While cats have earned a reputation for being standoffish and aloof, a new study shows that our feline friends are more attached to their owners than previously thought. According to researchers at the University of Oregon, cats can form bonds with their owners similar to those formed by dogs and even infants. The study found that when cats live with a caretaker, the majority of them turn to humans as a source of comfort.
Researchers recruited both kittens and adult cats, as well as their owners, to participate in an experiment that has been used to test bonds between dogs and primates with their caretakers. In the study, cat and kitten owners entered an unfamiliar room with their animals. The caretakers then spent two minutes in the room with their cat, then left the animal alone for two minutes, and then returned for an additional two minutes. The study found that about two-thirds of the cats and kittens greeted their owners when they returned, then resumed exploring the room, and periodically returned to their owners. Based on this behavior, researchers concluded that the cats and kittens were securely attached to their owners, and considered them a safe base in an unfamiliar situation. Perhaps surprising to some, the findings among cats are nearly identical to the findings in studies conducted on dogs and infants, showing that cats form bonds with humans nearly as frequently.
And this wasn’t the first study that suggests cats like us more than we think. A 2017 study also conducted by the University of Oregon found that a majority of cats preferred interacting with a person over eating or playing with a toy. Furthermore, additional research has shown that cats know their name, and are sensitive to human emotions and moods.
So, it logically follows that some of this research is also applicable to feral cats. While they may not form the same kind of attachment as housecats do, there is evidence to show that feral cats still do bond with their caregivers. While they generally can’t be touched or held, over time feral cats become to know and trust their caregivers and form bonds with them. Feral cats can respond to their names as well as greet their caregivers, and sometimes will even allow to be pet while they are eating.
So while there is still a lot to be discovered about cats, these studies confirm that they are complex and intelligent animals who are in fact capable of love, despite their sometimes indifferent demeanor.
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