When given a choice of what they would prefer to do, domestic cats prefer to spend time with their human companions for social stimulation than be given food or engage in other activities.
The study found that 50% of the cats tested preferred to interact with their humans in providing social stimulus even though they had a choice between social interaction with their human companion or three other “stimulus categories”. The four types of different stimulation in the study were: human interaction, food, toys and scent.
The second most popular type of stimulation for a domestic cat is eating food. This was preferred by 37% of the cats in the study which, by the way, was a small study of 50 cats.
The study comes from Oregon State University, USA. The participating cats came from homes and from animal shelters. The study goes against the grain because many people believe that the domestic cat is not very sociable or indeed trainable.
However, the domestic cat is today really quite a sociable animal thanks to thousands of years of domestication. This study might help people to train the cat because if you know a cat’s preferences in terms of stimulation then you know the sort of reward that will motivate him or her.
The researchers recorded the proportion of time that the cats spent engaged in each activity. They presented the cats with the four types of stimulation at the same time to allow the cats to choose. As mentioned, most cats prefer to socialise with humans over the other forms of stimulation.
This research is also useful in that it helps to inform cat owners how best to enrich the domestic cat’s environment. Human interaction should be a priority.
The research probably tells us that cats don’t like to be alone – we already know this, I think. The idea that domestic cats are independent and don’t mind being alone is incorrect. People keep cats because they think that they are independent and that when they are at work their cat will be okay. This will probably not be the case unless their are other forms of social stimuli.
We do know that cats can suffer from separation anxiety and that cats can become stressed when their caretaker is away from home too long during the day.