Cats Form Close Bonds with their Human Caretakers: Study

Cats have a reputation among some people as being unable (or unwilling) to form close bonds with their human family members and caretakers. A new study has just debunked those myths.

Study overview

Cats have a reputation for being aloof and independent. But a study of the way domestic cats respond to their caregivers suggests that their socio-cognitive abilities and the depth of their human attachments have been underestimated. The findings show that, much like children and dogs, pet cats form secure and insecure bonds with their human caretakers.

“The majority of cats are securely attached to their owner and use them as a source of security in a novel environment.”

-Dr. Kristyn Vitale, researcher, Oregon State University

One revealing way to study human attachment behavior 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 behavior.

Similar tests had been run before with primates and dogs, so the researchers 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 percent of infants are securely attached to their caregiver. The researchers classified about 65 percent of both cats and kittens as securely bonded to their people.  (source)  

What’s next on the horizon?

The researchers are now exploring the importance of this work in relation to the thousands of kittens and cats that wind up in animal shelters.


Journal Reference: Kristyn R. Vitale, Alexandra C. Behnke, Monique A.R. Udell. Attachment bonds between domestic cats and humans. Current Biology, 2019; 29 (18): R864 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.08.036