With National Cat Day fast approaching, have you ever wondered if your cat loves you as much as you love her, or him? You will be astonished by what science says!
Stereotypes of cats as being aloof and independent creatures persist, but our feline friends can be just as loving and loyal as dogs. Many cat-lovers intuitively know this, but science has demonstrated that, like dogs, cats also form strong attachment bonds with their trusted humans.
Here’s what science says…
Dr. Kristyn Vitale and colleagues published a study in Current Biology that provided evidence that cats form interspecies attachment bonds, a trait previously attributed to only humans and dogs. These researchers adapted behavioural criteria that were originally developed to measure attachment in human infants, and later used for measuring attachment styles in primates and dogs.
Called a ‘Secure Base Test’ (SBT), the method involved observing the cat’s behaviour following a short period of separation from their human in an unfamiliar environment. Attachment styles are characterised by indicators of stress and avoidance behaviours:-
(images of cats taken from Vitale et al., Figure 1B)
Encouragingly, the secure attachment style was most prevalent (66% of cats), characterised as active, open, and positive greeting behaviour. These cats first seek out proximity to their human, but are comforted upon reunion and return to exploration or play. These observations are evidence that cats show a similar capacity for the formation of secure attachments towards humans as previously demonstrated in children (65%) and dogs (58%).
That cats form bonds with their humans in much the same way as dogs might not be a big surprise to many people who live with cats.
Cat-human relationship studies woefully lagging behind that of dogs
However, research into cat behaviour and cat-human relationships has a lot of catching up to do with many more studies on dog behaviour and dog-human relationships.
World-renowned cat behaviourist, Dr. Dennis Turner, recently reflected on the questions that remain unanswered. This is well worth a read for anyone interested in cats, but especially students considering making a career out of studying cats (rather than just studying with cats).
For example, Dr. Dennis Turner’s research group reported significant positive correlation between a caregiver’s readiness to interact and a cat’s willingness to comply with the partner’s wishes to interact. However, correlations do not indicate causality! Nonetheless, he explains this could easily be tested by experimentally instructing the owner not to comply, or to more frequently comply with the cat’s approaches and vocalizations. This is just one of several examples of many exciting questions waiting to be addressed by the next generation of researchers!
Here, we have SCAS Trustees, Dr. Sandra McCune with her cat Worzel (left) and Dr. Elizabeth Omerod’s beloved feline companion Rundi (right):-
SCAS Trustee Dr. Sandra McCune V.N., B.A.(Mod), Ph.D says ‘This Cat Day, let’s celebrate the wonderful bond that can exist between cats and the people they share their life with. Science shows what many of us experience each day, that the attachments between us are the basis of a strong, loving relationship.’
Do YOU agree that cats are sociable and loving companions?
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