. This can also lead to him raising his rear in the air and shoving it in your face, a behavior reserved for mom. When his was a tiny kitten, his mom would lick his butt to encourage him to eliminate. Now that your his mom, he expects that you want a rear-view as well.
When you fawn over Kitty and treat him like a feline child, it's OK. He sees you as a mom and relishes the attention.
- The Enyclopedia of the Cat; Michael Pollard
- Why Does My Cat Do That?; Catherine Davidson