Domestic cats do not generally see their owners as a focus of safety and security in the same way dogs do, according to research.
Although it is increasingly recognised cats are more social and capable of shared relationships than traditionally thought, this latest research shows adult cats appear to be more autonomous – even in their social relationships – and not necessarily dependent on others to provide a sense of protection.
The research, published in the scientific journal Plos One, was led by Daniel Mills, professor of veterinary behavioural medicine at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, along with Alice Potter, who studied as a postgraduate at Lincoln and now works with the companion animals science group at the RSPCA.
The researchers adapted the Ainsworth Strange Situation Test (SST), which has been widely used to demonstrate that the bond between young children or pet dogs with their primary carer can be categorised as a “secure attachment” – where the carer is seen as a focus of safety and security in potentially threatening (or unfamiliar) environments.
The study observed the relationships between a number of cats and their owners, placing the pets in an unfamiliar environment together with their owner, with a stranger and also on their own. In varying scenarios, it assessed three different characteristics of attachment; the amount of contact sought by the cat, the level of passive behaviour, and signs of distress caused by the absence of the owner.
The results revealed that while cats might prefer to interact with their owner, they did not rely on them for reassurance when in an unfamiliar environment, and the researchers believe this is because of the nature of the species as a largely independent and solitary hunter.
The paper is available to view at http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0135109