I can’t assume that everyone has a special place in their hearts for our feline friends. Those of you who have or have had cats know that they clearly don’t act like little dogs and that there is sometimes a “love/hate” relationship that can be very confusing to the average human. Part of that may be because they, the cats, don’t always fit into what we would think is a normal social relationship with us, ie. One similar to the one we have with other people or our canine companions brought by through a mutually beneficial relationship around safety and security.
I thought the follow information might be helpful for you in gaining a greater understanding of what exactly might be going on in their little kitty heads. Please let me know if you found this interesting, if you agree or not with this research and if you would like to read more about the “real” story behind just what our feline friends are thinking.
There is some new research out that suggests that cats do not see their owners as a means of safety and security in the way that dogs do. The study which was done by the University of Lincoln in the UK shows that while dogs depend on their owners as an island of safety, cats are much different in that respect.
It is widely thought that cats get a bad rap with regards to their ability for a shared relationship with their owners. But research gives evidence that adult cats are very autonomous, even in their social interactions; and do not need their human counterpart to feel safe and protected.
The previously mentioned research was conducted by Professor Daniel Mills and assisted by Alice Potter. Professor Mills is a professor of Veterinary Behavioral Medicine at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences. Alice Potter studied as a postgraduate at the university and now works with the Companion Animals Science Group at the RSPCA.
According to Professor Mills, “The domestic cat has recently passed the dog as the most popular companion animal in Europe, with many seeing a cat as the ideal pet for owners who work long hours. Previous research has suggested that some cats show signs of separation anxiety when left alone by their owners, in the same way that dogs do, but the results of our study show that they are in fact much more independent than canine companions. It seems that what we interpret as separation anxiety might actually be signs of frustration.”
The researchers adapted the Ainsworth Strange Situation Test (SST) which is the standard for demonstrating that the connection and bond between young children or pet dogs with their human caregiver can be categorized as a ‘secure attachment’, where the caregiver is seen as the focus of safety and security in potentially threatening environments.
Also, the study did an observation of the relationships between a number of felines and their owners, putting them both in an unfamiliar setting, with a stranger and also on their own. In many of these scenarios, it concluded that there were three different characteristics of attachment; the amount of contact sought out by the pet; the level of passive behavior, and evidence of stress cause by the absence of the main caregiver.
“Although our cats were more vocal when the owner rather than the stranger left them with the other individual, we didn’t see any additional evidence to suggest that the bond between a cat and its owner is one of secure attachment. This vocalization might simply be a sign of frustration or learned response, since no other signs of attachment were reliably seen. In strange situations, attached individuals seek to stay close to their caregiver, show signs of distress when they are separated and demonstrate pleasure when their attachment figure returns, but these trends weren’t apparent during our research,” said Professor Mills.
“For pet dogs, their owners often represent a specific safe haven; however it is clear that domestic cats are much more autonomous when it comes to coping with unusual situations. Our findings don’t disagree with the notion that cats develop social preferences or close relationships, but they do show that these relationships do not appear to be typically based on a need for safety and security. As far as we could tell, the cats of owners who considered them to be highly attached did not differ from the others in this regard.”
So, the conclusion of the study demonstrates that while cats might prefer to interact with their owners, there is no evidence of reliance when they are in an unfamiliar environment. The researchers believe this is due to the nature of the species as a mostly independent and solitary hunter.
For those who wish to read the study in its entirety you can find it here: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0135109