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Ask A Vet: Do Cats Care What We Think?

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Cats have a bad reputation for being extra independent and not really loving people or needing interaction with people at all. Cats are solitary and territorial animals, not typically forming partnerships or abiding by a social hierarchy. But for those of us that live with a cat know that our cats do depend on us and care what we think. My cat, Scamper, seeks interaction with me. Now science has proven what we, cat lovers, already know.

A recent study was set up to investigate whether or not cats depend on their owners’ body language to help them decide how to act. Two groups of cats were observed when presented with a new and potentially frightening object. In the first group, the owner delivered a positive emotional message toward the object. In the second group, the emotional message was negative. The study wanted to find out if cats use the body language of their owners when presented with an unfamiliar object to guide their own reaction to it. In other words, does your cat care what you think?

The cats in the groups were evaluated for whether or not they looked toward the owner and if they changed their behavior based on the owners message.
Almost 80% of the cats did look to their owner for affirmation and gauged their response toward the object accordingly.

So the results affirm what we already know and indicated that the large majority of cats depend on their owner despite the fact that feline social structure is not based upon group bonds. Not only do our cats care what we think, but they use our reaction to help guide their own response. It’s almost like our other friends, they ask for our opinion, but unlike some of our human friends, they actually use our advice to guide their choices!

 

Social referencing and cat–human communication, Animal CognitionMay 2015, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 639-648, First online: 09 January 2015, I. Merola, M. Lazzaroni,S. Marshall-Pescini,E. Prato-Previde

Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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