Sex & Sociability

Question and commentary on connections, both sexual and social

Interspecies Love

Do cats respond to human sex appeal or to love?

I adopted two rescue kittens about three years ago, brother and sister and almost identical in looks. They were vet inspected, defleaed and dewormed, neutered, and given a happy home with all the accoutrements two foundling felines could possibly desire.  They thrived  and became healthy adults, behaving according to my expectations of cats brought up as a pair – self-sufficient, mildly affectionate at odd moments to the one who feeds them, but, after a cursory sniff over, totally indifferent to anyone else who happened to visit my home. If one of them wandered near enough while I sat in my favorite comfy living room chair I would pull out the cat brush from the table beside it and give one or both a thorough brushing down.  That they really liked, their only shows of extravagant enthusiasm. They might even walk briskly into my lap if either of them saw me extract the brush from the drawer.  Other than that, they seemed absorbed in one another and in typical cat business of sleeping, feeding, tussling, and staring out the window.  Each chose a favorite spot where she or he spent the night, sometimes together, usually alone, but never with me in my bed.

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Then, in January, my sweetheart moved across the country and in with me, affecting happy changes not only in my behavior but amazingly, almost as much so in both of the cats. Sweetie is a gentle person,  attracted to and by babies, children, wild life, and house pets.  Immediately both cats showed far more interest in him than they usually do to most human beings except for the occasional ailurophobe, whom all cats seem perversely to seek out to rub up against.  The female cat, Bessie, was first to butt her head into his hand, looking to be petted. Ah, his animal magnetism works on all females, said I. Then Leon began following Sweetie around from room to room, at first just gazing at him.

It was only a matter of days before both cats were his devoted acolytes, leaping to sit next to or on him wherever he alighted.  If he sat at the dinner table they hurtled furniture to find a way to come up at shoulder height and tap him in a manner that distinctly said “Hey Buddy, got a pat?”He gave them each vigorous strokes whenever they were within hands’ reach, so there was certainly some reward for their behavior, but what started this love fest?  Why had my own or anyone else's previous attempts at cat affection been met with indifference until his arrival?

Perhaps their new – dare I say “kittenish” – ways around him had something to do with pheromones.  They certainly seemed far more interested in my bed than they ever had when I alone inhabited it. In the evening when we turned back the covers they came running with an interest hitherto shown only to the rattle of kibbles into their  food dish.  Under the covers, over the covers, beneath and on top of the pillows they strode and circled.  They went to their own corners for sleep, I’m glad to say, but the first morning rays of light brought the body striding on quilt covered human lumps, the head butting under limp hands, the whiskery sniffs and kisses on defenseless sleeping faces. And purring, always the loudest and most musical purrs were saved for Sweetie, although I did get the spillover.

Pheromones might explain their newly affectionate behavior except for the absence of the cats during actual sexual acts.  They certainly were fascinated of late by the place where sex happened, but apparently the behaviors themselves held no interest.  Perhaps that was because during those events there was too much movement going on for them to find a comfortable spot to curl up and purr and no spare hands to offer chin rubs. 

If not pheromones or the smells of sex what then explains their behavior?  Bessie and Leon had certainly been exposed to males before, even males for whom I felt great affection.  There was nothing even vaguely similar in their previous responses.  Two newly reunited and cohabiting sweethearts  emit different vibrations than a solitary woman but “vibes” are such a San Francisco-centric explanation I blush to offer it. I have to surmise that what created the dramatic change in my cats must be love in the air, and even inter-species, sexy lovers are catnip to us all. 

Isadora AlmanM.F.T., is a Board-certified sex, marriage, and family therapist, lecturer, author, and syndicated advice columnist of "Ask Isadora."

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