child hugging cat

Do Cats Love their humans?

Those of us with feline babies know the answer to the question is “YES!”  However, we also know that the way our cats express their affection for us varies wildly among different cats and can even vary wildly from one minute to the next with our own cat.  Apparently, our feline babies look at us as big cats – and treat us accordingly.  A National Geographic interview with John Bradshaw, a cat behavior expert at the University of Bristol and author of Cat Sense  revealed that unlike dogs, cats treat us as cats and this determines how they interact with us.  Bradshaw concluded, after observing pet cats for several years, that cats do not understand their humans the way dogs do.

Dogs have been our companions much longer than cats have

Part of reason for the differences in interaction styles between dogs and cats might stem from the fact that dogs have been around humans for significantly longer than cats have.  While dogs first began to be domesticated approximately 27,000 – 40,000 years ago, according to a recent Smithsonian article , domesticated cats have only been hanging around humans for approximately 5,300 years  – a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things.

All dogs are believed to have descended from grey wolves, which have been around for approximately one million years.  In contrast, our modern day feline companions all descended from the Middle Eastern wild cat  which first appeared in burial tombs about 9,500 years ago on the island of Cyprus.

So how DO our cats feel about us?

cat cuddlingDr. Paul Zak is a neuroeconomist who applied his studies on human decision-making to cats and dogs as part of the BBC2 documentary  called “Cats v. Dogs”, to try to determine whether our canine or feline companions love their humans more.  The conclusion was that while dogs do exhibit the physiological evidence of stronger feelings of love for us, cats also do, to a lesser extent, love their humans.  Mammals produce the hormone oxytocin when experiencing feelings of love for someone.  Dr. Zak measured dogs’ and cats’ saliva before and after interactions with their humans and found that oxytocin in dogs increased an average of 57.2% but in cats it increased only 12% on average.

A 2015 research study by Professor Daniel Mills, Professor or Veterinary Behavioural Medicine at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences in the UK, along with Alice Potter, formerly with the Companion Animals Science Group at the RSPCA, concluded what a lot of us already know based on empirical evidence: Our dog are much more dependent on us than our cats are.  Dogs see us as their go-to safe zone whereas our cats are much more independent and don’t really need us to provide them with a sense of protection.  This crucial difference in needs manifests in behavioral differences toward us which many interpret as a lack of caring or love on the part of our feline companions.

cat cuddlingA new study published in the journal, Behavioural Processes , concluded that cats prefer their humans to food.  The study used shelter and pet cats who were presented with three different stimuli in each of four categories: human social interaction, food, toy, and scent.  The researchers recorded the amount of time spent by each cat interacting with each stimuli and found that although there was “clear individual variability in cat preferences, social interaction with humans was the most-preferred stimulus category for the majority of cats, followed by food. This was true for cats in both the pet and shelter population.”

Bottom Line

Science is just starting to catch up with and confirm what cat-lovers the world over already know: Cats are capable of forming deep and loving bonds to their humans but do tend to exhibit more independence than our canine companions normally do.  As we also know, each kitty is unique and our cats, like all of our animal companions, provide us with another dimension of joy and meaning in our lives.



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