According to researchers from the University of Lincoln, UK, domestic cats do not rely on their owners for safety and security, seeing them differently than dogs do.
In a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, the researchers showed that while dogs consider their owners as safe bases, cats have a different relationship with people. It is increasingly being recognized that cats are more sociable and capable of sharing relationships than previously thought but this work also points to cats as being more autonomous, not depending on others to achieve a sense of protection.
According to Daniel Mills, research lead for the study, the domestic cat had recently surpassed the dog as the most popular of Europe's animal companions, with many considering felines as ideal pets for those with long hours. Previously, it was suggested that cats exhibit separation anxiety when left by their owners alone, similar to how dogs react. However, based on the current study, cats are actually more independent compared to canine companions.
For the study, the researchers adapted the Ainsworth Strange Situation Test carefully. Depending on the bond demonstrated, it was possible to categorize a relationship. A "secure attachment" is given when the carer is considered as as offering a sense of safety and security in an unfamiliar or possibly threatening environment.
The researchers observed relationships between cats and their owners, placing pets in unfamiliar environments on their own, with a stranger and with their owner. Under different scenarios, the researchers assess three different attachment characteristics, levels of passive behavior, amount of contact initiated by the cat and signs of distress due to the owner's absence.
Cats were definitely more vocal when their owners left compared to strangers bu the researchers didn't see additional evidence suggesting the bond between cats and their owners could be categorized as secure attachment. They said that vocalization could simply be a learned response or a sign of frustration, but not of attachment. In unusual situations, attached individuals usually stay by their carers, showing signs of distress during separation and demonstrating pleasure when reunited. However, none of these were apparent during the study.
The results of the study highlight that while cats may prefer to have some level of interaction with their owners, they are not reliant on them for reassurance when thrust in unfamiliar environments. The researchers believe that this may be the cause because cats are naturally independent, thriving as solitary hunters.
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