Pluto may look to you for safety and affection, but Garfield doesn’t necessarily share the sentiment. A new study has found that your cat doesn’t need you to take care of it.
It turns out that the old stereotype of dogs always being there for their owner and cat’s being independent pets is actually kind of true. Our feline friends don’t feel like they depend on us for food or safety, and exhibit no traces of separation anxiety when their owners leave the house.
However, they still bond with us on some level. Daniel Mills, professor of veterinary behavioral medicine from the University of Lincoln (England) gave a statement to Live Science saying that “This is not about whether cats love their owners”, just that they don’t see them as a source for safety and security.
He went on to add that “The domestic cat has recently passed the dog as the most popular companion animal in Europe, with many seeing a cat as an ideal pet for owners who work long hours”.
Professor Mills decided to conduct the study because previous research had concluded that some cats feel the same kind of separation anxiety that dogs do when their owners are not around. However, the results of the new study have proven that that’s not the case and that they are far more independent than dogs.
A new working theory is that “what we interpret as separation anxiety might actually be signs of frustration”.
To reach these conclusions, Professor Mills and his team looked at 20 different cats and studied their reactions when placed in a new environment. Some of the cats were moved along with their owners, others were paired with a stranger, and others were left all on their own in the new environment.
The research team monitored how much contact the cats sought from their human, the cat’s level of passive behavior, and searched for any signs of distressed triggered by the absence of their real owner.
The results showed that the subjects were more vocal when left alone or with other people by their real owner, as opposed to the stranger they were temporarily paired with, however the researchers couldn’t see any other evidence that suggested that the bonds cats form with their owners are of secure attachment.
Professor Mills proposed that the cats’ vocalization may simply indicate frustration or point at a learned response, as the animals showed no other signs that the cats were attached to their owners.
He explained that attached individuals want to stay close to the person taking care of them. They exhibit signs of distress when separated from their owners and signs of happiness when their owners come back home. But the research team from the new study did not stumble upon these trends.
Dogs typically see their owners as safe havens, whereas cats are far more autonomous and don’t need their owners the same way dogs do.
Celia Haddon, cat expert and author of How To Read Your Cat’s Mind and Cats Behaving Badly, gave a statement of her own saying that this does not prove that cats don’t love their owners, just that their impulse is to look after themselves (hide under the bed, climb a tree) rather than come to their owner when they’re scared.
The upside of this is that cats will not continue to stay in house where they don’t feel happy, so if they decide to stick around, you’ll know that they care about you.
The findings were published recently, in the journal PLOS One.
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