Home News A Feline Scientist Explains Why Your Cat Might Actually Like You

A Feline Scientist Explains Why Your Cat Might Actually Like You

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This article is our Pet Area Scientists are increasingly interested in our animal companions.


Over the past two decades, a raft of scientific studies has repeatedly demonstrated that dogs are social geniuses and highly sensitive to human cues.

But even as canine cognitive science flourished, few researchers had bothered to explore cats’ social skills. Dogs, after all, are descendants of social gray wolves, carefully engineered to play specific roles with humans. Cats, on the other hand, are descendants of solitary African wildcats and have not been subject to the same selective pressures from humans. They are seen as antisocial and, more precisely, uncooperative, which makes them Unattractive research topics.

In recent years, however, a handful of indomitable scientists have produced Small body Research This suggests that we have underestimated cats’ social abilities, and interest in this is growing. “I see more and more papers every year,” says Kristyn Vitale, an animal behavior scientist at Unity Environmental University in Maine. “We still have a lot to do.”

Dr. Vitale, who has three cats of her own and often collaborates with Monique Udell, director of the Human-Animal Interaction Laboratory at Oregon State University, spoke to The New York Times about their research and her dream study of cat cognition.

The following content has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What are some common misconceptions people have about cats?

What I see most is people saying cats aren’t social animals, or that social interaction isn’t important to cats. Cats are very flexible in their social behavior. So it’s highly individual and depends on the cat and their individual experiences.

Cats must go through socialization with humans during critical periods of their lives to develop healthy social behaviors toward humans. Therefore, if you have a cat that has never seen a human, especially as a kitten, they will grow up to be afraid of humans because they have never learned that humans are a source of good things.

Given the right experience, we do see that companion cats can indeed form bonds with their owners that can be strong and remain stable over time.

You have taught kitten training classes. What does this entail?

Much like the dog class, we did sit, come when called, walk to the mat, and walk with the harness and leash on. The last class, people would teach a trick they wanted to do with their cat. So I had some teach them to jump through hoops. I think the most advanced behavior was to sit and stay still while kayaking on the lake.

We have over 50 kittens and their owners. Kittens from 3 to 8 months old are able to come to the environment, be trained, socialized, and we have never had a fight. A lot of it is managing the situation and watching the cats’ behavior. When a cat starts to show signs of stress, it’s time to end it and send them home.

What are you doing?

We are collecting data on cat-assisted interventions for children with developmental differences. Children bring their pet cats to Oregon State University and learn how to train their cats and how to interpret their body language and behavior. We are looking at whether these interventions may have benefits for the children’s physical activity or social well-being, and on the other hand, whether these interventions are beneficial for the cats. Do the cats and children form a deeper bond? Do they have differences in their social behavior or ability to interpret social cues?

What is your dream subject?

We’re just beginning to explore social cognition in pet cats and shelter cats, but we haven’t really studied these cats that live outdoors. There were cats in the Colosseum in Rome. I’ve been to cat islands in Japan where there are large colonies of cats living together. I thought that was interesting: How socially intelligent are these cats that live outdoors?

What do you wish cat owners knew?

We have a research project that shows that cats spend more time with you when you pay attention to them. I think people often get a cat and then they just put it in the house and don’t do anything with it. This is really just about exploring that connection and what they like and what you can do together.

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