Is Your Cat Attached to You? Turns Out They're as Close to Their Caregivers as Dogs, Babies

All cats may not be as aloof or independent as was previously believed.
Fabienne Lang
Calico cat bonding ablokhin/iStock

If you've ever thought cats aren't as friendly or closely attached to their owners as dogs typically are, you're probably not alone. However, a new study from Oregon State University (OSU) has evidence to the contrary.

It turns out that the majority of cats do, in fact, have as close a bond to their caregivers as dogs, and even babies, do. 

This is the first time research has proven this link between our feline friends and their owners. Pet stores, beware, you may receive an influx of cat interest.


Researcher Kristyn Vitale led the research in OSU's Human-Animal Interaction Lab. The findings were published in Current Biology 23 September.

How did the team make this discovery?

Following a test called the 'secure base test,' similar to one given to dogs and children, the researchers observed cats' attachment behaviors. 

In the test, cats were placed in an unknown room with their owners where they spent two minutes together. Then the cats were left alone in the room for two minutes until both owner and cat were reunited for a two minute period. 

The interesting part is the reunion, which is when the cats were closely observed.

Is Your Cat Attached to You? Turns Out They're as Close to Their Caregivers as Dogs, Babies
Cat ready to pounce. Source: The Human-Animal Bond

Cats with high and secure attachment styles to their owners were less stressed out than those with insecure attachment. The way in which the researchers could gauge this was by noticing how secure attachment cats were able to balance their attention between their owners and their surroundings. 

If a cat was securely attached to its owner, for example, it would continue to explore the unknown room safely.

Cats with insecure attachment styles, however, displayed higher stress levels by moving their tails and licking their lips more regularly. Moreover, these cats then, either showed signs of avoidance — ignoring their owners as they re-entered the room — or ambivalence, by leaping into their laps and remaining perfectly still. 

Most Popular

To truly understand cats' attachment styles, the team of OSU researchers carried out the tests on kittens as well as adult cats. 

By watching recordings of the cats, the team classified the cats into similar criteria used for dogs and babies. It turned out that out of the 70 observed cats, 64.3% fell under the secure attachment style, and 35.7% as insecurely attached. 

Vitale and her team were surprised to find a very similar number in human and baby attachment percentages. Sixty-five percent of babies are securely attached to their caregivers. A number very close to that of the cats. 

Is Your Cat Attached to You? Turns Out They're as Close to Their Caregivers as Dogs, Babies
Kristyn Vitale and cats. Source: Maueyes Cat Behavior and Training

Vitale said:"Cats that are insecure can be likely to run and hide or seem to act aloof. 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 stressed out."

It turns out many of us may have misunderstood cats all along. 

message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron