Cats try to imitate their owners

It is part of the fate of pets that their humans often misunderstand them. Cats are likely to be particularly affected, at least that's what studies by behavioral scientist Kristyn Vitale from Oregon State University suggest. In contrast to dogs, these animals are considered to be incorruptible and less dependent on the attention of their owners. But scientific studies on this are rare - and the few studies that exist paint a completely different picture.

The relationship between cats and their owners is very similar in depth and type to the connection between dogs and their people, writes a team around Vitale in the specialist magazine Current Biology. The researchers had studied the relationship between 79 kittens and their owners. "The majority of cats showed secure attachment to their humans," says Vitale. Another experiment with adult cats confirmed this. To determine the relationship between animals and humans, the scientists used a test that has already proven itself in attachment studies with dogs, great apes and children.

Two thirds of the animals show a secure bond with their caregivers

The cat and its owner initially spent two minutes together in a room that was unfamiliar to both of them. Then the person left the room for two minutes and then spent another two minutes with the animal. The researchers evaluated how the kittens behaved when their owners returned. If the animal approached people openly and joyfully, that spoke for a secure bond between the two. This applied to almost two thirds of the cats examined. Comparable studies with dogs and children report a similar value.

The remaining cats were unsure when their owners returned. They seemed to be torn between their desire for distance on the one hand and close physical contact on the other. The researchers classified this behavior as an uncertain-ambivalent bond. If the animals even appeared disinterested in the return of their owners, this was considered "unsafe-avoidant".

Most of the cats examined, however, evidently felt reassurance from the presence of their owners in the unknown environment, which Vitale and her colleagues took as an indication of an intimate relationship. As the researchers also showed, special training in which the owners learn a lot about the social behavior of cats can certainly improve bonding, but not completely change it.

A practical tip can be derived from the knowledge about the close ties that many cats have with their humans, which Vitale had already validated in an earlier study: If you want to please your cat or praise it for its behavior, you should not automatically assume that a treat is the highest praise. Many cats appreciate it more when their human plays or cuddles with them.