For some reason, there’s this idea that dogs are warm and loving and cats are cold – but lots of cat owner know this simply isn’t true.
Cats are sweet animals who love to cuddle up with their owners – and research has proven that cats actually form emotional bonds with their owners as dogs do.
The new study has found that cats actually display the same main attachment styles as dogs and babies.
Most cats and kittens showed a ‘secure attachment’ with humans and were just as interested in their owners as their surroundings.
Only a minority of felines lived up to their reputations by avoiding their owners and showing signs of stress such as twitching their tails and licking their lips.
Study lead author Dr Kristyn Vitale, of Oregon State University in the United States, said: ‘Cats that are insecure can be likely to run and hide or seem to act aloof.
‘There’s long been a biased way of thinking that all cats behave this way.
‘But the majority of cats use their owner as a source of security. Your cat is depending on you to feel secure when they are stressed out.’
For the study, researchers had cats participate in a ‘secure base test’ – similar to those used to study baby and dog attachment behaviours.
The test is broken down into three two-minute phases. In the first, the cat is placed in a new room with their owner, followed by a stint alone, before being reunited.
After the caregiver returns from the two-minute absence, cats with secure attachment to the person are less stressed.
They continue to explore the room but still pay attention to the owner.
But cats with an insecure attachment show signs of stress and either stay away from their caregiver or cling to them ‘ambivalently’ by sitting motionlessly in their lap.
The US researchers tested both kittens and adult cats.
Behavioural experts watched recordings of the tests and classified the feline actions with similar criteria used to assess infants and dogs.
Of the 70 kittens tested, almost two-thirds were ‘securely attached’ with the remainder categorised as ‘insecurely attached.’
The researchers then enrolled the felines in a six-week ‘socialisation’ training course to see they could be taught attachment.
The proportion of securely and insecurely attached cats did not budge.
Dr Vitale said: ‘Once an attachment style has been established between the cat and its caregiver, it appears to remain relatively stable over time, even after a training and socialisation intervention.’
Cats, like most domesticated animals, retain several juvenile traits into maturity and remain dependent on humans for care, according to Dr Vitale.
The researchers tested 38 cats aged one year or older and found the results virtually mirrored the kittens’ behaviour.
Again, almost two-thirds were ‘securely attached’ to their owners and a third were insecure.
Dr Vitale added: ‘In both dogs and cats, attachment to humans may represent an adaptation of the offspring-caretaker bond
‘Attachment is a biologically relevant behaviour. Our study indicates that when cats live in a state of dependency with a human, that attachment behaviour is flexible and the majority of cats use humans as a source of comfort.’
Of course, with such a small group, further study is needed but it does tell us more about how some cats see their owners.
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