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They Love Me

As a “cat person,” you’ve probably heard the following at least once:

“I like dogs.  Dogs actually ENJOY interacting with humans.”

“Why do you have a pet who doesn’t love you?”

“Do you ever get jealous of people who have dogs?”

And depending on your mood that day/hour/moment, your response might range from rolling your eyes to a full dissertation on why your cats are nicer and more loving than any other cat on the planet, and you have anecdotal proof, which you will now recount in perfect detail.

But get this- it turns out cats actually are the sweetie-pie love-bugs we know they are!  Science says so!

Oregon State University researchers decided to conduct tests on cats’ socio-cognitive abilities, meaning, how cats bond. It’s a field that’s been largely unexplored, except by us cat people (raise your hand if you’ve ever had a foster!). It turns out, many cats are very bonded to their humans!

The (incredibly lucky) researchers at OSU recruited seventy kittens, age three- to eight- months and their owners for their experiment. Each kitten and owner spent two minutes in a room together. After two minutes, the owner left, and of course, returned to their kitty. The researchers compared how each kitten acted when they returned to sort each one into various attachment styles.

For those who aren’t familiar with attachment styles, Attachment Theory states that there is a matrix of styles, including Secure, Anxious, Avoidant, and Fearful. This matrix is used in various forms for humans, dogs, primates… basically any living being that can have a measurable reaction. For those of you at home thinking, “My cat is all four of those at any given moment,” please be assured- these were trained professionals who established criteria beforehand. A cat who is “securely attached” feels confident in his whereabouts, and spends equal time interacting with what’s around them as they do with their human. An “insecurely attached” kitty will show the other emotions- he’ll run away and hide from his owner, he’ll climb in their laps and refuse to leave, or some combination of both.  

In the study, 64.3% of the kittens demonstrated they were securely attached, while 37.5% of the kittens were insecurely attached. These are about the same percentages researchers have found in dogs (ahem), and HUMAN CHILDREN. That’s right- your cat loves you about as much as your child does.

The study goes further to determine if this attachment style changes. The kittens were sent to school with their owners, and upon their return, had pretty much the same reactions as before. In fact, the study went all out and did the same experiment with 38 adult cats. Same results. This is excellent news for all of us who adopted adult cats!

According to lead author and researcher Kristyn Vitale, of OSU’s Human-Animal Interaction Lab, these stats suggest that cats find comfort in the presence of their human beings. That’s right- they actually WANT to hang out with us! This study was published in Current Biology, on September 23, if you need a copy to show to those hecklers. It turns out that cats are just as attached to their caregivers as dogs and humans, which means we aren’t just imagining things: our sweetie pie love bugs DO care about us! (They just don’t get enough credit.)

- UCC Volunteer Cindi Ashbeck


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