Do Cats Know When They’ve Done Something Wrong?

Often described to be aloof in all situations, is this because cats don’t care, or do they just not understand that what they’re doing is not okay? 

Initially, your cat will not understand that they have done something wrong the first time it happens. But with firm, repeated discipline training, your cat can learn and will show signs – such as running away to hide – when they know they’ve done something wrong.

Do Cats Know When They’ve Done Something Bad?

While it’s easy to fall into that old frustrating trap of believing your cat has some kind of vendetta against you, the truth is, your feline companion may not actually understand that what they have done is wrong. Much like teaching and nurturing a human baby that pulling on someone’s hair is wrong, your cat is the same and needs to be taught.

When it comes to our cats knowing something is wrong, we have to examine whether the behavior in question has happened as a one-off incident or if instead, it is a repeated pattern of behavior. For your cute little kitty may have just attempted something for the first time and so needs to be taught not to repeat such actions. And so in this instance, they do not understand they have done something wrong.

However, with good discipline training, a cat should be able to learn if a particular behavior is wrong and therefore, would be fully knowledgable of that when committing the egregious offense of stealing food from the human’s plate for the hundredth time.

One-off Incidents.

Accidents can happen and especially when your cat is in the early developmental stages of kittenhood, are almost certain to. This is because your kitten has not yet learned through experiences and positive re-enforcement what is considered right and wrong behavior.  

Cats, like any living being, are not born with an innate sense of right and wrong. Because of their simple way of viewing the world, attempting to discipline your cat after the incident has happened will not help them understand what action was wrong either. To this end, unless you can stop the behavior consistently as it is happening, your cat will not understand that what they are doing is unacceptable.

Repeated Behaviors.

Alternatively to this, an older cat who has been trained to know they shouldn’t do something; take, for example, jumping onto kitchen counters, will have been taught this behavior is unacceptable and wrong.

A prime example of your cat potentially understanding this fact is how they may quickly dash out of a room to hide if they so much as hear you coming. In these times, you won’t even have had to say anything for your feline friend to act this way and it would seem to suggest at least a basic understanding that they shouldn’t be doing what they are attempting.

Final Thoughts.

Cats are notorious for their indifferent attitude to life, which makes it hard as a cat owner to know if they really do understand the concept of right and wrong. But as long as you work persistently towards the right kind of training, you will be able to give your cat that knowledge, the same as you would with any other infant.

With that being said, with older cats, it is usually made much easier to tell if they know when they are doing, or have done something wrong as you will often find them rushing away from the scene of the crime to hide away until the dust has settled and the heat has died down. For if your turbulent Tom-cat felt they’ve not done anything wrong, why would they be rushing away?