Thanks to a new study, domestic cats bond with their humans much like how dogs and children do.
To test the bonding behavior of humans – scientists observe how an infant responds to the return of their caregiver after a brief absence while in a new environment. Secure infants return to relaxed exploration while insecure infants tend to cling to their caregivers or avoid them altogether.
The “secure base test” has been used to study attachment bonding behaviors of both dogs as well as primates.
For this test, researchers wanted to know if cats also exhibit similar responses. To do this, researchers observed 70 cats who entered into a new room and spent two minutes with their caregiver.
Then, they spent two minutes alone, followed by a two-minute reunion with their human. A lot like humans as well as dogs, cats with secure attachment styles were less stressed and would explore the room in a healthy way when their owner returned.
“In both dogs and cats, attachment to humans may represent an adaptation of the offspring-caretaker bond,” according to study author Kristyn Vitale from Oregon State University in a statement.
She reveals that about 65 percent of cats exhibited secure attachment styles, the very same percentage as human infants.
“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.”
Insecure cats on the other hand showed signs of stress by twitching their tails, licking their lips, running, hiding, acting aloof, or sitting in their owners’ lap without moving.
“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,” Vitale shares.
The researchers wanted to see if these attachment bonds could be broken so over the course of six weeks, they conducted socialization training with cats as well as their owners only to discover that there were no noticeable changes. And once an attachment style had been established, it remained stable over time into adulthood.
Vitale shares that her team hopes to next explore what this means for cats and kittens living in shelters and whether socialization as well as fostering opportunities may impact their styles of attachment.