The Special Bond Between Cats and Women

Girl playing with cat on rug

Have you ever wondered why women and cats have such strong relationships? Specifically, why some women (a very few, mind you) tend to collect large numbers of cats? While you’ve heard the term “crazy cat lady”, you never hear of “crazy gerbil ladies” or “crazy ferret ladies”!

In fact, some behavioral researchers wondered the same thing. A recently published study in the journal Behavioral Processes indicates the answer lies in a special bond that exists only between cats and women. Scientists from the Konrad Lorenz Research Station and the University of Vienna took a hard look at the behavioral interactions between 41 cats and their human companions, using individual personality assessments of both their human and feline subjects. Their findings might very well cause a paradigm shift in our understanding of these relationships.

Rather than being standoffish and selfish (as cats are often portrayed), the study showed that there was real attachment between cats and their pet parents. Of course, any cat parent will tell you these findings are not surprising in the least. As expected, the cats demonstrated food-seeking behavior, but the researchers also noted that cats and their people signaled each other when they wanted to receive or even give affection. Cats also demonstrated that they were able to keep track of how their physical and emotional needs were being met. Further, felines were more likely to remember kind gestures and respond to their human companion’s emotional needs if the human had previously responded to their own.

While these interactions were noted with both women and men living with cats, cats clearly approached women and initiated contact (i.e. jump in laps) more often than with men. In fact, a cat’s relationship with a woman mirrored that of a human-human bond more than a human-animal bond, in that cats could tell their humans when to feed and interact with them and the humans would do it! Like a human infant, cats were seen to control when they were being fed. It is interesting to note that a cat’s mewl for food sounds eerily like that of a human infant.

The results of the study showed that cats and their pet parents, particularly women, influence each other strongly. In some ways, they can actually control one another’s behaviors. "A relationship between a cat and a human can involve mutual attraction, personality compatibility, ease of interaction, play, affection and social support," said co-author Dorothy Gracey of the University of Vienna. "A human and a cat mutually develop complex ritualized interactions that show substantial mutual understanding of each other's inclinations and preferences." While I wouldn’t go so far as to say cats can manipulate women, the results of this study certainly provide food for thought.

Knowing that cats have a much shorter evolutionary history of living with humans than dogs makes these findings even more astounding! Is it possible that women who provide homes for many cats simply cannot help themselves? There are so many new questions! Obviously, this study only scratches the surface of the complexity found in human-cat relationships. So, the next time you interact with your cat, I challenge you to ask yourself who is really running the show.

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals.

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks

References

Wedl M1, Bauer B, Gracey D, Grabmayer C, Spielauer E, Day J, Kotrschal K. Factors influencing the temporal patterns of dyadic behaviours and interactions between domestic cats and their owners. Behav Processes. 2011 Jan;86(1):58-67. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2010.09.001. Epub 2010 Sep 15.

Comments (8) -

  • Ruth

    8/26/2015 12:35:11 AM |

    I am a dog person Smile Although I love all pets ...  But, a few months ago I looked after a friend who broke her shoulder.  She has a tiny Siamese Cat.  OMG, this cat was so sweet, so attached to my friend.  I didn't know cats could be like this.  I loved watching the two of them together

  • Lora

    8/26/2015 3:52:50 AM |

    Thanks for sharing the study ! My friends and I have rescued many street cats over the years.  Most were placed with loving people.  Of course, some had to stay with their rescuers.  Cats who were not handled as kittens seem to bond with the original rescuer to an intense degree.  They're extremely difficult to place.  If placed, they often run away and return to the rescuer's home area.  I'm guessing this study looked at 'normal' cat homes and not at rescue groups.  That would be an interesting study.  I had a dog for almost 20 years (same dog) and I love dogs too.  But cats purr, snuggle, and know how to train a human and keep us happy.  

  • Janet Makarick-Roberts

    8/26/2015 10:47:21 AM |

    We recently took in a stray that had kittens in our barn.  thankfully, we found good homes for the kittens.  The mama cat now has the run of the upstairs of the house and certainly knows when it is feeding time.  They do have a way of snuggling right into our hearts.  thanks for the info Dr Jane!

  • Richard

    8/28/2015 3:23:24 AM |

    Dr. Jane thanks for this article. I can attest to its accuracy by relating the following story. Our 8 yr. old cat, MJ, is not only very intelligent but exhibits human-like behavior that is almost surreal at times. Since I work from home, and my wife works outside the home, I spend most of my time in the house with him. He knows how to get my attention when his water bowl needs freshening, he is  hungry, wants a treat, his litter box needs maintenance, and most especially when he wants to be combed. He will come get me and mewl in a way that he only uses for this. As soon as I stand up he will lead me to the master bathroom where he jumps up on the counter and then tries to open the drawer where his comb is kept. He will preen and purr as I brush him and would stay there with me for hours if he could. He comes to me when he wants treats and has a special mewl for that as well.
    However, as soon as my wife comes home from work it is as if I no longer exist. 100% of his attention is then focused on her and he will actually hide from me.
    It is so fascinating to observe this behavior.
    Thanks again for the article.
    Richard

  • JoAnne

    8/30/2015 3:18:16 AM |

    Very interesting info to better understand my cat and our relationship, as I am more of a dog person!  Thank you!

  • Rebecca Forrest

    8/30/2015 4:47:05 AM |

    I’ve wondered more than one why we never hear of “crazy cat men.” I’m sure they exist, just as “crazy cat women” do. Is the woman-cat relationship a matter of the cat detecting pheromones or some other hormones? Is it that women are, in fact, more likely to “obey” the cat’s wishes?

    Such an interesting topic!

    Rebecca Forrest

  • Barry

    8/31/2015 4:36:56 AM |

    Did you see the recent Guardian newspaper story that exposes 75% of psychology studies and 50% of all cognitive studies can't be replicated?  In other words, they are junk science?  I'm dubious of any kind of emotional or bonding study that is based on gender. Love is love.  There actually are women who hoard other animals than cats.  That includes ferrets.   I have an acquaintance whose wife has over 100 ferrets in their house.   She shows them internationally but still, that's a sign of hoarding.  That's how the crazy cat lady got her name.   Because really the dynamic that exists in this situation is that people collect cats, dogs, whatever in some effort to save them.  But the great contradiction is that these people suffer from emotional trauma that actually prevents them from saving themselves.   So, the old cat lady joke is about mental illness.   Although it certainly is not limited to women.  

    All mammals are certainly capable of emotions and an emotional bond with humans and even mammals from other species.   But this article is clearly not proven science but rather anecdotal at best and containing bias at worst.  

    Just sayin.

  • Debbie Dameworth

    9/18/2015 3:24:12 AM |

    I love this information.  I have 2 adorable cats that are litter mates.  They love each other, but each have a different love language with me. They come when I call them and greet me at the door when I arrive home from a long day. They both wake me up by 6:30am for their canned cat food (IC, of course). The female, Missy, lays across my body and pats my face with her paw. The male, Beau, will jump on the back of the bed headboard and push my pictures back and forth on the wall.  Of course, I get up and feed them.  Watching TV, one sits at my feet and other lays on my lap.  They are SO much company for me and really have a sense of how I am feeling.

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