It’s often assumed that while dogs can have strong attachments to their human caregivers and feel more secure in their presence, cats don’t share that affinity for people. But researchers from Oregon State University have proven the assumption wrong.
Using a research protocol first employed in the 1970s to look at the bond between parents and infants, the investigators observed how more than 100 cats from kittens to adults reacted when their caretakers brought them to an unfamiliar room. The caretakers stayed with them for 2 minutes in the strange room and then left. Just like children (and dogs), the cats became very anxious, exhibiting their stress with such signs as vocalizing more.
But when their “parents” returned, two thirds of the cats relaxed, dividing their time between seeking their humans’ attention and exploring their surroundings, just as children with secure attachments do.
The rest of the cats avoided their owners completely or reacted ambivalently — a sign of insecure attachment, presumably because of a hard start in life. Either way, all of the cats reacted to their owners’ absence and presence, showing we are more important to our pets than may always seem apparent. It’s important to bear in mind in situations where a cat feels stressed. If we can exhibit calmness, it will help them to cope. They are tuned in to us.