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Do cats miss their owners?

Grey cat lying down on the floor advice

A cat can miss its owner

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Cats behave different from most domestic pets. They take care of themselves, and they seem far more self-assured than, for instance, dogs. As a result we tend to think of cats as lacking in owner attachment. But ongoing research suggests we may be misreading the signs, and if we look hard enough we will find evidence of separation anxiety and sadness of cats that are left alone or abandoned.

By Nick Whittle

Published on the 03/10/2020, 17:00

The problem we face however is that on the whole cats do not exhibit emotion as openly as dogs. So perhaps that points to a lack of emotion? Perhaps.

The truth may be found from studies of feline behaviour.

Cats may be solitary but they are also quite social. They may naturally need human affection less than dogs do but they will still look for it and enjoy it when it is on offer. But do they feel sadness when they are left alone? We look at some of the facts.

Do cats miss their owners when they leave?

A recent study from Lincoln University suggests cats do not miss their owners much when they are away. Researchers opine that this lack of separation anxiety is due to a cat’s lack of attachment to its owner. In fact, research done in tandem with Lincoln even reveal a cat’s distaste for the departure of the human rather than sadness!

Do cats get attached to their owners?

Dogs have an innate love of humans. It is thought that at some point in the evolution of the dog from the wolf a gene mutation created a dog’s need for affection, and a need to be involved, either in a pack of its peers or amongst humans.

It was this gregarious nature and willingness to ‘stick around’ that we think was the germ of our association with the novel dog, and led to its being fully domesticated.

Cats have neither the same past nor the same mutations as dogs and therefore remain, in essence, 'wild'. But curiously - unlike their wild big cousins - they will also visit us and live with us at ease.

Scientists at Kristyn Vitale of Oregon State University recently announced that a cat’s living with us can develop into a far greater bonded relationship than we previously thought was possible. In fact, the Oregon research suggests the depth of a cat’s bond with its owner is almost on par with that of some dogs. That forces us to reconsider cats merely as detached wild animals.

The Oregon research

Vitale and her team conducted certain types of separation test on 79 kittens and 38 cats. They found a collective willingness of the cat’s to co-operate with co-testing humans.

Of the kittens, 64.3% were categorised as securely attached and 35.7% as insecurely attached. The adult cats showed similar rates: 65.8% exhibiting secure attachment and 34.2% insecure.

Do cats get sad when you leave?

We must urge caution when we talk about an animal getting ‘sad’. Sadness is a word we use to describe a certain feeling, and we may use the term most readily to describe a sense of loss. There is no reason to think that a cat’s sense of loss may be any less than our own, but can this lead the animal to sadness? It is impossible to tell.

What we can identify though is a cat that is under the weather either physically or psychologically. Furthermore, evidence of cats mourning their owners is commonplace, so feasibly we may say that a cat that is bereft of their owner – either by abandonment or temporary absence – can feel such a sense of loss. Whether or not we can say the cat is ‘sad’ is debateable.

Do cats have any feelings for their owners?

Cats will have various feelings for their owner, and the strength of the feeling varies between breeds and between cats that come from different households. It is generally thought likely that the cat sees itself as more of an equal to us than a dog.

Cats – even in the wild – are more solitary than dogs, and will only secure an allegiance with another cat (or you in its eyes) if it needs an ally or considers the other cat to be worthy of an alliance.

One of the things cat owners can do in order to cement their relationship with their pet is to become worthy, and this is done by treating the cat well and administering food, water and shelter.

Do you give your cat all of your love? How do you tell if your cat is happy? 

How do you know if your cat misses you?

In order to find out whether our cat has feelings for us we must first know the signs of affection. If a cat shows us affection it is logical to presume that the same cat will sense a loss when we leave.

Here are five ways by which a cat will show its owner affection:

  • A happy cat will sit next to its owner and want to be with them
  • A happy cat will purr contentedly
  • A happy cat will expose its belly to the owner
  • A happy cat will brush along its owner’s leg or arm

We can say that a cat is capable of missing an owner if its relationship with the owner is one full of love and mutual respect. In order to achieve such a union you must take on ownership in full. Cats may be solitary and they may not need affection as much as dogs but they have graced us with their presence, and we should cherish them as domestic pets.

As such, cats deserve care and compassion as much as any other. Learn how to identify an unhappy cat or one that pines for your presence and make allowances in your life in order to spend more time together. A cat is not an animal that needs a human for survival, but it is one that will enjoy what we have to offer.

Frequently asked questions

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