Does Your Cat Play Favorites? The Surprising Truth About Cats and Their Favorite Humans


Cats can form strong bonds and relationships with their owners. However, there is some debate around whether cats actually pick “favorite” owners in the same way that dogs do. Some experts argue that cats relate to their owners more as a source of resources like food and shelter rather than forming emotional attachments. However, studies have shown that cats do show preferences for certain people over others based on factors like personality, familiarity, and how those people interact with the cat. This article will explore the evidence around whether cats prefer particular owners over others and the factors that influence cat-owner bonding.

Bonding Behavior in Cats

Cats form strong bonds and attachments to their owners that are similar to the bonds dogs share with humans. According to a 2019 study published in Current Biology, most cats are securely attached to their owners and use them as a source of security in unfamiliar environments (1). This indicates that cats do bond closely with their human caretakers despite often being perceived as aloof and independent.

Cats display affection and bond with their owners through actions such as rubbing, kneading, head-butting, grooming, vocalizing, and sleeping near or on top of them. They often follow their owners around the house as well. Many cats are quite chatty with their owners and communicate through meowing, purring, chirping, and trilling sounds.

Additionally, cats release pheromones when content that further promote bonding. Letting cats nuzzle and bump their heads on you allows them to mix their scents and mark you as safe. Cats also exhibit trusting body language such as rolling over to expose their stomachs. Slow blinking communicates affection too.

While some cats may bond more strongly with one family member who feeds them or plays with them the most, they are quite capable of establishing relationships with multiple individuals in a household when provided comfort, routine, and positive interactions.


Individual Personality

Like humans, each cat has a unique personality of their own. Research from the University of Lincoln in England has identified five main personality dimensions that can help characterize cats: neuroticism, extraversion, dominance, impulsivity and tolerance. Within each of these spectrums, every cat will have their own tendencies.

For example, some cats may be more nervous and jittery (high in neuroticism), while others are bold and adventurous (low in neuroticism). An outgoing cat who seeks attention displays more extraversion, compared to an independent cat who is more reserved. Dominance refers to how controlling a cat tries to be with their environment and owners.

Additionally, some cats have more self-control (low impulsivity), while others act on every impulse (high impulsivity). Cats also vary in their tolerance for change, loud noises, and handling by strangers. So within each of the main personality dimensions, individual cats show their own quirks and preferences.

Personality is influenced partly by genetics and early experiences, so kittens from the same litter can still develop distinct personalities. Just like humans, no two cats are exactly alike when it comes to their personality profile.

Familiarity and Routine

Cats tend to bond most closely with the people they see on a regular, routine basis. Cats are creatures of habit and generally like their daily schedules to remain consistent. Having a predictable routine makes cats feel safe and secure. As the ASPCA notes, “Straying from their normal daily habits causes stress for cats.”

Establishing a daily routine with regular feedings, play time, grooming, etc. helps cats form a close bond and attachment. According to a Catster article, cats who have a consistent daily routine with their owners are less likely to exhibit behavioral problems and tend to be happier and more relaxed overall. The person who consistently feeds, grooms, plays with and cares for a cat on a daily basis will likely be the human a cat bonds most closely with.

When there is a disruption to their normal routine, cats can become anxious, agitated and stressed. As Vets4Pets explains, “When their usual peace and quiet becomes a thing of the past, this can cause cats to feel anxious.” Maintaining consistency and minimizing disruptions is key to strengthening the cat-human bond.

Food Provider

One of the main reasons a cat may choose a favorite person is because that person is the one who regularly feeds them. Cats love food, so it makes sense they will form a close bond with whoever satisfies their appetite on a consistent basis. According to Catster, cats are “opportunistic eaters” and are motivated by food rewards. If a certain person is the one filling their food bowl every day, the cat will associate that person with the positive feelings they get from eating.

