Cats are intelligent creatures, but they are not humans. As human beings, we can’t help but assign our own traits to other things. We think certain cars or trucks are “tough”. We think our computer “hates” us when it isn’t working properly, and some folks also think their cats are holding “grudges” when they do something they don’t like.
As a cat owner, it can be a mistake to assign human motives to your cat’s behaviours. Cats work off instinct and experience, with their key priority being survival. A common example is the belief a person’s cat peed on their clothes as revenge for them going on vacation and leaving them for a while. The truth behind why they peed is actually a bit more complicated, and a bit more heart-wrenching.
Survival is everything to a cat because of their place in the food chain. Cats are both predators and prey, meaning they care a lot more about staying safe than a person, or even a dog, would. Every single action cats take is based on them triaging their surroundings for danger and assessing what the next logical action would be to ensure they live to tomorrow.
That doesn’t mean our cats are holding a grudge when they avoid certain things, it just means they had a bad experience and would prefer not to again. Cats are careful, not vengeful.
Common Cat Behaviours Mistakenly Seen as Retaliation
There are a number of behaviours exhibited by cats that humans frequently take out of context. Some of these things are objectively disappointing for us humans but are not to be taken personally.
Going Number One or Two on Your Bed/Clothes: This behaviour is often associated with revenge because it’s usually seen when returning from a long absence. Being more independent-minded creatures, cats can be safely left alone for longer periods than say, a dog, but they don’t love it.
Sometimes when we get back from a trip, we see that our feline friend has left us a gift on our bed or a pile of clothing. The mistake here is thinking this was done out of an act of anger or revenge, when in most cases it is your cat mixing their scent with yours, to comfort them while you are away. They miss you and because you aren’t around, they spend lots of time around things that have your scent.
Spraying: This is not the same as your cat peeing. Spraying is done to mark territory and establish a strong defence against perceived threats. Cats are territorial creatures who like to have possessions and a routine. If your cat is spraying, it’s likely because they feel defensive. A new cat in the home, or a home frequently visited by other neighbourhood/feral cats, can cause yours to feel as if their home/routine is being threatened. It isn’t about you.
Scratching: This just cannot be seen as retaliatory behaviour as cats naturally scratch to cycle through their nails. If they didn’t live in your house, they’d be scratching tree trunks. Cat nails are similar to ours in that they continue to grow over time, though the nail surrounds an inner finger-like appendage instead of growing to the top only (like ours). If cats don’t scratch, their nails grow too long and can become ingrown. The best solution is to set up scratching posts near areas where your cat is prone to scratching (like couch and bed corners) so they will go for them instead of your furniture!
Aggression: Cats acting aggressively do so out of fear. They are naturally loving creatures when raised around people, and typically the opposite when raised in the wild. This article is about cats who live with people, and an aggressive housecat is one that needs help. Change is scary to cats, so things like a move, other animals, or throwing away a piece of furniture they were fond of can trigger aggression. If your cat is showing signs of aggression, remember it isn’t because they have a grudge against you. Talk to your vet to see what you can do to help them get back to a place of calm.
We Cannot Blame Them for Their Behaviour
While we love to preach that cats aren’t all that different from us, in some cases they truly are. Cats can’t speak to us, and since we are the most developed species on our planet, we need to operate with the understanding that animals are almost entirely instinctual. In the case of cats, they’re mostly incapable of holding long-term grudges with us and are simply trying to survive as best they can.