Why cats are more independent than dogs

Cats do not need their owners to feel secure and safe in the same way dogs do, making them more independent, according to a new study. 

Mel Evans/AP
Cats seem to be less affected by separation from their owners than dogs, a new study suggests.

As many cat owners know, domestic cats can handle being on their own. Though they can form close bonds with their owners, they don't suffer from separation anxiety in the same way dogs do, a new study suggests.

According to findings published in the journal Plos One, cats seem to be less affected by being away from their owners than dogs.

A team of animal behavior specialists at the University of Lincoln, UK, who conducted the study, found that "while dogs perceive their owners as a safe base, the relationship between people and their feline friends appear to be quite different.”

In other words, while dogs depend on people for a sense of protection and safety, cats can handle themselves fairly well.

“The domestic cat has recently passed the dog as the most popular companion animal in Europe, with many seeing a cat as an ideal pet for owners who work long hours,” said study co-author Daniel Mills in a statement.

“Previous research has suggested that some cats show signs of separation anxiety when left alone by their owners, in the same way that dogs do, but the results of our study show that they are in fact much more independent than canine companions,”  said Dr. Mills. “It seems that what we interpret as separation anxiety might actually be signs of frustration.”

As part of the study, the researchers observed the relationships between 20 cats, placing the pets in unfamiliar environments with their owners, with strangers, or alone.

In varying scenarios, they monitored the amount of contact sought by the cat, the level of passive behavior, and signs of distress caused by the absence of the owner. 

“Although our cats were more vocal when the owner rather than the stranger left them with the other individual, we didn’t see any additional evidence to suggest that the bond between a cat and its owner is one of secure attachment,” the researchers concluded.

The team assumed vocalization to be a sign of frustration or learned response since no other signs of attachment were observed.

“For pet dogs, their owners often represent a specific safe haven; however it is clear that domestic cats are much more autonomous when it comes to coping with unusual situations. 'Our findings don't disagree with the notion that cats develop social preferences or close relationships, but they do show that these relationships do not appear to be typically based on a need for safety and security,” the researchers said.

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