Cats Care..Really, They do!

Cats Care…Really, They Do!

We all know how loving cats are and we feel bonded to our cats every day. But, there are a lot of people out there who still think cats are aloof and really only need us as staff. It doesn’t help that cat behavior is always compared with dog behavior, which is very different and more open. Dogs are more easily trained and respond to the “alpha” dog or person in their life a specific way. Cats don’t go that route – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t responding to you! So, to help debunk this theory, it’s time to share some scientific data!

Scientists at the University of Oregon did a study to test whether or not cats bond with their people. Led by researcher Kristyn Vitale, of Oregon State’s Human-Animal Interaction Lab, this study wanted to see how cats in a new or strange environment bonded with people in two ways, with a “secure attachment” or an “insecure attachment.” They landed on these two specific types of attachments from dog studies that watched how dogs in a strange environment acted with their people. If they had a “secure attachment” to a human, the dogs relaxed and explored their surroundings. Dogs with an “insecure attachment” to a human kept on being stressed by either being clingy or avoiding the human.

Ms. Vitale’s research looked at those two types of attachments in cats, 79 kittens between three and eight months old and 38 adult cats. All the kittens were tested twice, once at the start of the study and again after 39 of them had six weeks of socialization. The adult cats were tested once.

In the study, each kitten or cat spent two minutes in a room with its owner. Then, the owners left the room for two minutes. Ms. Vitale and her team wanted to see exactly how each cat reacted when the owners came back in the room and sat on the floor with them. The whole study was filmed so the researchers could carefully analyze the cats’ behavior. We’d sure love to see that!

It will come as no surprise to any BCR fan that a majority of the kittens, 64.3 percent, showed themselves to have a “secure attachment” with their human. Because all cats are different, it also won’t surprise any BCR fan to know that the other third of the kittens didn’t react the same way – 35.7 percent showed an “insecure attachment.” Maybe the biggest takeaway from this study is that the six weeks of socialization of the 39 kittens really didn’t have an impact on their level of attachment to their humans. So, if you get a kitten early and socialize it right away, it will likely stay bonded to you.

If you’re wondering how the adult cats did, their percentages were almost the same as the kittens – 65.8 percent had a “secure attachment” and 34.2 percent had an “insecure attachment.” Those percentages are similar to those gathered in a bonding study done with children. The results also show that the cats’ “secure attachment” rate is actually a little HIGHER than a similar study done with dogs!

Another interesting aspect of this research is the question of what causes an animal to attach themselves to a human in the first place? Ms. Vitale and her team believe that it has a lot to do with human domestication of animals. Because humans provide a pet animal’s food and shelter, that animal won’t necessarily “grow up.”

Adult feral cats have to secure their own food wherever they can get it as well as a find safe and warm shelter – “adulting” for cats. Pet cats and dogs don’t have to do that and can see their human as a parent/provider and form a bond. We are truly their parents.

Cat lovers can rejoice that this study and others like it will help dispel that never-ending myth that cats only need us humans as staff!

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