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Cats really do give a damn about their caregivers, scientists say

Dog lovers can quit lording it over us now.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read

Warm and fuzzy.

Amanda Kooser/CNET

Aloof. Self-centered. Antisocial. Cats might be warm and fuzzy, but they don't give everyone the warm fuzzies. A new study from Oregon State University in Corvallis is shaking up some of these kitty stereotypes.

The research team used a "secure base test," a way of testing attachment by putting the cat and owner in a new room for two minutes, leaving them apart for two minutes and then reintroducing them for two minutes. 

The study took into account the cat's behavior during the reunion to evaluate the animal's attachment style. Researchers used the same attachment criteria that have been used to evaluate dogs and primates in previous studies.

"Our study indicates that when cats live in a state of dependency with a human, that attachment behavior is flexible and the majority of cats use humans as a source of comfort," said Kristyn Vitale, a researcher in OSU's Human-Animal Interaction Lab. Vitale is the lead author of the study published Monday in the journal Cellular Biology

The study covered 70 kittens and 38 older cats and found similar results between the two groups. The researchers categorized 64.3% of the kittens as "securely attached" to their caregivers and 35.7% as "insecurely attached."

"Cats with secure attachment to the person are less stressed and they balance their attention between the person and their surroundings," OSU reported on Monday. Insecure cats exhibited stress behaviors such as twitching their tails or avoiding their owners.

Enlarge Image

Sometimes cats physically attach themselves to people.

Amanda Kooser/CNET

These results may not put to rest the question of cat attachment. A 2015 study suggested that cats do not show signs of secure attachment to their owners. That study used a different type of attachment test, which may account for the divergent conclusions.

Full disclosure: I'm a cat caregiver. I love dogs, too, but I've never been in the cats-are-haughty camp. Dog people have often pointed out how their canine companions are so much more attached to their people than cats are. You can try telling that to my cat, who comes running to the door when I get home.   

This OSU study just validates what many cat owners already know: the attachment usually runs both ways. 

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