This Cat Thinks You’re Its Mama – How to Tell if Your Kitty Has Imprinted on You

What is imprinting in cats?

Imprinting refers to the strong attachment a kitten forms with a person or animal during a critical development stage, usually within the first 2-7 weeks of life (https://cats.com/signs-your-cat-has-imprinted-on-you). Unlike regular bonding or attachment, imprinting happens during a sensitive window early in a kitten’s life when it is learning who it can trust and rely on.

Imprinting is a powerful, instinctive process where the kitten sees its caregiver as a source of comfort and security. The kitten forms an immediate bond and begins following and mimicking the behaviors of its trusted imprint figure (https://www.thewildest.com/cat-behavior/can-your-cat-imprint-on-you). This attachment serves an evolutionary purpose, as imprinting on the mother cat enables survival in the wild.

With domesticated kittens, imprinting most often occurs with the human who provides food, warmth, affection, and care during the first weeks of life. The kitten learns this person is dependable and turns to them to feel safe and calm in uncertain situations.

Signs your cat has imprinted on you

There are several behaviors that indicate your cat has imprinted on you and sees you as their most important companion and caretaker. One of the most obvious is that your cat eagerly greets you when you come home. As soon as they hear the door open, they will come running to welcome you back and demand your attention. Cats who have imprinted will be very excited to see their special person return.

In addition to greeting you, an imprinted cat will want to be near you as much as possible and will follow you from room to room. They will seek out your lap or sleep curled up right next to you at night. Your cat feels safest and most secure in your presence. An imprinted cat will rarely want to be in a different room than you and will keep you within sight as much as possible.

Imprinted cats are also very affectionate. They will nuzzle, lick, purr, and rub up against you frequently. This not only shows their attachment, but also allows them to mix their scent with yours as a way to mark their bond. Your cat is comfortable displaying intimacy because of the strength of your relationship.

Source: https://cats.com/signs-your-cat-has-imprinted-on-you

Your cat seeks your attention

If your cat has imprinted on you, they will likely try to get your attention and interact with you whenever you are around. One sign is increased vocalization directed at you, such as meows, trills, and chirps. An imprinted cat is excited to see you and will “talk” to you to get your attention.

Your cat may also nudge, headbutt, or paw at you frequently looking for affection. An imprinted cat craves physical contact like petting from their preferred human. They may also bring you toys or objects as gifts, hoping you will play with them. This interaction seeking shows your strong bond.

Cats who have imprinted tend to be more demanding of your time and attention. But it’s a sign they feel safe and attached to you. Make sure to set aside quality time for play and cuddling to nurture that special bond.

Your scent calms your cat

Cats have an incredibly strong sense of smell, so your natural scent plays an important role in bonding. When a cat has imprinted on you, they will often find your scent comforting and calming. Some signs that your scent relaxes your cat include:

– Purrs and rubs against you when exposed to your worn clothing or belongings. The familiar aroma brings contentment. According to the article “10 Signs Your Cat Has Imprinted On You” on cats.com, “Cats mark not only inanimate objects, but their favorite people too. Is your cat obsessed with curling round your used t-shirt or nuzzling your feet when you remove your socks? It’s their way of picking up your scent and claiming you as their own.”

– Seeks out places covered with your scent to sleep or relax, like your bed or clothing piles. The blog from CatBandit.com explains that “Sleeping in your bed or on your dirty laundry helps your cat surround themselves with your comforting scent.”

– Rubs against you frequently to pick up your scent and mix it with theirs. As described on Catster.com, “They use it to mark their territory, but a cat’s scent also calms them. For both reasons, a cat will rub against a human they’ve imprinted on. Their scent glands are located on their head, specifically their cheeks and forehead.”

Your cat is possessive of you

When a cat deeply bonds with and imprints on their human, they can become possessive and protective. One sign your cat has imprinted on you is if they act territorial when other people approach or interact with you.

A cat who has imprinted may hiss, swat, or act aggressively towards visitors or even family members who get near you. They want to guard “their” human. Your imprinted cat may try to wedge itself between you and a guest, or always sit in your lap when others are around.

An imprinted cat essentially sees you as their possession or property. So they will vigilantly watch and guard you from perceived threats. Their body language shows they are staking a claim – as if saying “hands off, this is MY human!”

While an imprinted cat’s possessiveness comes from a place of devotion, it can be problematic if they get overly protective. Be patient, use positive reinforcement, and slowly acclimate them to accepting others in your space. But understand that to your imprinted cat, you are their most special person.

