Sometimes people assume that if you want a reciprocal, affectionate relationship with a furry friend, you should get a dog. If you're fine with being the only one dishing out the love, then a cat — known to be more socially reserved — might be a good choice.

But a new study suggests that plenty of feline friends form attachments to their people, bonds similar to ones babies and dogs have with the people who care for them.

"In both dogs and cats, attachment to humans may represent an adaptation of the offspring-caretaker bond," lead author Kristyn Vitale, a researcher in the Human-Animal Interaction Lab in Oregon State University, said in a statement.

"Attachment is a biologically relevant behavior. Our study indicates that when cats live in a state of dependency with a human, that attachment behavior is flexible and the majority of cats use humans as a source of comfort."

Testing bonds

cat displays secure attachment behavior with researcher Kristyn Vitale A cat displays secure attachment behavior with researcher Kristyn Vitale in the Human-Animal Interaction Lab at Oregon State University. (Photo: Oregon State University)

For the study, which was published in the journal Current Biology, researchers conducted a simple attachment test, similar to those given to dogs and infants. First, they had kittens hang out in an unfamiliar room with their owners for two minutes. Then the owners left for two minutes and returned to the room for two minutes.

The kittens responded by either greeting the person and then continuing to explore the room, staying away from the person, or clinging to them. Researchers said cats with secure attachments to their people were less stressed and spent their time divided between their surroundings and their humans. Those with insecure attachments showed more signs of stress by twitching their tails and either jumping in their person's lap and staying there or ignoring them completely.

Researchers performed the same tests on adult cats and then on the same kittens after a six-week socialization training course.

They found that about two-thirds of the cats and kittens showed a secure attachment or bond to their owners. Interestingly, this mirrors research that shows how attached dogs and babies are to their caregivers. So cats do bond to their people; they just don't go all bonkers wagging their tails or clinging to human ankles to show their affection.

"Cats that are insecure can be likely to run and hide or seem to act aloof," Vitale said. "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."

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.

Cats really are attached to their people
Many cats form bonds with their humans, just like babies do with their parents.