Cats are largely solitary creatures—they live alone, they hunt alone and they don't have particularly strong social skills. Humans, on the other hand, are as social as they come: we use language, facial expressions and body language to express what we have to say. We learn from each other, and we get feedback on our actions from the crowd. It's this disconnect, says veterinarian Tony Buffington to Wired, that causes so much confusion between cats and their owners.
Dogs, like humans, are largely social creatures. They're used to getting feedback from the pack. So, if a human says “no” enough times, eventually they get the hint. Cats don't do this. Cats can't do this, writes Nick Stockton for Wired. While it's true that cats don't care what you think, the source of this tension is more than ambivalence. Cats' brains have difficulty even parsing the types of social feedback that comes so naturally to us.
“How the hell is your cat supposed to know that you’re yelling at him because you want him to stop scratching the couch?” Buffington says. Without the cognitive ability to connect your outburst to their scratching, cats see only chaotic aggression. “To the cat, you’re this crazy primate who is attacking him for no reason,” he says.
“Instead of discouraging the act,” writes Stockton, “you become an object of fear.”
Your cat just wants to be a cat and do cat things, like jump and scratch. You keep saying “no!” but it doesn't mean anything. All this tension stresses kitty out, says vet Buffington:
“Cats get sick when they want to express their natural behaviors and they can’t,” he said, and will continue to do the thing when you aren’t around.
Many of the tensions cat owners experience stem from similar miscommunications. In his story, Stockton gets tips from Buffington on how to handle all sorts of common cat-related woes, including the dreaded claws-out, teeth-bared "one tummy rub too many" leap from lap to the other side of the house.