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In a choice, interacting with people beats eating for domestic cats

A study published in August 2017 on the sciencedirect.com website comes to the conclusion that the domestic cat, in a choice between eating food and interacting with humans, prefers the latter. I’ll have to presume that the human has to be a person that the cat gets on very well with because obviously this conclusion would not normally be true for people who are totally unknown to the cat.

Interacting with people beats eating for domestic cats. Individual images in public domain. Montage and annotation by PoC.

Adult cats from homes and shelters participated in the study. They were presented with four types of stimulus, namely human social interaction, food, toy and scent. The two most popular stimuli were interaction with humans and food. Of these, as mentioned, the leading stimulus was interaction with people.

One reason for the study is to gain better knowledge of what stimuli cats prefer and therefore what motivates them. This may provide information about cat cognition. The study was carried out by scientists from Oregon State University.

Comment: Personally, I’m not completely sure that this study advances to a great extent our knowledge of the domestic cat. I would have thought that the quality of the cat food is a factor as to whether a domestic cat chooses food over interacting with a person. Also how hungry a cat is would also be an important factor. I don’t information about these aspects of the study.

Also, a lot, perhaps the vast majority, of interactions between human and cat are instigated by the human when it comes to play and perhaps by the cat when it relates to sleeping on or near their human companions. Neither do I know what kind of human interaction took place in this study because I only have access to the summary (abstract).

Another factor I would have thought that needs to be noted is that feeding a cat is a form of human-cat interaction itself. How does this affect the study? Also, both cat and human routines during the day often separates feeding from interaction with the humans. So if cat-to-human interaction takes place at a different time to feeding then there is no competition between these two activities. In which case there’s no need to prioritise them.

Another point worth making is that toys per se are often not that interesting to domestic cats unless they are moved by a person. This blurrs the conclusion and for an outside cat play often takes the form of hunting.

These are just my observations but I have a sense that the study does not really progress our knowledge of the domestic cat a great deal.


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Michael Broad

Hi, I am 70-years-of-age at 2019. For 14 years before I retired at 57, I worked as a solicitor in general law specialising in family law. Before that I worked in a number of different jobs including professional photography. I have a longstanding girlfriend, Michelle. We like to walk in Richmond Park which is near my home because I love nature and the landscape (as well as cats and all animals).

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