Cats Get Attached to Their Owners in the Same Way Dogs and Children Do: 'Your Cat Is Depending on You to Feel Secure'

In a study questioning the stereotype that cats are grumpy and don't care about their owners, scientists have found felines appear to form bonds with humans, and feel secure in their presence in the same way dogs and children do.

To explore this little-researched relationship, researchers from the Human-Animal Interaction Lab at Oregon State University invited cat owners and their pets for a series of tests. A total of 70 kittens, who were around 20 weeks old, took part in the study, as well as 38 adult cats aged between one to 13.5-years-old. Some completed the experiments, while others acted as the control.

The cats spent two minutes in a new room with their owner, followed by two minutes alone. They were then reunited for another couple of minutes. Based on the animals' responses, researchers categorized them as securely or insecurely attached.

They observed how the cats behaved in a range of situations. They looked at whether the cats meowed when they were split from their owners and left in the new—and therefore potentially frightening—environment; if they initiated contact with their owner and visa versa; and how they acted when they were separated and reunited.

Around 65 percent of cats and kittens behaved in a way which suggested they were securely bonded to their owners, while 35 percent were insecurely attached. According to existing research cited by the authors, that is the equivalent to human infants, and higher than dogs, where 58 percent form secure attachments and 42 percent insecure.

The authors argue the study, published in the journal Current Biology, provides evidence that cats are able to make attachments across species, like dogs—meaning they are what are known as social generalists.

Study co-author Kristyn Vitale told Newsweek that while a number of studies have looked at the attachment between dogs and humans, relatively little is known about the relationship between cats and their owners.

"It was surprising to find how closely the proportion of secure and insecure attachments in the cat population matched the human infant population," she said.

Aside from potentially providing a boost to owners who aren't sure if their feline companions are even aware of their existence, the study could help increase adoptions from shelters, according to Vitale.

"The formation of strong bonds to caretakers can have a positive impact on cat behavior and welfare," she said. "The more we know about the cat-human bond the more interventions we can propose to increase the number of cats adopted from shelters and deal with cat behavioral issues in the home."

As for the take-home message for owners, Vitale added: "Cats look to their owners as a source of safety and security. Owners should remember that how they react in a stressful situation can have a direct impact on their cat's behavior and try to be comforting and reassuring in times of stress."

Mikel Delgado, postdoctoral researcher of cat behavior at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, who did not work on the paper told Newsweek the study was limited because the results may be "greatly influenced by the personality of the kitten or cat and how comfortable they are in a strange environment."

Asked whether the study shows that cats are capable of having feelings towards their owners, she argued: "Cats are not dogs or humans, so we shouldn't necessarily expect them to act like dogs or humans.

"But yes, cats definitely can show love, affection, and attachment to humans. Because cats prefer to be in a familiar territory, how your cat behaves toward you at home is probably the best demonstration of how they feel for you!"

The researchers are the latest to investigate the relationship between domesticated animals and humans. Earlier this month, a study published in the journal JNeurosci suggested humans have changed the shape of dogs' brains by breeding them for specific traits over time.

And a separate paper published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings in August found dog owners are more likely to have better heart health.

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Researchers believe cats form bonds with their owners. A stock image shows a cat owner petting their fury friend. Getty
Cats Get Attached to Their Owners in the Same Way Dogs and Children Do: 'Your Cat Is Depending on You to Feel Secure' | Tech & Science