Risk Factors for a Broken Human-Cat Bond

Certain risk factors can be identified which if present are likely to lead to a failed relationship between domestic cat and person.

A study conducted in 1996, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, involved interviewing cat owners who had a happy and stable relationship with their cats. The study also interviewed cat owners who had recently abandoned their cat to an animal shelter. The objective was to find out the circumstances under which these different scenarios had developed.  The researchers were then able to identify ways of increasing the possibilities of the human to cat bond developing.

cat left home and will not come back

This cat left home and will not come back. Nice photo. Sometimes cats do that and it is not the fault of the caretaker. Photo Cris

The following “risk factors” are likely to lead to the relationship between cat and human failing and the relinquishment of the cat:

  1. cats who were younger than 6 months of age, intact (meaning not neutered or spayed)
  2. cat had never visited a veterinarian (I suppose indicating a neglectful attitude by cat owner or without sufficient funds)
  3. cats acquired at no cost (lack of funding? Casual adoption)
  4. cats acquired on a spontaneous decision (casual adoption. Unprepared and not thought through)
  5. cats who do not live in the home with their caretakers.  For example, the cat lives in the basement or a garage (uncommitted cat ownership. Lack of understanding of the domestic cat and lack of sensitivity)
  6. the owner reports “bad cat behaviour” such as scratching and inappropriate elimination (not respecting the cat and/or lack of understanding of cat behavior and requirements)
  7. the cat owner does not allow sufficient time for attachment to develop between herself and her cat
  8. the cat owner has unrealistic expectations with respect to cat caretaking and I suspect also with respect to cat behaviour

In another study similar results were arrived at:

  • People who kept their adopted cat for one year or longer were much more attached to their cat than those who gave up the cat.  The results is unsurprising but it emphasises the need to allow time to form an attachment.  I suspect that this is particularly important for a person who is new to cat caretaking.
  • Rigid and unrealistic expectations about the role of a cat in their household and about cat behaviour in general was far more likely to lead to the abandonment of the cat to a shelter.

A much higher success rate in respect of forming a bond between human and cat resulted when the human accepted the cat as a cat and all that that imports into the relationship (as opposed to expecting the cat to behave in a certain way).  In other words when a cat caretaker respects the cat and accepts cat behaviour as it arrives and likes it, the relationship is much more likely to be strong and long-lived.


  1. Patronek et al – Risk factors for relinquishment of cats to an animal shelter 1996
  2. Karsh and Turner – The Human-cat relationship 1988

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Risk Factors for a Broken Human-Cat Bond — 5 Comments

  1. If my 5 year old tomcat “Matata” was born in Europe , America or a multi-family home in Mumbai then he would have been euthanized or abandoned by now. He has all the bad personality habits of a cat which include “Yowling” early in the morning or odd hours of the night , scratching of furniture and total failure as a “Stud Cat”.He is absolutely vicious and petrified of strangers, always hiding whenever any stranger enters my house. He has never been taken to the Vet since kitten-hood 5 years ago because of his behaviour , worse than a wild cat.He was born in my house and i personally severed his umbilical cord in the litter of 6 kittens.He was the first born and the freak coloured kitten in a litter of 6. While the other 5 kittens were white he was brown .His childishness and sentimentality is the bond that holds him to my house.Strangely, his dam 7 year old “Matahari” is the exact opposite of his personality, the perfect traditional Persian cat in behavior as well as manners!I have taken her to the vet on a few occasions, the perfect docile cat.How can two cats from the same house and bred from the same dam be so different in personality and behaviour ?I have attached one of my best photo’s of both the cats sitting on a table, a candid photo.”Matata” is the brown coloured cat looking away from the camera.

    • Monty has certain behaviors that others might see as a problem also. He doesn’t accept strangers very well. I have seen cats featured on Jackson Galaxy’s television show with the same “problem” and the owners are all bent out of shape about it. I always think, “Who cares if your cat likes your guests?” Most of my friends are smart enough not to try to pet Monty, but to respect his body language that says, “Back off.” I have one friend I have to remind that he was feral as she keeps extending her hand to Monty to sniff it, like he’s a dog or something, and she won’t stop coming in trying to pet him even as he hisses and growls at her. He’s never actually attacked her, but push him too far and he might. So who has the problem if that would happen? Is it Monty being a “bad cat” or the human who doesn’t comprehend what “feral” means?
      I wish I could have caught Monty’s siblings the day I caught Monty. Having all three of them would have been wonderful. I wonder what comparisons I would have been able to make between their personalities? I’ll never know since it didn’t happen that way. I’m just glad to have him. My goal is to give him the best life possible. If he doesn’t like every human he meets that is fine with me. I don’t like every human I meet either. I’m just sophisticated enough not to hiss at them. Monty would say I am being dishonest. He is completely honest about his feelings and there is nothing bad about his expressing them.

      • Ruth , you have given a excellent comparison of cats and humans relationship through your cat Monty.We humans also don’t get along with every human we meet in our life and the same applies to cats.

    • Thats very odd Rudolph you say ‘the Brown Coloured cat’ but they both look White to me!! beautiful cats btw 🙂

  2. A really interesting article which dissects human behaviour towards cats. It seems to boil down to a complete lack of sensitivity towards the cat which leads me to believe that some of the characteristics displayed are of selfish thoughtless people who should never ever have got a cat in the first place.

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