Study Shows Cats May Love Their Pet Parents More Than We Thought

Research showed cats formed attachment to their owners much like dogs and babies.

People may commonly say that "dog is man's best friend," oft overlooking our furry feline friends and the roles they play in our lives.

But a 2019 study from researchers at Oregon State University's College of Agricultural Sciences published in the journal Current Biology, indicates that like children and dogs, cats forge a similar attachment to the humans raising them.

Happy girl with cat
Anders Andersson / Getty Images

"In both dogs and cats, attachment to humans may represent an adaptation of the offspring-caretaker bond," said Kristyn Vitale, an animal behavior researcher and the study's lead author, in a press release. "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."

For the study, researchers had kittens and cats participate in a "secure base test"— similar to a test that is conducted on babies and dogs to study their attachment behaviors—in which cats are separated and reunited with their owners over the course of a few minutes to determine if the animals were securely or insecurely attached to their owners. Of the 70 kittens researchers were able to classify, 64.3% were found to be securely attached and 35.7% were insecurely attached. For the 38 adult cats they tested, the results were 65.8% securely attached and 34.2% insecurely attached.

To see if the kittens' attachment style could be modified, the researchers had kittens undergo a six-week training course. No significant differences were found, indicating the lasting power of an initial attachment style, as in humans.

"Once an attachment style has been established between the cat and its caregiver, it appears to remain relatively stable over time, even after a training and socialization intervention," Vitale commented in the same media statement.

This is exciting news for pet owners who create a strong bond with their kittens, indicating that their behavior may be positively influenced by an initially secure attachment with their owners. "Cats that are insecure can be likely to run and hide or seem to act aloof," Vitale said. "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."

These days, that relationship goes both ways with cats owners certainly depending on their pets to keep them secure and sane when they're stressed out during this past pandemic year. If that's not the mark of human's best friend, we don't know what is.

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