10 Signs Your Cat Has Imprinted On You · The Wildest

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10 Signs Your Cat Has Imprinted On You

Feeling like you have a little shadow these days? A cat behaviourist explains why that’s happening

by Charles Manning | expert review by Cristin Tamburo, CFTBS, CAFTP
30 October 2023
dark-haired woman hugging cat that has imprinted on her
luke + mallory leisure / Stocksy

We’ve all seen videos of dogs reuniting with humans they haven’t seen in weeks (or even years) and going into absolute paroxysms of pleasure. But what about cats? They tend to be less demonstrably affectionate than dogs, but a cat’s imprinting instinct is still strong, says Los Angeles-based certified feline training and behaviour specialist and The Wildest Collective member Cristin Tamburo (aka  The Cat Counselor). Recognising it is just a matter of knowing what to look for. Here are 10 signs your cat has imprinted on you, plus the reasons why they sometimes act so silly.

What does it mean when a cat imprints on you?

Cat imprinting can mean several things, but typically it is defined by an establishment of trust. “Imprinting is something that happens during the sensitive, early development period of an animal’s life,” says Cristin. “During this stage, an animal will (hopefully) build bonds or attachments – usually with their cat parents or the human who is taking care of them.”

What are the signs your cat has imprinted on you?

When a cat has imprinted on you, there are several unmistakable signs of their deep attachment. Firstly, they display an intense and consistent desire for your company. They may follow you around the house, sit near you, or seek physical contact such as snuggling or kneading. Imprinted cats often exhibit a unique vocalisation – a specific sound reserved for their chosen person, signalling their need for attention or companionship.

Additionally, they may display signs of distress or anxiety when separated from you for extended periods. Imprinted cats tend to be highly responsive to your voice, gestures and facial expressions, and they may even mimic your behaviour in subtle ways. Ultimately, their trust and comfort around you becomes evident through relaxed body language, purring and slow blinking, which signifies a deep sense of contentment and security in your presence.

To sum up, your cat has imprinted on you if they:

  1. Communicate with you by meowing, purring or making other happy noises.

  2. Knead on you (aka ‘making biscuits’).

  3. Want to be near you – they follow you around, cuddle you, sleep with you and want to be on your lap whenever they get the chance.

  4. Greet you when you come home.

  5. Rub on you, marking you with their scent.

  6. Enjoy playing with you and even instigating play.

  7. Bring you ‘gifts’ and go on ‘hunting’ excursions for you.

  8. Groom you.

  9. Slow blink at you.

  10. Display their trust by showing you their belly. (Although this may not be an invitation to touch said belly.)

At what age do kittens begin to imprint?

“The initial imprinting stage for kittens tends to occur between two and seven weeks after birth,” says Cristin. “Though a very short window in a cat’s relatively long life, the stimuli that they are and are not exposed to during this time can really shape their behaviours and personality for the rest of their lives.”

After eight weeks, once a kitten has imprinted on their mother and littermates, the next stage of socialisation begins – connecting with humans. “Additional socialisation also occurs through their first four months, which is why, in the rescue world, we generally try to get kittens socialised and trusting humans by this four-month mark.”

So a person shouldn’t try to take a kitten away from their mother too early, in the hopes of getting them to imprint with them more strongly? “Kittens need and deserve time with their mothers and siblings. It’s important for their overall development,” says Cristin. 

Can older cats imprint on you?

Yes, older cats can imprint on you, although it may take a bit longer and manifest in different ways. Socialisation after four months is still possible but can be more challenging. “Cats, like humans, imprint throughout their lives,” says Cristin. “Once properly socialised, cats will often become imprinted on a human, even if they were not together during that early, sensitive period.” Older cats may be more likely to get attached to one person. “Often, this will occur with whichever human in the home provides the cat with the most care and attention,” says Cristin.

Are certain breeds more likely to imprint than others?

Siamese, Ragdoll, Sphynx and Maine Coon cat breeds tend to be needier and are more likely to imprint on a person. Some cats can be too attached to you. Separation anxiety can be a real issue for cats (just like for dogs), especially for those adopted during the pandemic, who got used to having their humans around all the time and now have to adjust to them spending more time out of the house.

Do some cats show fake affection?

Cats don’t ‘fake affection’ to get more food or be let outside, but they do use their body language to communicate their needs to you. Every cat is different, though, and thus how they express affection or demonstrate their bond with their person is different, too. But the desire to imprint – to connect and trust – is hardwired into cats (and humans). It’s a survival instinct.

“This is something we usually see in stray or feral cats, who may have missed their socialisation period but still trust that one human who cares for them,” says Cristin. “For instance, a colony of feral cats will likely run from most humans but will be excited to see the person who feeds them and cares for them. In some cases, they may show affection, but often they will accept the food and go back to their daily routine.”

