It turns out that it's a good thing our cats are so independent and self-sufficient. (Aside from the fact that we can leave them at home alone for hours and they don't hold it against us.)
Basically, if a cat sticks around, it means she really wants to be there, says a new study from the University of Lincoln, published in the journal PLOS One.
"The domestic cat has recently passed the dog as the most popular companion animal in Europe, with many seeing a cat as an ideal pet for owners who work long hours," said Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine at the University of Lincoln's School of Life Sciences. "Previous research has suggested that some cats show signs of separation anxiety when left alone by their owners, in the same way that dogs do, but the results of our study show that they are in fact much more independent than canine companions. It seems that what we interpret as separation anxiety might actually be signs of frustration."
To determine whether cats needed their owners to feel secure, the research team watched 20 cats in an unfamiliar environment, recording how they reacted when with their owner, with a stranger or on their own. The amount of contact sought by the cat, the extent of passive behaviour and any evidence of distress during the owner's absence were all taken into account.
"Although our cats were more vocal when the owner rather than the stranger left them with the other individual, we didn't see any additional evidence to suggest that the bond between a cat and its owner is one of secure attachment," said Professor Mills. "This vocalisation might simply be a sign of frustration or learned response, since no other signs of attachment were reliably seen. In strange situations, attached individuals seek to stay close to their carer, show signs of distress when they are separated and demonstrate pleasure when their attachment figure returns, but these trends weren't apparent during our research."
While a pet dog clearly sees its owner as a person of security domestic cats are much more capable of coping with unfamiliar situations and places alone.
Cat expert Celia Haddon, author of Cats Behaving Badly and How To Read Your Cat’s Mind, joined the discussion, telling The Telegraph: "This study shows that cats do not need their humans to feel safe, they don’t depend on us, they look after themselves. If they are scared a cat won’t come to its owner, it will jump on top of the wardrobe or hide under the bed.
"But in a way that’s a real compliment," she continued. "Cats won’t live in an unhappy home, they'll just walk out. And abandoned or feral cats get on just fine on their own. Cats are not pack animals, they don't depend on other cats. So they are not going to depend on their owners. But it doesn't meant that they don't want to be around their owners. This shows that they really do."
I reckon cats have this relationship thing nailed. After all, isn't the most healthy bond formed when you don't need someone but want to be with them?
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