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Living With Animals: Cats Love Us

Have you ever noticed that the anger which follows stupid comments like “dogs don’t really love people” is matched by the incredulity which follows stupid comments like “cats really do love people”..?  Last week we considered research which confirms what we already know about dogs’ loving us, but is there comparable research documenting that cats too are capable of loving their humans? Yep, there certainly is.

Researchers at Oregon State University conducted studies which show that cats prefer the company of us humans over food, catnip and other cats. A bunch of cats (half of them pets, half from animal shelters) were placed in solitary confinement long enough for the researchers to figure out each individual’s favorite food, scent, toy, and the preferred way of interacting with humans (snuggling, playing, avoiding, etc.). Each cat was then tested with the very sciencey sounding “free operant preference assessment” which simply means giving them the chance to select what they prefer when given options. Not all the cats chose to play along but the majority of those who did elected to spend their time with people over food, toys or a cloth which smelled of another cat.

We cat lovers (and to be clear, I am a cat-and-dog lover!) know that cats demonstrate their affection just as readily, although perhaps more subtly, than dogs. When a cat rubs his cheek against you or head-bumps your face (behaviors called “cat-bunting”), he is indeed marking you with his scent – but why bother if you don’t matter enough to claim? When a cat clownishly somersaults onto her back and offers her tummy for a rub, she is presenting her most vulnerable spot to someone she trusts. And when cats choose to snooze on your lap (cats sleep up to 16 hours a day) they are gifting you with what they know matters a great deal: themselves! Yes, our cats think highly of themselves but also of their people, and I take comfort in knowing they think I too am ok. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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