When it comes to bonding with a cat the jury is out. Some of us believe human-cat bonds are effortless; some believe they can be achieved through positive interaction with their cat; others believe they are impossible!
Despite the differences of opinion, the generally accepted theory of our relationship with a cat is thus: the cat does not need its owner in order to feel secure, but its “love” for its owner can be made strong.
We look at whether cats can ever become as emotionally attached as dogs to their owners. Some of the signs of a cat’s love, as feline as it is, are examined by signs of its reliance on its owner. In addition, we look at how best to achieve a bond with a cat by using body language and voiced communication.
Emotional attachment: what’s the difference between cats and dogs?
First, in order to bond with a cat it is necessary to understand what type of animal a cat is. Perhaps the most important aspect of a cat’s relationship with humans is its relatively recent beginning. From the study of Greek archaeology, it is thought likely that cats began to be companions of humans from around 1,200 BC.
But despite this companionship, its sociability and love of play, the cat has also been able to survive by itself. Its genetic similarity with wildcats highlighted in a study published by The Telegraph concluded that cats historically stuck around for rewards, but were less inclined to love their owners for the sake of it.
The forerunners of dogs on the other hand were invited into our homes thousands of years before. And they were invited not to chase rodents but for companionship and protection. As a result the dog received protection, warmth, food and play.
In the millennia that followed dogs have gained a unique understanding of our body language, behaviour, working practices, loves and dislikes.
The upshot of these basic differences between cats and dogs should work as a guide to how we bond with each animal, since it is not possible to apply the same techniques to both. Cats are not as tuned in to our mannerisms and actions as are dogs, which is why we have to apply different methods when it comes to bonding with a cat.
Can cats actually love their owners?
Despite evidence of a cat’s inability to feel separation anxiety, it is generally thought that if a cat prefers your company (and returns to you on a daily basis) they enjoy your company. That is not to say they love you, but then again it is hard to say that dogs actually love their human owners in the way we know love.
That being said, cat owners should not despair at the findings of research. To them, the cat does show love or at least affection. Here are just some of the telling signs of a cat’s bond with a human:
- Eye contact
Cat bond: Eye contact
The slow blink is a sign of your cat’s bonding. Eye contact between wild animals is usually the precursor to conflict. For humans, the opposite is true. If a cat should stare at you and blink slowly in the course of doing so it is telling you that it is neither threatened nor scared of you. In other words, it has accepted you as an ally.
Cat bond: Kneading
Kneading is something a kitten does on its mother’s tummy. To knead a milk-laden queen will bring nourishment and thus comfort. In the same way that some more grown up humans suck their thumbs or cuddle their blanket at night kneading is a sign that your cat finds great solace and comfort in your presence.
Cat bond: Grooming
Grooming is an important part of a cat’s life. If your cat appears to be grooming you it is a sign of its feeling especially close to you and seeing you as part of the pack.
Cat bond: Bunting
Bunting is a form of animal behaviour very often seen of cats. An animal that bunts will tend to rub its head against other objects, other cats or you. Bunting is a sign of the cats bonding and friendliness. In fact the cat is placing its scent across whatever it rubs along. Bunting may also be used by a cat that is seeking attention.
A combination of these signs and their frequency is a good way of telling how bonded your cat feels with you. Additionally, soft purrs are a sign of contentment and comfort. If you have all of them in quick succession when you are with your cat you are on the right track!
How do you bond with a cat?
To try to understand a cat’s behaviour can be frustrating, but it is not impossible. For someone who may class themselves a “cat person” the task is far easier. They appear to be, writes The Guardian, more in tune with the needs and sensitives of the cat than someone who thinks of themselves as a “dog person”.
Those differences aside, anyone is capable of bonding with a cat as long as they do so in the right way. Here are five methods of bonding with your cat:
Hold them when they are young
If you have adopted a kitten you should handle it as much as possible. Pick it up, pet it, cuddle it; let it lie on your lap when you are sitting down. Cats, and other animals, interact via tactile communication. If you begin your relationship in this way you are likely to retain a bond with the cat when it reaches adulthood.
Observe its body language
Spend time studying your cat. When you pet him or hold him how does he react? If his ears are flat against his head and his tail is twitching nervously he may not enjoy the interaction. Over the next few weeks you will be able to adjust your behaviour to suit your cat’s likes and dislikes.
Provide a safe place
A cat’s behaviour is often steered by nervousness. To provide a safe place for your cat to disappear to will engender it with a feeling of security. If a cat feels safe in your home then it is more likely to perceive you as a friend rather than a foe. Invest in a carrier or cat home to which the cat can go for some downtime.
Get down to the ground
All domestic pets we keep are lower to the ground than we are. It is something often forgotten by owners when they are talking to or even admonishing their pet. Our tallness is something that is perceived by a cat (or any animal) as threatening. In order to bond with your cat get down to its level as much as you can, or lift it onto your lap.
Spend lots of time with your cat
It is true that cats are solitary creatures. They will come and go as they please and will not feel the same sense of separation that dogs feel. But that should not mean that when you are with your cat under the same roof you don’t spend as much time as possible with him. In order for your cat to bond with you he first needs to feel safe and secure.
If your cat consciously walks towards you, begins bunting and wants to spend time with you it is likely he has bonded with you. To get to that point takes a degree of effort on your part, but it also takes your learning what the cat likes and doesn’t like. Respect your cat’s boundaries and acknowledge his semi-wild character. You will find the act of bonding becomes much easier if you do.
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