Do cats know people aren't cats?
Yes, they definitely do. The best way to describe how cats see us boils down to cats viewing us as a mixture of a mother/provider and a dim-witted kitten. I know that seems contradictory, but it really is a combination of the two, and it also depends on whether the cat is part of your family or not.
Feral cats recognize our ability to provide food and assistance (as evidenced from cases where a feral cat might bring kittens to a home for help with food and shelter, for one example), but they mostly fear humans because they rightly recognize us as larger predators.
Cats that become part of a family unit still recognize humans as being larger predators; however, they recognize the role you have taken on as their surrogate mother, and they act accordingly, by:
- purring and kneading their claws when we pet them- remnant behavior that kittens and mother cats do during nursing times
- meowing to us- kittens mew to their mothers, but otherwise, cats do not vocalize to each other in the same way
They are smart and recognize the power we have to control our surroundings and give them things that they want. But at the same time, they are somewhat confused by our inability to hunt and capture the easy prey they see all around them. So, they respond in the only way they know: they try to help their inexperienced clowder member by teaching them to hunt in the same way they would teach a kitten. That is, first bringing dead kills back to us, and then bringing wounded/live prey to us to try to teach us how to do it for ourselves. Even if your cat brings you small toys or trinkets rather than bugs or rodents, it is the same motivation behind the behavior.
I understand why it might be baffling to them- we seem to have the ability to do so much, but still don't seem to be able to do what they see as mastery of the adult stage: hunting.
It is because we present this confusing contradiction that cats treat us with a somewhat contradictory nature. It is also because of this that cats can rest easy in the thought that they are still the superior being.