Fact: Cats are cute.
You know it, we know it, everyone knows it. Even self-declared “dog people” can’t deny the inherent cuteness of our feline friends.
But why are cats so cute? That’s a little more complicated. While fluffy kittens are fairly straightforward, human brains are mysterious organisms – especially in the face of extreme adorableness.
So what’s the deal with all these super cute cats? Science has some theories – and so do we.
First things first: What is “cuteness,” anyway?
Merriam-Webster defines cute as “attractive or pretty, especially in a childish, youthful or delicate way.” While this may seem subjective, researchers have attempted to define the concept of cuteness more scientifically over the years.
Austrian ethologist Konrad Lorenz first introduced the idea of “baby schema” in 1943. According to this theory, humans instinctively perceive infantile features such as large eyes, chubby cheeks, and tiny mouths as endearing, or “”cute.” This motivates adults to care for babies – even when they’re noisy, smelly, and cranky – and enhances the species’ chances of survival.
So where do cats fit in? As it turns out, babies and cats have more in common than naps.
Why Are Cats So Cute? What the Science Says
Like babies, cats seem to activate our brain’s cuteness response. This might be due to cats’ physical characteristics, including child-like features like big eyes and small noses. Studies have shown that humans, particularly women, extend the “baby schema effect” to animals as well as babies.
Additionally, cats share some interesting (and adorable) personality traits with babies.
“We’ve evolved to have a strong weakness for human babies,” says Dr. Amanda Takiguchi, a veterinarian based in Hawaii. “Furthermore, cats have a lot of infantile personality traits, like playfulness, curiosity, coyness, occasional clumsiness, and above all, affection.”
Indeed, sweet actions can speak louder than cute faces. A 2016 study analyzing feline-human communication in animal shelters found that potential adopters were not influenced by cat facial expressions. However, cats who rubbed against humans were adopted more quickly, suggesting that social behaviors were more attractive than physical characteristics.
Another phenomenon associated with cuteness, so-called “cute aggression,” pertains to both young humans and young animals.
A perplexing response from a brain overwhelmed by positive emotions, cute aggression is defined as the urge to bite or squeeze extremely adorable things, without the intent of causing harm. In a recent study, researchers at the University of California found that human babies and baby animals activated similar parts of the brain when triggering participants’ “cute aggression.”
10 Other Reasons Cats Are Cute
As interesting as cuteness research is, science has its limits. After all, how can you study the softness of your cat’s ears? Or the rumble of their purrs against your chest? Or the sparkle in their eyes when you walk in the door? And while we’re on it, why are cats’ paws so cute?!
According to our own research, here are 10 other reasons cats are so cute.
1. Their squishy paws are pawsitively irresistible.
Cat paw pads are flawlessly designed, providing shock absorption for long falls and stealth-mode silence for stalking prey. They’re also incredibly cute. Who doesn’t love a toe bean?!
2. They knead the sweetest biscuits.
Another reason we love kitty paws? Biscuits! Many cats “knead” soft surfaces, a nursing behavior left over from kittenhood. When a cat “makes biscuits” on their human, it’s thought to be a sign of affection.
3. They have the softest, silliest bellies.
Even trim cats have soft, cozy bellies thanks to the primordial pouch, a paunchy bit of skin, fat, and fur that runs the length of the abdomen. There are a number of theories as to why the pouch exists, but we know this for sure: it’s very cute.
4. They take napping to the (adorable) extreme.
When it comes to naps, cats are ninja masters. Whether you’ve ever discovered your feline friend sleeping upside down in a box on top of the refrigerator or snuggled up on your head, you understand how cute (and confusing) it can be.
5. Their tails have minds of their own.
Whether curling, flicking, or swishing, cat tails are fluffy little beacons of cuteness. But it’s not just for show – cats communicate quite a bit through their tail language, so it’s important to pay attention!
6. They’re not shy about wanting pets.
Cats have a reputation for playing it cool. But when they really want to be pet, they’re shameless – and we’re here for it. Whether forcefully shoving their heads into your hands or rubbing against your leg, cats are the cutest cuddle thieves.
7. They have the sweetest meows.
Do you ever feel like your cute cat uses a special language, just for you? It’s not that far-fetched. While kittens meow to communicate with their mothers, adult cats only meow to communicate their needs to humans, preferring vocalizations such as yowls, trills, and growls when “talking” to each other. It’s almost as if they consider us mama cats – and that, friends, is Peak Cute.
8. They bring us “gifts.”
9. They know when we’re sad.
Plenty of studies have shown that cats recognize and respond to human emotions. But if a cat has ever curled up in your lap after a long, disappointing day, you know our feline friends have a sixth sense that science can’t fully explain.
10. Even their butts are cute.
Why are #catbutts so cute? We’re not sure, but the cat-obsessed Internet agrees – totally cute. (It’s worth noting that if your cat regularly displays their butt, it’s probably a good thing. An upright tail is a common greeting display, and a sign of a content kitty.)
5 Ways to Capture Your Cat’s Cuteness
It’s simply not possible to fully capture the majestic cuteness of cats. However, with a little creativity and the right tools, you can come close. Here are 5 ideas for celebrating your pet’s adorable attributes.
Make a cute cat calendar. Photo apps make it easy to create a calendar starring your photogenic feline. A traditional monthly version is great, but let’s be honest – you have at least 365 great shots.
Create a paw-print keepsake. From wall art to ceramics to jewelry, there are many ways to creatively display your cat’s unique “signature.” Just be sure to use pet-safe ink and/or clay when taking their paw-prints! (If you’re not crafty yourself, a number of Etsy shops create personalized paw art.)
Start a #kittygram. Does the Internet need more vacation photos? No. Does it need more cute cat photos? Always. Start a social media account and share your cat’s adorable little face with the whole world – we’ll be following!
Commission a pet portrait. Photographs are great, but a painted portrait lends a certain gravitas that your little lion would surely appreciate. (If you don’t have a local artist in mind, there are plenty of pet portrait artists on Etsy and Instagram.)
Get a cute cat tattoo. Or should we say cat-too? When it comes to permanent ink, cats are actually one of the best subjects – you’ll always love them, and they get cuter every single day. Talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve.
Why Cats Are So Cute: Mystery Solved
Cats are mysterious creatures. We may never know why ours sprint across the bed at 3 a.m. sharp every night, or what’s so distressing about a half-full bowl of food. However, when it comes to why cats are so cute, we have some answers. Meow, back to doing what we do best – admiring cute cats!