Are Cats Emotionally Attached To Humans?

There has been an ongoing debate about whether cats form emotional attachments to their human caregivers in the same way as dogs or human infants. Some argue that cats are aloof and independent, only interacting with humans for food and shelter, while others believe cats form meaningful social bonds and display attachment behavior. This article will provide an overview of the scientific evidence exploring cat-human attachment and what it reveals about feline emotions and relationships.

Cat Behavior

Cats express affection in various ways that may not always be obvious to humans. Some common ways cats demonstrate love and attachment include:

  • Purring – Cats often purr when content and comfortable around their trusted humans. The soothing purr indicates relaxation and affection. [1]
  • Kneading – Cats knead and massage with their paws when feeling safe and bonded. Kneading releases endorphins and helps cats feel connected. [2]
  • Head-butting and rubbing – Cats head-butt and rub up against their owners to mark them with scent glands and show affection. [3]
  • Slow blinking – Slow eye blinking demonstrates trust and comfort with another cat or human. It is a form of cat “kissing.”
  • Playing – Cats often playfully interact with owners they are bonded with as a social form of affection.

While less demonstrative than dogs, research shows cats develop social attachments and feel safe, content, and relaxed around humans they are familiar with.

Human-Cat Bond

Research has shown that when humans interact with cats, both species experience a rise in oxytocin levels, known as the “love hormone” or “cuddle chemical”. Oxytocin plays a key role in bonding and attachment between humans and cats.

One study found that when women petted and interacted with cats in a domestic environment, their oxytocin levels significantly increased. Specific cat behaviors like displaying affection were linked to higher oxytocin levels in the women (Johnson et al., 2021).

Another study confirmed that contact with cats boosts oxytocin levels in cat owners. Oxytocin facilitates social bonding, so this effect underpins the strong bonds that can form between cats and their human caregivers (Nagasawa et al., 2023).

Importantly, cats appear to form individual attachments and bonds with their owners. Cats show more affectionate behavior like purring, rubbing, and sitting on the lap of their primary attachment figure compared to other people. This parallels infant-caregiver bonds, suggesting cats become intrinsically attached to their human caregivers.

Separation Anxiety

Many cats do experience separation anxiety when left alone without their human companions (Source: Common signs of separation anxiety in cats include vocalizing (meowing, crying, howling), destructive behavior like scratching furniture, pacing, loss of appetite, and inappropriate urination or defecation. These anxiety symptoms are thought to be triggered by the cat’s distress over the absence of their attachment figure. While less common than in dogs, separation anxiety does indicate that the cat has formed an emotional bond with their human caretakers and feels acute stress when separated. The intensity of the reaction varies based on the individual cat’s personality and degree of attachment.

Differences from Dogs

Cats tend to be less reliant on humans compared to dogs. According to Wikipedia, dogs have been domesticated for over 10,000 years and have evolved to be dependent on human companionship. Cats, on the other hand, only started living closely with humans about 4,000 years ago. As a result, dogs have a stronger drive to form attachments with humans.

Cats are generally more independent and solitary creatures compared to dogs. They do not have the same pack mentality as dogs and are content being on their own for periods of time. Cats will seek out human interaction on their own terms, while dogs crave near-constant companionship. This indicates cats may form attachments in a different way than dogs.

While dogs were bred specifically to work closely with humans, cats largely domesticated themselves. This means they have not been selectively bred to crave human interaction in the same way as dogs. So while cats may become attached to their owners, they do not rely on them to the same degree as man’s best friend.

Stress Reduction

Cat companionship can have significant stress-reducing benefits for humans. Research has shown that cat owners have lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol compared to non-cat owners (Source). Simply petting and interacting with a cat can lower anxiety and bring a sense of calm.

One reason cats are so effective at reducing stress is their purring. A cat’s purr vibrates at a frequency between 25-150 Hz, which overlaps with the frequency range that can heal bones and reduce swelling, pain, and stress (Source). The rhythmic vibration of a cat purring on your lap can lower blood pressure, decrease anxiety, and lull you into a relaxed, meditative state.

Beyond the physiological benefits, the companionship and affection from cats provides comfort and stress relief on an emotional level. Petting and caring for an animal fulfils the human need for touch and connection. Cats can serve as emotional support animals to help people with depression, anxiety, and PTSD cope during difficult times.

Individual Cat Differences

There are significant differences between cats based on breed, personality, and their experience with humans. Some cat breeds tend to bond more closely with their owners than others. For example, Ragdolls, Maine Coons, and Persians are known for forming strong attachments to their families and craving affection. In contrast, breeds like Bengals and Siamese tend to be more aloof. Of course, individual personality plays a big role as well – some cats are simply more sociable and people-oriented from birth, regardless of breed.

Early socialization also has a major impact on how cats relate to humans. Kittens that are frequently handled, played with, and positively reinforced by people from 2-7 weeks old usually grow up to be more attached and comfortable with their owners. Feral cats or cats that experienced abuse or neglect in their youth are less likely to bond closely with people later in life. However with patience, even rescue cats with difficult pasts can learn to trust and show affection over time.

Feral Cats

Feral cats are especially challenging to socialize with humans. As the Cat Socialization Continuum Guide from Alley Cat explains, “Feral cats are only at home outdoors with their feline families. However, it’s possible to socialize kittens born to feral cats if we handle them at an early age.”1 The key is early and consistent human handling of feral kittens during the critical socialization window before 8 weeks of age.

Socializing adult feral cats requires much more time and patience. A guide from American Pets Alive states, “An adult feral cat can require a few months or up to a year or more to socialize.”2 They recommend techniques like keeping feral cats in a safe enclosed space and sitting quietly nearby so the cat associates your presence with comfort. With extreme patience, some feral cats may eventually allow human touch and bond with their caretakers.

Human Perception

Many humans believe that cats are inherently aloof animals that lack deep bond with their owners. Indeed, cats often give a more detached impression compared to dogs, which are focused fully on their masters. However, according to recent research, these perceptions may stem more from human bias or misunderstanding than from truly aloof feline behavior. Some cats are simply nervous or under-socialized, giving them an aloof appearance.

Studies show that cats can form close attachments to their owners similar to dogs, but express it through different behaviors. When left alone, they may exhibit signs of separation anxiety or depression. The key is learning to read subtle cat body language and provide environments that make cats feel safe and secure. With time and understanding, aloof cats often warm up and demonstrate affection. The image of cats as unaffectionate loners may say more about people’s preconceptions than about cats themselves (


While cats may not form bonds with their humans that are as overtly affectionate and dependent as dogs, there is substantial evidence that many cats do form meaningful attachments and relationships with their human caretakers. A key component of the human-cat bond seems to be the cat’s reliance on their human to provide food, shelter, and safety. This reliance likely contributes to the distress many cats show when separated from their people for extended periods of time. Additionally, cats often choose to spend time in proximity to their caretakers, especially when the human is stationary, indicating an affinity for their presence and companionship on some level. And studies have shown cats display different greeting behaviors and vocalizations for their own humans compared to strangers, suggesting they do recognize and feel a sense of familiarity with their owners. Ultimately every cat is an individual, and some may be more aloof than others. But the preponderance of evidence points to cats being capable of forming affectionate affiliations with the humans in their homes when provided with nurturing care and secure attachments early in life.

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