Your cat mirrors you

Cats that have imprinted on their owners may start to mirror their behaviors and mannerisms. One way cats demonstrate this is by copying actions their owners frequently do, like stretching, yawning, or kneading with their paws. If you notice your cat performing cute little imitations of you, it shows they are tuned into you and want to act just like their beloved human.

Another sign of imitation is when your cat tilts their head from side to side as you speak to them. They are trying to follow the patterns of your speech and respond, similar to how humans nod their heads when listening intently. Head-tilting indicates that your cat is bonded enough to mirror your verbal cues and find meaning in your voice, beyond just recognizing words like “treat” or their name.

According to a 2019 study published in the journal Scientific Reports, cats may even mirror the personalities of their owners (source). The research found correlation between owner personality traits and cat behavior. So if you have a outgoing and friendly personality, your imprinted feline companion may become increasingly social, vocal, and affectionate as well.

Your cat overgrooms without you

One of the most common signs of separation anxiety in cats is excessive overgrooming and licking. Cats will obsessively lick themselves when stressed, often to the point of pulling out fur and creating bald patches. This overgrooming tends to happen when you are away from home, as your absence causes anxiety and stress for your cat.

According to Indoor Pet Initiative, excessive licking and overgrooming often occurs when the owner is away and is a telltale symptom of feline separation anxiety. The excessive grooming is a self-soothing behavior for the cat in response to the stress of being left alone https://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats/problemsolving/separation-anxiety.

To help curb overgrooming related to separation anxiety, you can try leaving familiar scented items for your cat when you go, like an old t-shirt you’ve worn recently. This can provide comforting smells. You can also make sure your cat has plenty of interactive toys to play with while you’re gone so they don’t resort to obsessive grooming behaviors.

Your cat shows separation anxiety

One of the clearest signs that a cat has imprinted on you is if they exhibit separation anxiety when you are away. Separation anxiety refers to a set of behaviors that arise from the stress caused by isolation from an attachment figure, in this case you. Cats with separation anxiety may engage in destructive behaviors like scratching furniture or urinating outside the litter box. They may also vocalize excessively, with distressed meowing or yowling, even when their needs like food and litter box are met. These behaviors stem from fear and anxiety triggered by your absence. Cats that have imprinted heavily on their human caregiver can become extremely distressed when left alone, even for short periods. Their anxious attachment causes them to panic when you are gone. Excessive vocalizations are a cry for your return. Destructive behaviors may be an attempt to self-soothe or a sign of frustration. According to PetMD, separation anxiety affects around 20% of the general cat population. If your cat exhibits distressed behaviors only when you leave them alone, it is likely they have imprinted on you and suffer from separation anxiety as a result.

You provide primary care

One key sign your cat has imprinted on you is if you are the primary provider of care for your cat. This means you are the one who feeds, grooms, plays with, and cares for your cat on a regular basis. Cats that have imprinted tend to be distrustful or even aggressive towards others who try to provide care, even family members, because of the strong bond with you.

If your cat runs to you for food when hungry rather than crying out generally, follows you room to room, and wants your attention for playtime, these are signs your cat sees you as the primary caregiver. Your cat may react negatively, such as with hissing or swatting, when someone else tries to pet, pick up, or feed them. Some cats imprinted on one person will refuse to eat or eliminate at all if that person is away.

According to a study by the Journal of Veterinary Behavior (https://www.journalvetbehavior.com/article/S1558-7878(17)30052-1/fulltext), cats form attachments to their human caregivers in a similar way to bonds between human infants and parents. If you provide affectionate care from kittenhood, your cat is more likely to imprint on you.

When to be concerned

While it’s normal for cats to form strong bonds with their owners, excessive attachment can become problematic. Here are some signs that your cat’s imprinting has become unhealthy:

Aggression toward others – A cat that imprints too intensely may act territorial and lash out at other people or animals who approach their preferred person. This includes hissing, swatting, biting, etc. If your cat is unable to tolerate others, it’s a red flag.

Elimination issues – An overly attached cat that feels anxious when separated from their person may start urinating or defecating outside the litter box. This inappropriate elimination is a sign of distress.

Destructiveness – Some imprinted cats engage in destructive behavior like scratching furniture or knocking things over when left alone as a way to take out their separation anxiety.

Excessive clinginess – While it’s sweet when a cat follows you around, nonstop neediness and demands for attention could mean the imprinting bond has gone too far. Cats should be able to self-entertain.

If your cat is displaying any of these excessive attachment behaviors, it’s important to create more independence. Consult your veterinarian and a professional animal behaviorist for help. The earlier you intervene, the easier it will be to modify your cat’s obsessive imprinting.

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