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Do cats see their owners as parents?

Kittens See Their Human Owners As Parents, Study Finds

Kittens See Their Human Owners As Parents, Study Finds

Cats usually get a reputation for being independent and not emotionally attached to their owners, unlike dogs. But a new study has found that actually, most kittens see their human caregivers as their parents.

Researchers from Oregon State University have found that most kittens form an attachment to their owners the same way children do to their parents and dogs do to their owners/caregivers.

In an experiment where cats aged between three and eight months old were left for two minutes by their owners and then reunited with them for two minutes, 64 per cent of the kittens displayed «secure attachment» behaviour. This means that the kittens were less stressed and sought close contact with their owners once they returned.

Kittens have been proven to miss their owners and become attached to them like children. (Credit: Unsplash/Freddie Marriage)


The other 36 per cent of kittens surveyed displayed an «insecure attachment style,» meaning they weren’t emotionally affected by their owners leaving or returning.

«The current data supports the hypothesis that cats show a similar capacity for the formation of secure and insecure attachments towards human caregivers previously demonstrated in children,» the study confirmed.

What’s more is this attachment doesn’t go away once kittens have matured. The study also concluded that cats, if they are attached to their owners, will remain so, just like dogs do.

A cat enjoying a chin tickle from its owner. (Credit: Unsplash/Yerlin Matu)


«These results indicate that although social reinforcement is likely a factor that contributes to the development of an attachment style, once an attachment style has been established between the members of a dyad, it appears to remain relatively stable over time, even after a training and socialization intervention,» the study said.

The UK is a nation of pet lovers, with cat parents spending on average £20 a month on treats and toys alone for their beloved fur babies. That explains why Aldi thought it was a smart move to introduce a hanging egg chair for cats this summer.

And dog owners are thought to spend around £60 a month on toys and treats for their pooch.

Pets have helped lots of us throughout lockdown, and now there are concerns that our pets could get separation anxiety now that things are returning back to normality. But for those of us working from home, this womaninvented a special desk chair so your fur baby can be close to you as you work.

Featured Image Credit: Unsplash/Kote Puerto

Why are pet owners more popular than parents?

Dog being blown by hairdryer

Here’s an opinion that will get me locked in a crate and pelted with scented cat litter: pets are more socially acceptable than babies because they’re simply easier to love.

Last month, Daunt Books published a new anthology called Dog Hearted, in which 14 writers explore, in beautiful, sometimes funny, often melancholy essays, their relationships to dogs. I’m not sure I can imagine a similar title ever being written about babies. Books about parenting (and I include my own) are all called things such as The Most Awful Thing I’ve Ever Done, or Why Did Nobody Tell Me This Was So Utterly Crap? or How the Hell Did This Happen?

We’re tearing ourselves apart with self-deprecation, self-doubt, guilt and anxiety, while cat and dog owners particularly are just out there, indulged and celebrated in their adoration of their furry dependents. Buying dog-friendly ice-cream, setting up Instagram accounts for their Bengal cat, employing pet psychologists because their dog keeps eating out of the bathroom bin, getting kangaroo meat imported from Australia because regular beef upsets their pet’s tummy.

Now, I hate a binary and I also hate like-minded people being intentionally pitted against each other by cynical members of the press. But, as a parent, I do find the modern attitude to pets a little strange. I have worked in four places where they either had an office dog or you could take your dog into work; I have never worked anywhere that provided on-site childcare. I have had people introduce their pets to me as “my handsome son” or “my beautiful baby” but then complain that their social media feed is “full of people’s kids”. I have been told that parenting is a “niche” area of interest (81% of women will have a baby by the time they reach 45), while pets have “mass appeal” (just 62% of households in the UK own a pet). The very people who balk or yawn at colleagues discussing their children in the office will often then regale you with stories of their cats sitting on their shoulders or dogs eating peanut butter.

When I searched the words “pet camera” online, I found a cool 1,010,000,000 results, including something called the Furbo Dog Camera. This little number retails at a hefty £199 and includes not just a 360-degree wide-angle lens, two-way audio, barking alert and cloud recording, but also – this is the one that really got me – “100 piece capacity Fun Treat Tossing technology”. You can now buy a video camera full of dry, reconstituted meat chunks that will sit in the middle of your living room and film, track and feed your dog while you go out and earn that necessary £199. If you’d like something more personal, you could pay about the same for a week’s “doggy daycare”. Some individuals, then, are willing to spend large sums of money to keep their pet fed, entertained and observed – but you will still find public reluctance to fund free, universal childcare through centralised taxation. Until a £199 robot childminder comes on the market, I suppose.

In the UK, for those of you who don’t know, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was founded 60 years after the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and still receives significantly less funding each year, through donations and legacies, than the pet charity. Perhaps this apparent preference shouldn’t be surprising. After all, domesticated animals are far, far less dependent on you for physical, emotional or psychological support than babies and children. They don’t hit you with years of hormonal fury during toddlerhood and adolescence, don’t learn to talk, don’t develop challenging political views, fall in love with drug dealers or steal your record collection. Finally, if the pet in question is a total nightmare, it is possible to give it away, or take it to a shelter, with very little social stigma.

But, maybe you think that pets aren’t more socially acceptable than babies. You may read this whole column as the oversensitive self-pity of someone who once had their one-year-old knocked over in a cafe by a bulldog before being told it was their fault for letting the child hold a biscuit. You may think I have simply overlooked the myriad ways we overindulge our children while setting up a false antagonism between pets and babies. You may think the comparison between individual spending on luxury pet accessories and publicly funded early years services is false. And maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m wrong. After all, I’m only human – just a delicious combination of meaty chunks and gravy.

  • Nell Frizzell is the author of Holding the Baby: Milk, Sweat and Tears from the Frontline of Motherhood
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