With less opportunity to go out and about in our downtime at home, I have found myself reading more articles on our pet’s behaviour. I was interested to read an article in the New York Times.

Dogs are described as man’s best friend. They’re sociable, faithful and obedient. Our relationship with cats, on the other hand, is often described as more transactional. Aloof, mysterious and independent, cats are with us only because we feed them. But is this honestly true? Most cat owners I know would disagree.

Research into cat behaviour has lagged that compared with dogs. Cats are not social animals, many scientists assumed — and not as easy to work with. But recent studies have begun to plumb the depth of cats’ social lives. 

In a study in 2017, Dr. Vitale and her colleagues found that the majority of cats prefer interacting with a person over eating or playing with a toy. In a 2019 study, the researchers found that cats adjust their behaviour according to how much attention a person gives them.

Other researchers have found that cats are sensitive to human emotion and mood, and that cats know their names. 

Scientists had arrived at conflicting findings about whether cats form attachments to their owners, however, so Dr. Vitale and her colleagues designed a study to more explicitly test the hypothesis.

They recruited owners of 79 kittens and 38 adult cats to participate in a “secure base test,” an experiment commonly used to measure bonds that dogs and primates form with caretakers. 

A similar test is also used for human infants. It is based on the theory that infants form an innate bond with caretakers that manifests as a strong desire to be near that person.

In the experiment, which lasted six minutes, cat and kitten owners entered an unfamiliar room with their animals. After two minutes, the owner left the room, leaving the cat or kitten alone — a potentially stressful experience for the animal. When the owner returned two minutes later, the researchers observed the feline’s response.

About two-thirds of cats and kittens came to greet their owners when they returned, and then went back to exploring the room, periodically returning to their owners. These animals, the researchers concluded, were securely attached to their owners, meaning they viewed them as a safe base in an unfamiliar situation.

“This may be an adaptation of the bond they would have with their parents when they were young,” Dr. Vitale said. This behaviour, she added, may mean: “Everything’s O.K. My owner’s back, I feel comforted and reassured, and now I can go back to exploring.” 

About 35 percent of cats and kittens displayed insecure attachment: They avoided their owners, or clung to them when they came back into the room. This does not mean that these pets have a bad relationship with their owners, Dr. Vitale said, but rather that they do not see their owners as a source of security and stress relief.

The findings mirror those found in studies of dogs and human children. In humans, 65 percent of infants display secure attachment to their caretakers, as do 58 percent of dogs.

“This result suggests a similarity in sociality in humans and companion animals,” said Atsuko Saito, a behavioural scientist at Sophia University in Tokyo, who was not involved in the new research. “Investigating this phenomenon will help us better understand the evolution of sociality in animals, including us.”

If you want to read the full article, I have attached the link below.

Article by Rachel Phillips MRCVS