Does my cat know I love them?

While cats might not understand the concept of love, they do pick up on the affection you show them, your body language and the care you provide them. All that love helps your cat build a strong bond with you. Even the grumpiest cats can sense the love and affection a person shows them; they just don’t always return it in a way that’s super-obvious.

Explaining common cat imprinting behaviours

From kneading at your legs and sweatshirts to bringing you random objects, here’s why cats do some pretty quirky things.

Why is my cat always meowing or vocalising at me?

Your cat may be meowing or vocalising at you because they are trying to communicate something to you. It may be that they’re hungry, want attention or are upset – or they could just be saying hi. If you think your cat’s meowing is excessive, it’s worth making an appointment with your veterinarian to get them checked out.

Why does my cat knead at me?

Your cat kneading you is actually a sign of affection. It shows that they feel bonded to you and almost see you as a mother figure. They knead at you to seek comfort in your scent and presence. So, yes, you can take it as a compliment!

Why does my cat follow me everywhere?

When your cat shadows you from room to room, it can be super-cute (when not a major tripping hazard). Cats follow people around for a number of reasons: to get attention, because they love you, or they’re hungry or need something. Your cat knows you’re their main source of food and attention, so they’re bound to follow you around wherever you go. 

Why does my cat run to me when I come home?

Your cat runs to you when you come home because they know you are part of their world and they trust you. You’ve probably noticed that they do the opposite when a stranger comes over (they tend to keep their distance). Your cat may also run to you for a very simple reason: they’re hungry and want food.

Why does my cat rub on my legs?

Your cat could be rubbing on your legs for a number of reasons but the main one is they are showing you affection. A few other reasons include: they want your attention, they’re ‘marking’ you as their territory, they’re hungry or they want to play,

Why does my cat always want to play?

The likely reason your cat wants to play is because they’re bored. Just like kids, they need lots of stimulation – and exercise. Playing with them will improve their mental health by reducing anxiety and stress.

Why does my cat bring me objects?

Usually, a cat brings you objects when they are bored and want to play. They could also bring you a toy or object because they want a reward for their ‘prey’. Another possibility is they’re showing you their deep affection.

Why does my cat lick me?

Cats often use their sandpaper tongue to groom you, a form of affection. But when it’s not about love, cats lick people  to mark their territory, to get your attention, or because they’re feeling a little  stressed out.

Why does my cat slow blink at me?

It might feel creepy, but your cat slow blinks at you because they trust you. Slow blinking is a sign that they are comfortable and relaxed in your presence.

Why does my cat show me their belly?

If your cat shows you their belly, that means they feel comfortable around you. It means they trust you enough to expose their most vulnerable areas. That said, it doesn’t necessarily mean they want you to rub their belly.

Why does my cat bite me?

Sometimes cats will gently bite on your fingers and hands during a petting session. These light nibbles can be a sign of affection from mouthy kitties. But watch out for subtle warning signs for strong cat bites, such as tail swishing or staring, indicating a cat is feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Why does my cat sleep on me?

Cats will sleep on their humans as a sign of affection to show how much they want to be near you. Cats can feel comfort from the sounds of your breathing and heart beating and your body’s warmth. You may even notice them slow blinking to communicate just how comfortable they are.

Frequently asked questions

How do you tell if a cat imprinted on you?

You can tell your cat has imprinted on you when they communicate happy meows and purrs, follow you around, sleep and cuddle with you and show you their belly.

What does it mean when a cat has imprinted on you?

When a cat has imprinted on you, this means that they trust you and have a strong bond with you. They feel at ease with you because you make them feel safe, happy and well-cared for.

Do cats get attached to one human?

Cats form deep bonds with their humans and can get attached to one or more people depending on their history, personality and socialisation.

Does a cat trust you if they sleep next to you?

Yes, a cat trusts you if they sleep next to you. Sleeping, cuddling and following you around are signs that a cat has formed a bond with you.

Should you hug your cat?

Generally speaking, cats do not like to be hugged or constrained. But each cat has their own personality and preferences, so some cats may enjoy being cuddled while others may prefer to be left alone.

How attached do cats get to their people?

Studies show that cats can actually become as attached to their pet parents as dogs – they just express their affection differently.

Do cats show fake affection?

No, cats do not show fake affection or exaggerate their feelings but they do use their body language to communicate their needs to you.

References

Charles Manning

Charles Manning is an actor, writer, and fashion/media consultant living in New York City with his two cats, Pumpkin and Bear. Follow him on Instagram @charlesemanning.

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