The findings reported in the journal Current Biology on September 23 show that, much like children and dogs, pet cats can form secure bonds with their owners.
One revealing way to study human attachment behaviour is to observe an infant’s response to a reunion with their caregiver following a brief absence in a novel environment. When a caregiver returns, secure infants quickly return to relaxed exploration while insecure individuals engage in excessive clinging or avoidance behaviour.
Similar tests had been run before with primates and dogs, so Kristyn Vitale of Oregon State University and her colleagues decided to run the same test, only this time with cats.
During the test, an adult cat or kitten spent two minutes in a novel room with their caregiver followed by two minutes alone. Then, they had a two-minute reunion. The cats’ responses to seeing their owners again were classified into attachment styles.
The results show that cats bond in a way that’s surprisingly similar to infants. In humans, 65% of infants are securely attached to their caregiver.
“Domestic cats mirrored this very closely,” Vitale says. In fact, they classified about 65% of both cats and kittens as securely bonded to their people.
The findings show that cats’ human attachments are stable and present in adulthood. This social flexibility may have helped facilitate the success of cats in human homes – as we know – cats often rule the roost!
This work was supported through a Nestlé Purina sponsorship for studies in cat and dog emotional well-being and by the National Science Foundation.