Cats aren’t aloof as you think, but capable of bonding just like dogs – and babies

Everyone’s heard the joke about cats: that they’re silently judging you, that they think they’re better than you, etc., Common thought is that cats are aloof and unavailable, while dogs just want to be your best friend. A new study from Oregon State University disproves this idea, finding that pet felines can form attachments with their owners that are not unlike the bond humans form with dogs – or infants for that matter.

This is the first time researchers have empirically established that cats show the same kind of attachment style as infants and pups, according to lead author Kristyne Vitale, a researcher in the Human-Animal Interaction Lab in OSU’s College of Agricultural Studies.

“In both dogs and cats, attachment to humans may represent an adaptation of the offspring-caretaker bond,” Vitale said, in a release. “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.”

The adorable study

In an experiment for the study, researchers rounded up cats and kittens to participate in a “secure base test” to find out whether their attachment styles were secure or insecure.

For the test, each cat spent two minutes in a room with their owner, then two minutes alone, then another two minutes with their owner after being reunited. The secure base test has also been performed on humans and dogs.

Cats who weren’t stressed or surprised to see their owners return were classified as secure. Cats who reacted to their owner’s return with signs of stress – twitching their tail, licking their lips – and avoided contact were classified as having an insecure attachment to their owner.

Overall, 65.8% of the felines were classified as securely attached, with 34.2% classified as insecurely attached.

Interestingly, in human infants, the percentage that is securely attached to their caregiver is very closer to the cat-owner percentage: 65.8%.

In a nutshell? Your cat needs you.

“Cats that are insecure can be likely to run and hide or seem to act aloof,” Vitale said. “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. Your cat is depending on you to feel secure when they are feeling stressed out.

The study was published in the journal Current Biology. Co-authors on the study were Monique Udell, assistant professor in OSU’s Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences, and Alexandra Behnke, a veterinary student at OSU.