Your cat doesn’t love you: science

Rudyard Kipling was right. really do walk by themselves, and do not need their owners to feel secure and safe, a study has shown. Although absent owners might worry that their pet is pining, in fact, show no sign of separation anxiety.

Researchers at the University of Lincoln have concluded that cats, unlike dogs, do not need humans to feel protected.

Before cat lovers start despairing about their aloof pets, however, animal behaviourists said they should take the finding as a compliment. If cats stay, it means they really want to be there.

Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, said: “The domestic cat has recently passed the dog as the most popular companion animal in Europe.

“Previous research has suggested that some cats show signs of separation anxiety when left alone by their owners, in the same way that dogs do, but the results of our study show that they are, in fact, much more independent than canine companions.

“It seems that what we interpret as separation anxiety might actually be signs of frustration.” To find out if cats needed their owner to feel secure, the researchers observed how 20 cats reacted when they were placed in an unfamiliar environment together with their owner, with a stranger or on their own.

The study monitored the amount of contact sought by the cat, the level of passive behaviour, and signs of distress caused by the absence of the owner.

“Although our cats were more vocal when the owner rather than the stranger left them with the other individual, we didn’t see any additional evidence to suggest that the bond between a cat and its owner is one of secure attachment,” Prof Mills said.

“This vocalisation might simply be a sign of frustration or learnt response, since no other signs of attachment were reliably seen. For dogs, their owners often represent a specific safe haven; however it is clear domestic cats are much more autonomous when it comes to coping with unusual situations.”

Although the researchers say cats can still develop bonds with, and affection for their owners, the new study shows that they do not depend on them in the same way that dogs do.

However cat expert Celia Haddon, author of Cats Behaving Badly and How To Read Your Cat’s Mind, said owners should not feel their pets do not love them. “This study shows cats do not need their humans to feel safe, they look after themselves. But in a way that’s a real compliment. Cats won’t live in an unhappy home, they’ll just walk out.”

The research was published in the online journal PLOS One.

About Sarah Knapton, The Telegraph