At one time or another, even the most secure cat parent has wondered with some trepidation: Do cats like humans? Well, now we can all breathe a sigh of relief: A recent study has confirmed that not only do cats like humans, but many of them also bond with us the same way an infant bonds with a parent.
The offspring-caregiver bond
So how did a study answer the question, do cats like humans?
Researchers at the Human-Animal Interaction Lab at Oregon State University set up an experiment in order to study attachment behaviors between cats and their owners. This “secure base test” included three phases:
- First, cats and kittens spent two minutes in a new environment with their owner or caregiver.
- Next, the person left the room for two minutes.
- Last, the cat or kitten was reunited with their caregiver for two minutes.
When the caregiver returned, the results proved quite interesting:
- 65% of cats or kittens continued to explore their surroundings, showing signs of being “securely attached” to their owners.
- 35% of cats or kittens were “insecurely attached” to their owners, either acting clingy or avoiding the caretaker altogether; they showed signs of stress such as twitching their tails and licking their lips.
The takeaway? Cats bond to their people like babies do to parents: Among people, 65% of infants are securely attached to their caregiver.
What it means
Kristyn Vitale, a researcher at the Human-Animal Interaction Lab, explains that, “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.”
After six weeks of socialization training, the results didn’t change. “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 said. “Cats that are insecure can be likely to run and hide or seem to act aloof. 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.”
The bottom line? Your cat is depending on you to feel secure when he or she is stressed out.
How to bond with your cat
Does it seem like your cat may be “insecurely” attached to you? Don’t worry—if you’re wondering how to bond with your cat, we’ve rounded up all of the best expert tips below.
If you have a kitten, cuddle away!
Kittens should have lots of visual and tactual contact so they know it’s okay to interact with people as they grow up. Let them see your face, stroke them, and hold them in your lap.
If you have an adult cat, give them space
Allow an adult cat to come to you at their own pace. That means letting them hide when they want to hide, and perhaps providing a safe space in the house removed from a lot of noise and activity. If you don’t have the room for a safe space, you can also spend time in the same room as the cat without interacting. This will show that you respect your cat’s boundaries while reinforcing your presence.
Take it slow
If you’ve recently adopted your cat, don’t introduce too many changes at once. For instance, keep the cat’s diet similar to what it was before adoption, and slowly transition to a different diet if desired.
Establish a routine quickly
Cats are creatures of habit and feel comforted by routine—so feed them at the same time every day, and so on.
Pay attention to body language
You should know when to back off—your cat may display flattened ears, a twitching tail, or very dilated pupils when he’s unhappy. And if he’s purring but still seems agitated, give him some space.
Give them treats
Many cats are food-motivated and will respond positively if you place some treats by your side or on your lap.
Get on their level
Some cats feel intimidated when people tower over them. You might try to sit on the floor with your cat or kitten or sit next to them on the couch.
Start with a laser pointer, which allows more remote play. Then move on to wand toys, which are interactive and can boost your cat’s confidence.
When it comes to how to bond with your cat, it will take some time to find what works for you and your cat specifically. Above all, be patient. Some cats warm up to their caregivers in a matter of days, while others take weeks, months, or even years to feel securely bonded. At least we can now confidently answer do cats like humans? with a resounding yes!
Cover photo by Veronika Homchis on Unsplash