Cats and humans have shared homes for thousands of years, but do cats actually think we’re cute? Or are they repulsed by our strange faces and bodies? This is a question that many cat owners have asked themselves.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: research suggests that while cats can recognize human faces, they likely don’t have an aesthetic sense of what’s cute or ugly. Their vision and brain structure make them view us more as large, warm food dispensaries than as creatures to admire or judge on looks.

In this nearly 3000 word guide, we’ll dive into the science and psychology behind how cats see humans. You’ll learn about feline vision, how cats recognize their owners, and what facial features cats pay attention to.

We’ll also explore if it’s possible for cats to find humans cute or ugly and look at how their preferences compare to other animals like dogs.

How Cats See Humans and the World Around Them

Cats have different visual abilities than humans

Cats have very different visual systems and perceptual abilities than humans do. Their eyes have more rods than cones, meaning they see better in dim light than humans, but don’t see color as vividly. The structure of their eyes also gives them a wider field of view – about 200 degrees compared to humans’ 180 degree field.

Additionally, cats have a third eyelid called a nictitating membrane that sweeps horizontally across their eyes to protect them. So when you see your cat’s eyes do that funny sweep, they’re just activating this extra layer of protection.

Cats recognize human faces but process them differently

Studies show that cats can recognize human faces, and even show preference for their owners’ faces over strangers in images. However, they likely use different visual cues than humans to tell people apart.

While humans focus a lot on the distinct shapes of faces, cats may rely more on scent and voices to identify their owners. They also recognize individuals based on more subtle face cues than humans detect. So your cat knows who you are, but in their own unique feline way.

Cats view us as food sources and warmth/comfort providers

Evolutionarily, domestic cats are still relatively unchanged from solitary hunters. So initially, cats likely saw humans only as convenient food dispensers and sources of warmth and shelter.

However, after thousands of years of co-evolution with humans, house cats now seem to form social attachment bonds with their human families. Studies show cats understand human emotions and communicate back using vocalizations and body language.

So while they may have first approached humans out of pure self-interest, our relationships with cats today appear to have depth beyond the practical.

Do Cats Have an Aesthetic Sense of ‘Cute’ vs ‘Ugly’?

There’s no evidence cats judge cuteness like humans do

Studies show that cats do not possess the same neural mechanisms that allow humans to perceive cuteness and ugliness in the same way. The region of the brain that identifies baby schema cues like large eyes, round face, and small nose is underdeveloped in cats compared to humans.

While cats recognize us as a different species, they likely do not apply the same aesthetic judgments we do. We may find kittens irresistibly cute, but there’s no evidence adult cats have a concept of “cuteness” or attractiveness when looking at humans the way we do with kittens.

But cats do show preferences for certain human traits

However, cats aren’t totally indifferent. Studies have found that cats prefer attentiveness, gentleness and playfulness in humans over those that ignore, startle or handle them roughly. Traits like calmness and affection tend to attract cats more.

Human Traits Cats Like Human Traits Cats Dislike
Gentle Rough
Calm Erratic
Quiet Loud

So while an aesthetic sense of “beauty” is lacking, pleasant, cat-friendly human traits do matter in earning cats’ affection and trust.

Cats likely don’t think about human looks much at all

Evidence suggests cats don’t dwell on human appearance much, if at all. As solitary hunters not evolved to social cooperation like dogs, cat cognition is dominated by objects, food and physical environments, not complex social judgments.

Rather than musing philosophically about human looks, most cats concern themselves with much more pressing matters – that food bowl that’s slightly less full than preferred, the rival neighborhood cat encroaching on their yard, or staring out the window for hours in quiet contemplation of imaginary prey.

How Do Dogs View Human Attractiveness Compared to Cats?

Dogs prefer happy human faces

Studies show that dogs, like humans, have a preference for faces that look happy. When shown pictures of smiling humans versus angry-looking humans, dogs will gaze longer at the smiling faces. This indicates that dogs, with their exceptional ability to read human social cues, prefer interacting with humans that look happy and friendly.

Researchers have discovered that the longer a dog stares at a human face, the more rewarding it finds that interaction. So dogs clearly feel more rewarded when looking at smiling human faces. This shows that dogs have a positive association with happy human expressions.

Their view of cuteness may be linked to evolution

Experts believe dogs’ preference for happy human faces may originate from early domestication. When interacting with humans that looked happy and friendly, dogs likely received more food rewards and affection. So evolutionarily, dogs learned to favor happy faces.

Dogs also seem to judge human “cuteness” based on facial features like big eyes, round chins, and flat faces. This is likely because these traits resemble young puppies, which elicit caregiving from adult dogs.

So when dogs find certain human faces cute, it may activate their innate caregiving instincts.

But dogs don’t aesthetically judge humans’ looks either

However, there is no evidence that dogs make aesthetic judgments of human attractiveness or “beauty” the way humans do. Dogs do not seem to prefer faces just because they find them visually pleasing or attractive.