This food-motivated behavior starts early, as kittens imprint on the first person who regularly feeds them. As they grow older, they maintain this bond with their primary food provider. Even with multiple people living in a household, research shows cats tend to prefer whoever feeds them most often. This is likely an evolutionary adaptation to help kittens bond with their mother. As adults, cats continue exhibiting this preference for their primary caretaker and food source.

So if you want to become your cat’s favorite human, be the one to feed them on a consistent schedule. They will learn to associate you with their regular meals and form a close attachment. Just make sure not to overfeed them, as you want to maintain a healthy diet! Satisfying their powerful food motivation is a good way to win over their affection.

Training and Play

Engaging in training and play is an excellent way for owners to build a bond with their cat. Play reinforces the relationship between a cat and their human by creating a fun, rewarding association (“How to Bond With Your Cat Through Playtime”, When owners initiate play with toys, cats learn to see their owners as playmates and companions. Play also meets a cat’s natural instinct to hunt, pounce, and stalk, allowing an outlet for their energy. Many cats become more affectionate and attached after playtime.

Training such as clicker training can also increase bonding by teaching a cat to associate their owner with treats and praise. The training process builds trust as the cat learns that their owner will reward desired behaviors (“Playing With Your Cat”, This focused one-on-one time and problem solving helps strengthen the relationship. Additionally, some training tricks like high fives involve touch and interaction that facilitates bonding.

Scent and Pheromones

Cats rely heavily on scent and pheromones to communicate with other cats as well as humans. When cats rub against people or objects, they are depositing pheromones from glands around their mouth, cheeks, tail, and paws 1. These pheromones create a familiar scent that marks their territory and preferred humans.

Research shows that cats produce a “reassurance” pheromone when nursing kittens that promotes bonding and feelings of safety 2. Some cats will deposit this pheromone on their preferred human as a way to strengthen social bonds and indicate who they feel most comfortable with.

Additionally, cats have an excellent sense of smell and can recognize their owner’s scent. By rubbing on their chosen person, cats spread their scent as a way to mark their territory and favorite companion.

Body Language Cues

Cats use a variety of body language signals to communicate how they feel about a particular person (1). For example, when a cat feels comfortable and content with someone, they are more likely to demonstrate affection through actions like rubbing their head on the person, kneading or massaging with their paws, and curling up on the person’s lap (2). With their favorite person, cats often show a relaxed posture by lying on their side and exposing their belly, which signifies trust and lack of threat.

Cats may also communicate fondness for a particular person through their eyes, facial expressions, and tail movements. Slow blinking of the eyes, for instance, is a friendly gesture in cat language. A happy, content cat will often look at their favored human with a soft, relaxed gaze. Subtle facial movements like an open mouth with the tongue exposed can signal that a cat is very comfortable as well. An upright, gently curved tail that quivers at the tip generally conveys positive anticipation and excitement directed toward a cat’s chosen human.

These types of body language cues help indicate that a cat feels bonded with and shows preference toward a particular owner. The more often a cat displays affectionate behavior and relaxed, approachable body language with one individual in the household, the more likely it is that person has become their favorite.

Stress and Comfort

When stressed, cats often seek out their preferred human for comfort and security. According to studies from Vitale et al. (2019), cats form attachment bonds with their owners that function similarly to human-infant attachments. The owners become the cat’s “safe haven” and “secure base.” Like infants, cats will retreat to their safe person when frightened and then explore freely when that person is near. So when stressed, whether from loud noises, other pets, or a disruption in routine, cats will tend to seek proximity to the particular owner they are most attached to in order to feel calm and secure again.


In summary, the evidence suggests that cats do tend to form a closer bond and show preference for a particular person in multi-person households. Several factors contribute to a cat choosing a favorite human, including who spends the most time with the cat, feeds it, plays with it, and has bonded with it from kittenhood. Cats gravitate toward and feel most secure with the person who understands their body language, respects their needs, and provides a sense of routine and consistency. While cats may snuggle with multiple family members, research indicates they usually show a strong preference for one main human caregiver. So while cats are independent, they are capable of having a special relationship with a particular person.

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