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Cats are typically considered to be independent creatures that will seek attention on their own terms. Most people think that cats are pretty indifferent to their caretakers and lead a pretty solitary life, however, a recent study has found this to very much not be the case.

Researchers at Oregon State University recently published a study in Current Biology in which they examined the bonds formed between cats and their humans.

They found that cats have the capacity to form attachments to their caregivers in the same way that children and dogs do. In fact, 65% of both the kitten group and the adult cat group were found to form secure attachments to their owners.

How They Tested Cat Bonding

The researchers explain, “In our study, cats and owners participated in a Secure Base Test (SBT), an abbreviated strange situation test used to evaluate attachment security in primates and dogs.”

To do this, they placed the feline subjects in an unfamiliar room for 2 minutes with their caregiver, then 2 minutes alone and then 2 more minutes with their caregiver again.

Experts then analyzed the cats’ behavior in each scenario, specifically during the reunion period, and classified them into types of attachment.

The attachment styles were broken down as follows:

  • Securely attached: Cat curiously explores the room while checking in periodically with their owner for attention.

  • Insecurely attached:

    • Ambivalent: Cat clings to their owner when they return.

    • Avoidant: Cat avoids their owner and cowers in a corner of the room.

    • Disorganized: Cat switches between clinging to and avoiding their owner.

As they explain in the study, “Upon the caregiver’s return from a brief absence, individuals with secure attachment display a reduced stress response and contact-exploration balance with the caretaker (the Secure Base Effect), whereas individuals with an insecure attachment remain stressed and engage in behaviors such as excessive proximity-seeking (ambivalent attachment), avoidance behavior (avoidant attachment), or approach/avoidance conflict (disorganized attachment).”  

They performed the study on a group kittens—aged 3-8 months—as well as on full-grown cats.

The researchers explain, “The current data support the hypothesis that cats show a similar capacity for the formation of secure and insecure attachments towards human caregivers previously demonstrated in children (65% secure, 35% insecure) and dogs (58% secure, 42% insecure) with the majority of individuals in these populations securely attached to their caregiver. Cat attachment style appears to be relatively stable and is present in adulthood.”

So don’t let your cat’s “independent” nature fool you—they are far more attached to you than you think.

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