Cats May Love Their Pet Parents More Than We Thought

If you thought that only people were capable of feeling love, it’s time to rethink your opinions. Your cat isn’t sliding up to you and nuzzling at your leg simply because they want food. Animals are ruled by more than just their natural instincts. So pet owners have been saying for years, and now so say the scientists. In a recent study conducted at Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences, researchers probed the depths of feline affection. If their conclusions are right, it’s a well that runs very deep indeed. If you’re tired of the naysayers telling you that your cat only shows you affection as a means to get what they want, now you have exactly the evidence you need to prove them wrong.

Are Cat’s Capable of Genuine Affection?

Love… it’s a human emotion, right? That warm, fuzzy feeling in your belly, that sense of undying attachment, that unfailing loyalty… it’s just a people thing, surely? Nope. All these years we’ve been thinking our cats only cuddle up to us as a way of getting us to give them food, shelter, and water, we’ve been wrong. Cats are capable of showing affection for many, many reasons, surprisingly few of which are based on a desire to protect and serve their best interests. The idea that dog is man’s best friend and man is cat’s best servant took a bashing recently when a team of researchers at Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences published a report in the scientific journal, Current Biology, that suggests that cats form an attachment to their human caregivers that’s remarkably similar to the one forged by children and dogs.

According to oregonstate.edu, the study is the first of its kind to conclusively demonstrate that cats display the same main attachment styles as babies and dogs. “In both dogs and cats, attachment represents an adaptation of the child-caretaker bond,” the study’s chief author, Kristyn Vitale, claims. “Attachment is a biological behavior. Our study suggests that when cats live in a state of dependency with a human, the majority of cats use humans for comfort.”

The Study

As part of their research, the OSU researchers selected a group of willing feline participants to work with. The test group consisted of both adult cats and kittens. They began by conducting a “secure base test” to study the cats’ attachment behaviors. The test ran along the same lines as those that have been conducted on young children and dogs to determine the equivalent. During the test, the cats were treated to 2 minutes in an unfamiliar room with their owner. After that, they were left for 2 minutes alone, before spending 2 minutes being reunited with their owner. Their behaviors and responses were noted at all times by the researchers.

The Results

During the test, researchers noted several points of interest. Firstly, the cats with a secure attachment to their human caregiver displayed minimal signs of distress during each part of the test. They continued to explore the room when they were reunited with their owner and seemed outwardly calm and relaxed at all times. As a rule, they divided their attention equally between exploring their new surroundings and spending time with their owner. The cats which did not have a secure attachment to their owner, on the other hand, displayed multiple signs of stress. On being reunited with their caregiver, they either stayed away from them completely or clung to them by jumping in their laps and refusing point blank to move. They also tended to display other signs of stress such as licking their lips or twitching their tails. Using the same methodology that’s previously been used on infants and dogs, the researchers concluded that 64.3% of the feline participants fell into the category of ‘securely attached.’ 35.7% were categorized as insecurely attached.

According to Vitale, it was a surprise to see just how closely the percentages matched the human infant population. In similar studies conducted on humans, 65% of infants exhibit signs of being securely attached to their caregiver – almost the exact same proportion as cats. Speaking via MSN, Vitale notes that cats that are insecure tend to run away and hide or act aloof. But as the study shows, most cats use their caregiver as a source of comfort. Whenever they feel uncomfortable or stressed, they look to their human caregiver as a source of support and comfort. Keen to discover whether socialization training would have any effect on the numbers, the researchers spent the next 6 weeks training and socializing the cats. At the end of it, no significant difference in percentages was observed, suggesting that, as southernliving.com notes, once cats bond with their caregiver, the attachment is just as long-lasting as the bonds formed between humans and infants. Once a bond has been formed between the cat and its caregiver, it seems to remain relatively stable over time, despite the intervention of training and socialization, Vitale confirms.

What It All Means

For dedicated cat owners, the study’s conclusions are nothing new. They’ve been trying to convince the rest of the world for years that their pets really do love them, and now it looks like they have the proof. Far from being the aloof, independent creatures that they’ve often portrayed to be, cats really do bond with their human caregivers. And far from being a poor substitute for the kind of bond dogs are capable of forming with us, it’s as strong and dedicated as the bond that babies form with their parents.

So, next time your cat rubs up against your leg or wakes you up in the middle of the night by breathing meaty sweet nothings into your ear, relax. They’re not doing it because they see you as a convenient can opener and nothing else. They’re doing it because they love you. It might be an odd kind of love that involves scratching your furniture to bits, rabbit punching your arm, and leaving half eaten presents on your doorstep, but it’s love, none the less. When cats fall for you, they stay fallen, whether you do exactly as they ask or not. In the long running battle of cats versus dogs, dogs just got dealt a mighty blow.

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