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Do Cats Really Love You Less Than Dogs?

Reviewed by Dr. Peter Kintzer, DVM, DACVIM on Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Posted October 13, 2015 in Cat Behavior

Recently, I’ve seen a rash of concerning Internet headlines in reference to a new research study. The headlines might lead you to believe that cats love you less than dogs, however, these headlines are misleading and don’t give an accurate overview of what the study really found.

Woman holding a cat and a dogThe ‘Secure Attachment’ study
According to the PLOS One website, where the study by Alice Potter and Daniel Mills is published, it involved twenty guardian-cat pairs. The cats were placed in two rooms with two chairs (one for the guardian and one for a stranger) along with some cat toys and covered windows. A video camera taped the interaction between each cat, the guardian and the stranger during a variety of behaviors (guardian leaving and returning, stranger leaving and returning, etc.) The researchers used a test known as the “Ainsworth Strange Situation” to gauge the behavior of the cats in terms of how much attachment the cats appeared to have with their guardians.

The ‘Secure Attachment’ study results
Researchers found that cats in the test did vocalize more when their guardian left, compared to the stranger leaving, but they “didn’t see any additional evidence to suggest that the bond between a cat and guardian is one of secure attachment.”

The researchers indeed found that “many aspects of the behavior of cats…are not consistent with the characteristics of attachment.” However, they also noted that the test did not look into whether there may be differences in attachment between cats that are indoor only and indoor/outdoor, and they also noted that the test they used may not have been  an effective instrument to determine cats’ attachments to guardians. Specifically, they stated that “…we do not wish to imply that cats do not form some form of affectionate social relationship or bond with their owners…only that the relationship with the primary caregiver is not typically characterized by a preference for that individual based on them providing safety and security for the cat.”

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Mychelle has more than 13 years of experience in the pet health industry and is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant as well as a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2014.