Kitty hug video explained

June 3, 2011 at 8:27 PM ET

Were you among the tens of millions of viewers cooing at the napping kitties in the "Cat Mom Hugs Baby Kitten" YouTube that went viral last week?

Afterwards, was your head abuzz with questions like: Is the kitten having a nightmare? How does the mom know? Are they really hugging?

National Geographic interviewed Nicholas Dodman, professional YouTube cat video analyst and director of the animal behavior clinic at the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, to find out what the fuzzy felines were really up to: 

Here are the highlights of their Q & A:

  • Yes, you can call it a hug. Dodman says: "They’re mutually bonded and I think they enjoy the presence of each other. Human analogies are not entirely inaccurate."
  • Is the kitten having a nightmare? "Well, the kitten’s clearly dreaming. It may not be a nightmare, it may be running after a mouse; we’ll never know," Dodman says. Our brains are ablaze with activity during the REM section of our sleep cycle, and activity has been picked up in dogs and cats too.
  • What's mommy up to? Cuddling her baby just like a human mum would, Dodman says: "Like humans, they sort of fall in love with their babies — the hormone involved is oxytocin, it's involved in all sorts of bonding, even between humans and their pets — so she's cuddling up and keeping her baby close." 
  • How old is this "kitten"? Just past the "milk-sucking maggot" stage. Between two and three weeks is Dodman's guess.

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