Two kittens being affectionate with their pet parent.

Does Your Cat Love You?

There’s a reason dogs have bested their feline rivals and earned the title “man’s best friend.” While dogs make their feelings obvious by licking pet parents’ faces and jumping in their laps, cats can look aloof by comparison. It’s often no wonder that self-described dog people far outnumber cat people across the nation.

Do Cats Love Their Owners?

If cats seem unfriendly, that’s partially because they’re so often compared to dogs. Avowed cat lovers contend that this is an unfair comparison, like judging four-legged apples against four-legged oranges. Recent years have seen researchers finally take a scientific look at feline behavior on its own terms.

In 2017, a team at Oregon State University observed how cats from both domestic and shelter settings responded to four common stimuli: human interaction, food, familiar scents, and toys. Their findings suggest that cats are far more social than that icy reputation would lead one to believe. Human contact proved the most enticing option and cats often chose it over other stimuli to which they had previously shown strong attachments.

The study’s chief author, Dr. Kristyn Vitale, led another similar study in 2019. This one focused on whether or not cats form bonds with their caretakers and, if so, how strongly they formed these bonds. Vitale and her team conducted the same type of experiment used to assess attachment and avoidance behaviors in human, canine, and primate subjects. Cats spent two minutes in a test area with their caretakers, were separated for two minutes, and finally reunited for another two-minute observation period.

Once again, the results seemed to refute conventional wisdom about feline behavior. 65% of cats showed signs of secure attachment to their caretakers, calmly returning to their side after a period of separation before wandering about the test area. The rest evidenced insecure attachment by clinging to caretakers after brief separation. Whatever their response, it was clear these cats felt attached. Further research suggested that cats are largely stuck in their ways when it comes to their attachment styles. Even after six-week socialization courses, most kittens did not show behavioral changes related to attachment.

How Cats Show Affection

Obviously, cats don’t make their feelings as obvious as other four-legged friends do. That doesn’t mean they’re unaffectionate. These common feline behaviors could all signal your pet’s positive feelings toward you.

Bonding With Your Cat

It can take a little effort to build a strong, affectionate bond with a cat. For help, check out our detailed guide to bonding with new cats and these additional resources: