Study: Your cat may love you, but it doesn't need you

"For pet dogs, their owners often represent a specific safe haven," researcher Daniel Mills said. That's not the case for cats.
By Brooks Hays  |  Updated Sept. 8, 2015 at 11:00 AM
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LINCOLN, England, Sept. 8 (UPI) -- Cats don't have the same childlike dependence on their owners that dogs do. According to a new study, cats don't look to their owners as a source safety and security.

To measure a cat's dependence on its owner, researchers at the University of Lincoln, in England, used the Ainsworth Strange Situation Test (SST), a test used to measure the bond between young children or pet dogs and their guardians.

In this case, the test saw cats placed in unfamiliar (and potentially threatening) scenarios -- sometimes with their owners, sometimes with a stranger and other times on their own. Researchers observed the cats' reactions to each scenario, looking for attachment behaviors: contact-seeking, passive behavior, vocalization and other signs of distress.

"Although our cats were more vocal when the owner rather than the stranger left them with the other individual, we didn't see any additional evidence to suggest that the bond between a cat and its owner is one of secure attachment," Daniel Mills, a professor of veterinary behavioral medicine at Lincoln, explained in a press release.

"This vocalisation might simply be a sign of frustration or learned response, since no other signs of attachment were reliably seen," Mills said. "In strange situations, attached individuals seek to stay close to their carer, show signs of distress when they are separated and demonstrate pleasure when their attachment figure returns, but these trends weren't apparent during our research."

Mills' new research is detailed in the latest issue of the journal PLOS ONE.

As usual, the research has been twisted by purveyors of Internet news to suggest cats don't care for their owners. But Mills says that's not what his research suggests.

"This is not about whether cats love their owners," Mills told Live Science.

Live Science, for their part, employed the title "Sorry, Cat Lovers: Felix Doesn't Need You," for their coverage of the newly published study.

In fact, a growing body of research suggests cats form stronger emotional bonds with their caretakers than previously thought. The latest findings simply show that, affectionate or not, cats are simply more independent than their canine couterparts.

"For pet dogs, their owners often represent a specific safe haven," Mills said, "however it is clear that domestic cats are much more autonomous when it comes to coping with unusual situations."

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