Rather, dogs view human faces in terms of the emotions and personalities they convey. Smiling faces represent happiness, friendliness and potential rewards for dogs. And “cute” faces activate dogs’ puppy-caregiving instincts.

But dogs do not ponder human looks the way humans obsess over attractiveness.

So while dogs may find some human faces more rewarding than others, they do not judge human beauty or aesthetics. Their perception of human faces revolves around the emotional value and meaning conveyed, not abstract ideals of human attractiveness.

Other Factors That Influence How Cats See Humans

Cats recognize individuals through voice, scent & routine

Cats can recognize their owners and other familiar people by voice, scent, and daily routine. A 2021 study found cats respond more positively when hearing their owner’s voice vs a stranger’s. Cats also have an excellent sense of smell and use scent to identify people and places.

In addition, cats understand their owner’s daily habits. So they associate certain times of day with certain activities like getting fed.

By recognizing individuals in these ways, cats see their owners and family members as reliable sources of affection and care rather than strangers. Familiar people become part of a cat’s territory and social group. In contrast, unfamiliar people may seem unpredictable or even alarming by comparison.

Kittens have a socialization period for getting used to humans

Kittens go through a prime socialization period between 2 and 7 weeks old. During this time window, they are especially sensitive to new sights, sounds, smells, and experiences with people. Positive interactions with humans at this age help kittens become comfortable around people long-term.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), without early positive exposures, kittens can develop a lasting fear of humans and become undersocialized. So by making themselves available to kittens, human caregivers play a major role in how these kittens come to perceive people.

Cats like warmth & associate it with care from humans

Cats love warm environments and will often sleep near heat sources. However, they also enjoy the warmth from their human caregivers’ bodies. By snuggling up with their owners, especially at night, cats come to associate this warmth and closeness with affection and security.

An owner’s consistent care day after day also builds cats’ trust. Performing small acts like welcoming a cat onto your lap, keeping food and water bowls full, cleaning litter boxes regularly, and maintaining daily playtime and cuddles plays a big role.

Over time, cats see their owners more as comforting and reliable than unfamiliar or threatening.

The Takeaway: Cats View Us More Like Giant Cats Than Beautiful Beings

When it comes to understanding how our feline friends see us, it can be puzzling to determine if cats think we’re aesthetically pleasing or just giant clumsy cats. After all, their gaze often seems inscrutable as they quietly observe our actions.

However, research suggests that cats view us more as fellow furry beasts than beautiful beings.

Cats Use Scent, Not Sight, to Identify Us

While humans rely primarily on visual cues, cats depend more on their keen sense of smell. A cat’s scent gives it essential information, like a person’s identity, emotional state, and even health status. So when your cat rubs its face on you, it’s gathering your scent and adding it to its mental map.

This is how cats recognize their human companions.

Cats also have a vomeronasal organ that detects pheromones – chemical signals that provide a wealth of social information. So while we might judge someone’s appearance, cats are more interested in deciphering scent signals. In other words, cats view us by our smell, not our looks.

Our Faces Don’t Captivate Cats Like Babies’ Faces Enchant Us

Studies show that human infants are mesmerized by the sight of a human face. We even have a specialized area of our brains devoted to facial recognition. But cats do not share our fascination with human faces, likely because they communicate more by body language and scent.

Researchers found that images of human faces don’t capture cats’ interest compared to images of fish and birds. So while your cute cat photos bring you joy, your cat is probably more captivated by that feather toy or treat in your hand.

Cats Interpret Some of Our Facial Expressions

While not enthralled by our faces, cats can discern some human facial expressions. Studies show cats understand a smiling human face versus an angry face. This ability likely helps them read our moods and anticipate how to respond.

Cats also exhibit a range of facial movements – like squinting, blinking, and twitching their ears. So they understand some aspects of facial communication. Still, smell and body language provide more vital information to cats than our facial expressions.

We are Clumsy, Hairless Cats in Their Eyes

Ultimately, cats seem to view us more as fellow felines than beautiful, superior beings. We likely appear as large, clumsy cats walking upright on two legs in their eyes.

Just as cats greet each other by rubbing and touching noses, they headbutt and nuzzle their human companions. They perceive us as social partners for grooming, snuggling, and even play hunting. But they aren’t awestruck by our looks the way we gaze lovingly at their adorable furry faces.

So while you may wonder if your cat thinks you’re as cute as you find them, the truth is cats judge others by very different standards. They are far more interested in your scent, voice, touch, and behaviors.

So focus more on developing a strong social bond through affectionate interactions and leave the selfies for your human friends!


While cats don’t see us as aesthetically beautiful or ugly, they form deep social bonds with their human families. Through scent, voice, routine and at a young age, cats recognize who their special humans are. They feel safe and cared for by us.

And while they may not ogle our faces, they appreciate the food, warmth and love we provide.

So rest assured that even if your cat doesn’t think you’re cute, they most certainly think you’re important. Their loyalty and affection proves they see us as far more than just walking snack dispensers. We’re family.

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