We’ve got some good news and some bad news for you, cat owners.
Unfortunately, your feline friend doesn’t need you as much as you think she does, but on the bright side, that means your cat sticks around because she wants to. (Or it could be because you never leave the door open — but she probably really does love you.)
New research by animal behaviorists at England’s University of Lincoln finds that, unlike dogs, cats don’t need their humans to feel safe and secure.
“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,” Daniel Mills, a professor of veterinary behavioral medicine, said in a news release.
To determine whether cats needed their owners to feel safe, researchers adapted the Ainsworth Strange Situation Test, which has been widely used to measure the bond between children and pet dogs to their primary caregiver.
They placed 20 cats in an unfamiliar room with their owners, with a stranger and by themselves, and researchers observed the felines’ behavior in all scenarios.
“In strange situations, attached individuals seek to stay close to their carer, show signs of distress when they are separated and demonstrate pleasure when their attachment figure returns,” said Mills. However, he didn’t see this type of distress in the 20 cats.
“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,” he said.
The study’s authors say this doesn’t mean that cats don’t develop close relationships with their owners. It simply means the bonds that form aren’t based on a need for security.
This is likely because cats are independent, autonomous hunters and aren’t as domesticated as dogs. While we bred dogs to fit our needs, cats essentially moved in with us because the perks were good, and scientists have concluded that even after 9,000 years of living alongside us, house cats remain only “semi-domesticated.”
Also, cats’ social structure is very different from that of dogs.
“Cats are not pack animals. They don’t depend on other cats,” Celia Haddon, author of “Cats Behaving Badly and How to Read Your Cat’s Mind,” told The Telegraph. “So they are not going to depend on their owners. But it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to be around their owners. This shows that they really do.”
Alice Potter, another of the study’s authors, says the research can help cat owners better understand their pets.
"It suggests that if a cat is scared or has been involved in an incident, it's not going to want a cuddle. It's going to want to go and hide, so owners need to provide a place for that to happen," she said.
Last year, a survey by Cats Protection found that more than half of cat owners said they’d calm their kitties by cuddling them — the opposite of what their frazzled felines would want.
"Being held or stroked for too long can be very stressful for some cats," Nicky Trevorrow, Cats Protection’s behavior manager, said. "Space and peace is often what they need. They're not small furry humans, so what would comfort us won't necessarily comfort them."