Confused Study Concludes That Cats Don’t Need Their Owners

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This is a study by researchers at the University of Lincoln, UK. The title to the article in The Telegraph newspaper states that “Cats do not need their owners, scientists conclude”. I am referring to this article.

The study concludes that cats do not need people to feel protected. Cats prefer to look after themselves, they state. Separation anxiety is not what it is stated to be but a form of frustration. Cats do not show signs of separation anxiety the study concluded. Cats stick around as companions to humans because they want to. It appears to be a choice for the cat as opposed to a need.

The researchers state that cats can still develop close attachments with people but they don’t need them in the same way that dogs do.

I find the conclusions of the study as set out in The Telegraph newspaper confusing.

You could say that people don’t need other people in that they can survive without people but people prefer to live with other people because it’s preferable. That’s common sense and the same thing applies to domestic cats. They prefer to live with people because it’s preferable. Life is better. So the study is stating the obvious in many ways but I disagree with the fact that cats do not suffer from separation anxiety because my experiences inform me that the opposite applies. Cats do become anxious if the owner is away a lot and that anxiety can be manifested in cat health problems such as cystitis due to stress.

An interesting aspect of the study however is that it states cats don’t need people to feel safe. They look after themselves and they hide. So people should provide hiding places.

Once again I find that conclusion rather confusing because cats need people to provide the hiding places in a secure home. In fact, for an indoor/outdoor cat the home is a hiding place. The home is a place to go to for security. And the cat caretaker, the person, provides it. Therefore domestic cats learn to rely on people.

Cat Head Butts a Horse Companion
Cat Head Butts a Horse Companion

The idea that cats don’t need people appears to originate from the fact, the study states, that cats are not pack animals. Cats don’t need other cats and therefore they are not going to depend upon their owners. Once again I think that this is a confused conclusion and I disagree with it. In colonies of feral cats there is often a substantial amount of cooperation such as when female cats raise another female cats kittens. And we know that domestic cats and feral cats form friendships with other cats and other animals. Perhaps the word “friendship” is not precise enough but cats develop associations with a cats which they do willingly and voluntarily and it makes their life better. In the same way domestic cats form associations with their human caretaker and it improves their life. They don’t need that association to survive but they need it to feel better and to improve their life. The fact is that the domestic cat has learned over centuries to be reasonably sociable and he likes it.

The study also concludes that cats who have been scared or involved in some sort of incident do not want a cuddle from the human caretaker. They prefer to hide. Owners should not be concerned about this, the study concludes. I’m not sure about this either. Certainly cats need to hide somewhere if they are anxious due to an incident but reassurances from the human caretaker are valid in my opinion. They are helpful.

Cat expert cat expert Celia Haddon who supports the study’s conclusions said:

“Cats won’t live in an unhappy home, they’ll just walk out. And abandoned or feral cats get on just fine on their own.”

The first sentence is more or less correct but the second is incorrect. Domestic cats cannot survive well on their own outside the home if suddenly ejected. Some may manage but many die fairly quickly.

All in all, based upon The Telegraph article, which you can read here if you wish, the conclusions of this study are confused in my opinion and inaccurate and unhelpful. I have not come to this conclusion in defence of the human/cat relationship but because I simply find the conclusions vague, illogical and unhelpful.

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6 thoughts on “Confused Study Concludes That Cats Don’t Need Their Owners”

  1. One more quick comment about this. It, and the mind-set behind it frustrates me to no end. I’ve studied cats for 20 years; 15 of those 24/7. Not a minute goes by when I’m not asking myself “What’s going on in their mind right now?” and “Wow, that’s maybe the millionth time I’ve seen that and it never gets old.”. What does get old is reading half-baked conclusions as in this study. As I alluded to in my earlier post, there’s something wrong with the main question, and though I could go on about all that I see that’s questionable about it, all one really has to do is turn it around – “Why don’t we need cats?” because that seems to be where they’re headed… as in “Reasons a cat/human relationship might not be satisfying.” But as everyone here already knows, their conclusions are off also. Lame question, lame observations leading to lame conclusions. Scientists by way of their methods are both objective and objectionable. Most are not empathetic at all, which I think is a crucial sensibility for a curious analyst to have. It’s a mistake to compare anything to the dog in the first place because they are unique in the animal kingdom. No other animal is like a dog and that’s fine with me. Dogs, as far as that goes, do need us FOR EVERYTHING. They are helpless on their own and form clumsy groups (they are not true pack animals. See: Alexandra Semyonova), whereas cats can coexist fine as long as there’s enough food and water – the same goes for all other beings. I’m so bothered by the incessant premiss that there’s something wrong with cats. Whatever behaviors cats have or not shouldn’t be judged by what we prefer, but what they prefer (as Michael stated) and we all should aspire to read and understand them more with an open mind. Before I got to know cats, I thought I was a sensitive, empathetic animal lover – but I’m embarrassed as to how little I really comprehended and appreciated compared to now.

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  2. My old girl Samirah pined after her original owner to the point that she refused to interact with prospective adopters. She waited for her human to come get her, so she languished in that shelter for a year. She was abused in that house, but she didn’t leave. After over a decade of abuse, she didn’t want to leave. When her owner went to the nursing home the rescue group had to use a capture stick to get her out from underneath the bed and drag her out of the house. Would she have survived on her own? Let’s see now, at the time she was old, overweight and with a large fatty tumor underneath her chin. Her human family lived in a rough area of town where stray cats were used as target practice. I’d say her chances for survival were slim to none.

    The money for that totally flawed study could have been used for something more constructive. I wonder about their motives in publishing that BS in the first place.

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  3. While not fair of me, I didn’t read the article. I know how they go and I trust Michael’s take on it. I would like to see how they did the study, because the consensus has been that cats are difficult subjects, and every study I’ve seen was flawed by how it was conducted. The premiss and assumptions made are subjective and psychological, but the main question is questionable. Let me ask, why is it important for us to know OR for cats’ welfare whether they “need” us or not? What is it about us that we need to be needed? And why must they be compared and contrasted to dogs all the time as if they are a baseline for animal behavior? Okay, we know dogs, but we’re getting to know other animals exist too… like cats, and many other mammals that are fascinating in their own right.

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    • I like your comment, Albert. You make some good points. Scientists are keen to publish studies to enhance their career. They choose cats because they are popular. Then then come up with a poor study that does nothing to further cat welfare or human knowledge.

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  4. For anyone to say that abandoned and feral cats” get along just fine” seems extremely unaware, and dismissive of the plight of cats without the safety and care in a loving home.

    Cats are known to be more independent than dogs, and can probably survive better because of their hunting skills.

    Dogs do need us more, and seem more capable of displaying affection than many cats. Could those two aspects be related?

    My cat isn’t very affectionate, and I have to pick her up for cuddling, or bribe her with a treat. But once in my lap, she will relax and receive my affection and brushing. This may be because she was not socialized at an early age, since she was born of s stray, and lived without a home for over a year,
    fending for herself. I think she’d rather be free to roam, but I can’t bring myself to allow that. It would make me too nervous. I take her out twice a day with a halter and leash, and let her roam close by, while I watch her. She usually just curls up in a chair close to me.

    The shelter said she was “not adoptable”, but I took a chance to give her the experience of a loving home.

    She has given me a reason for living when there were times I didn’t want to go on.

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  5. A study sets out to find or prove something. If it’s hypothesis is so narrow and the researchers lack curiosity to discover anything interesting along the way, they’re going to end up with what they’re looking for – nothing useful.

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