Do our cats love us?
A Sentience Article from All-Creatures.org

FROMNathan Winograd, The No Kill Advocacy Center
August 2021

As long as these studies are non-invasive, voluntary, and allow the cats to quit or walk away if they are bored or stressed, the studies help overcome a bias in the scientific community of “underestimating cats' socio-cognitive abilities.”

Cat Ziggy
My cat Ziggy listening to me tell him — for the umpteenth time — how much I love him.

Last week, I published the results of a new study where researchers recruited people and their pet cats to determine whether cats, like dogs, see their caregivers as surrogate parents. In other words, do our cats love us?

The study found — to the surprise of no one who has ever lived with cats — that they do. In fact, their attachment was as good as children and better than dogs.

I want to address some of the comments to that post where people suggested that the study was a waste of time and money and that anyone with cats could have told researchers that. As to the latter point, fair enough.

But studies like this are still important. As long as they are non-invasive, voluntary, and allow the cats to quit or walk away if they are bored or stressed, the studies help overcome a bias in the scientific community of “underestimating cats' socio-cognitive abilities.” And having more studies conclude that cats have a rich inner life, deep feelings, and a great capacity for love can only serve to increase their status and the view of their moral worth. This is important because it is not just University researchers who have this bias.

This view of cats is also historically endemic in the sheltering community. Shelters often treat cats as second-class citizens, with the bulk of program resources, socializing efforts, and volunteer time spent with dogs. This isn’t necessarily because people love dogs more and cats less, but because they believe that dogs need more and cats are relatively low-maintenance. This study and others like it prove that cats suffer psychologically if not provided stimulation, socialization, and made to feel loved and safe. They deserve a fair share of sheltering resources. We can use studies like this to push shelter managers to make sure they get it.


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