Cats like people (really!), study says.

July 12, 2018 3 min read

What do cats think about their owners? Do they love us? Will they protect us? Or are we just a meal ticket?

The popular stereotype of domestic pets says cats are aloof, remote, and arrogant creatures who tolerate humans as servants. But is it true?

Science says No.

 

The study.
Researchers at the Oregon State University's Human-Animal Interaction (HAI) lab investigated how cats interact with humans.

To conduct their experiment, these scientists recruited 38 cats. Half came from shelters and half from loving homes. The researchers isolated each cat for 2 hours and 30 minutes, giving the animal no food or social attention during this time.

Then, they brought each cat into a room and offered it access to its choice of a cat-friendly person, food, a cat toy, or a cloth that smelled like either catnip or a gerbil. Half the cats chose the person and spent about 65% of the time interacting him or her. Only 14 cats went to the food, four to the toy, and one kitty chose the cloth.

The shelter cats and pet cats showed no difference in their preferences. At the experiment's conclusion, the researchers wrote, "Although it is often thought [that] cats prefer solitude to social interaction, the data of this study indicate otherwise."

 

What do cats think about their owners?
Some humans have had a thing for cats going back nearly 10,000 years. But cats...well...they still don't know what to think about us. John Bradshaw, author of the book Cat Sense and a cat behavior expert at the University of Bristol, says cats don't understand humans the way dogs do.

As soon as a dog sees a person, the animal changes its behavior. They play with us differently than they play with other dogs. Cats, on the other hand, treat us like we're other cats, just large and oddly shaped ones. Much of the way cats behave toward people actually mirrors how they act toward their mothers.

Do cats love humans?
We pet lovers all have that one friend who swears our fur buddies don't love us. Now, you can point to science that shows your friend is wrong. Dogs and cats do in fact love their people.

The feelings of love a human experiences - and the behaviors we associate with love - are governed by a hormone called oxytocin. In laboratory studies, both dogs and cats produced elevated levels of oxytocin after playing with their humans. Cats also showed emotions such as happiness, sadness, fear, grief, curiosity, anger, and anxiety.

Do cats know we love them?
They certainly can! Hugs and kisses are not always part of a cat's love language, but kitties do understand slow blinks, head butts, snoozing together, and exchanging scents. Of course, food is a great way to build the love between you and your cat.

Some cats also adore massages, training time, catnip, treats, or toys. Over time, your cat recognizes that you are the source of these things, and in a feline's way, it understands your love.

(Check out this video for some heartwarming footage of cats loving their people.)

How much human interaction do cats need?
If cats enjoy loving and being loved, how much attention to do they need? It depends on the individual cat, of course, but as a family, cats don't need the same attention as some other domestic animals.

They definitely aren't a set-it-and-forget-it kind of pet, though. Cats need regular stimulation, exercise, and attention from their people. Plan on giving your kitty at least 15 minutes of engaged attention every day.

Why do cats sleep with their people?
Catching winks together is a great way to show mutual affection between you and your cat. An estimated 80% of cat parents sleep with their pets, and the cats seem to love it. Sleeping with their person gives them the same feelings of warmth, security, and companionship they enjoyed as kittens in the nest. If you also share your bed with a human partner, though, keep a separate, much-loved bed for your cat. That way, you can enjoy sharing your sleep space with your human, too.

Final thoughts.
Our cats love us. They may show it in a restrained, dignified way, but cats definitely feel a lot of affection for their people. Look for signs like exposing the belly, sitting on you, doing the slow blink, giving love bites, kneading, and approaching you with their tails pointing straight up. Those are a cat's love notes.

And don't forget to show your cats some love back. 



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