Cat Loyalty. Do Cats Really Wait for Their Owners to Return?


The bond between cats and humans is a unique and special relationship. Cats have been domesticated for thousands of years, and in that time they have developed the ability to communicate and interact with humans in ways that other animals cannot. While dogs may be known as “man’s best friend,” cats also form deep attachments and relationships with their human companions.

There are several facets to the human-cat bond. Cats recognize their owners and demonstrate affection. They are attuned to human emotions and often provide comfort during times of stress or anxiety. Many cat owners see their felines as members of the family. When a cat owner dies or goes away for an extended time, cats can grieve for their missing human friend.

This article explores the ways cats relate to humans and the depth of the bond that connects cats and their owners. It sheds light on cat behavior and explains why these independent, mysterious creatures allow humans into their lives and curl up contentedly in our laps.

Cats Form Attachments

Cats can form strong attachments and bonds with their human owners, similar to the attachments dogs and human babies form with their caregivers. Research has shown that cats become attached to their owners and need the security and comfort provided by those attachments.

According to a 2019 study published in the journal Current Biology, cats display secure attachment behaviors toward their owners, such as greeting them when they return home and relying on them for comfort in stressful situations [1]. The study found that the majority of cats are securely attached to their owners.

Additionally, a 2022 study from Oregon State University found that the majority of cats formed attachments to their owners that were comparable in strength to the bonds dogs forge with their owners [2]. This contradicts the stereotype that cats are aloof and independent.

The attachments cats form with their owners provide them with a sense of security and can reduce stress. This allows cats to thrive in human homes. While cats may not always show overt signs of affection, their attachment behaviors demonstrate they rely on and feel comforted by their owners.

Cats Recognize Their Owners

Cats can recognize their owners by sight, voice, and scent. Research shows that cats rely mainly on visual cues and routine to recognize their owners. While cats have poor vision for detail, they have a strong ability to recognize shapes and movement patterns. Cats will learn their owner’s body shape, gait, and gestures. Even if it’s been weeks or even months since they saw their owner, cats remember them based on visual cues (Do cats recognise owners? | Meow Blog).

A cat’s sense of hearing is much better than humans. Studies show cats can recognize their owner’s voice even if they haven’t heard it for over 2 years (Do Cats Recognize Their Owners? – Reu’s Corner). Cats also rely on scent. A cat’s sense of smell is 14 times better than humans. They use scent to recognize their owners and differentiate between house members. Cats have scent glands on their paws, cheeks, tail, and other areas that release pheromones. These scents will cling to owners and familiar objects in the house.

Cats Display Affection

Cats show affection in various ways that may not always be obvious to humans. Some of the most common ways cats display affection and love include:

Purring – This rumbling sound is one of the clearest signs a cat is happy and content. Cats often purr when being petted or sitting on their owner’s lap. The sound signifies relaxation, comfort, and trust.

Head-butting and rubbing – Cats have scent glands on their heads, cheeks, and tail area. When a cat gently head-butts you or rubs their head on you, they are scent marking you as part of their family and territory. This helps them feel safe and secure.

Kneading – Similar to nursing kittens, adult cats knead or press their paws rhythmically on soft surfaces or their owners as a sign of contentment. This reaction likely stems from their kittenhood when kneading helped stimulate milk flow from their mother.

Slow blinking – Also called a “cat kiss,” slow eye blinking shows a cat is calm and comfortable around you. It indicates trust and affection. Make sure to return the blink to tell your cat the feeling is mutual.

Chirping – While not all cats chirp, some vocalize an odd chirping sound to greet their owner or show excitement. It often occurs alongside purring and rubbing behaviors.

Gifting toys or prey – If your cat leaves “gifts” of toys, food or prey at your feet, this strange act is their way of providing for you and showing their bond.

Cats Sense Human Emotions

Research has shown that cats are able to recognize human emotional cues and respond accordingly. According to a study published in the journal Animal Cognition, cats react differently to positive emotional expressions like smiling compared to negative expressions like frowning or angry voices [1]. Their results indicate cats can distinguish between positive and negative human emotions.

Cats may also alter their behavior in response to the moods of their owners. For example, some cats can become more affectionate and attentive when they sense their owner is sad or stressed. According to Petcube, cats are very observant and may pick up on subtle cues indicating depression, anxiety or sadness in their human companions [2]. By spending more time close to and interacting with their distressed owner, cats may be trying to provide comfort and reassurance.

Overall, evidence suggests cats have the capacity to recognize human emotional states and to modify their behavior accordingly. An attentive, affectionate cat may be responding to your own internal feelings.

Cats Wait for Returned Owners

It’s common for cats to wait by the door or window for their owner to return home. According to a study by the University of Lincoln, cats form attachments to their owners similar to dogs and human infants. So even though cats are independent pets, they do rely on their owners for affection and protection.

Cats who spend time isolated from their owners can develop separation anxiety. A anxious cat may wait intently by the door or window watching for signs of their owner’s return. This behavior demonstrates how bonded a cat is to their family. Some research indicates that certain cats even mirror their owner’s habits, eating and sleeping at the same times.

So while they don’t rely on humans for basic survival, cats do form meaningful relationships. A cat waiting by the door is a sign that they missed their owner and can’t wait to welcome them home.

Cats Search for Lost Owners

When their owners are away for prolonged periods, cats can display behaviors suggesting they miss them. One sign is that cats may search the house looking for their absent human. According to a Reddit user, their cat will go “from room to room meowing and scratching at the bottom of closed doors” when searching for them after returning from a trip [1]. This restless pacing and vocalizing indicates the cat is unsettled by the owner’s absence and is actively trying to locate them.

The searching behavior may persist for several days after the owner’s departure before the cat resigns themselves to the absence. As highly territorial creatures, cats can find it stressful when a familiar human suddenly disappears from their environment. The searching seems to be an attempt to restore the missing member of their social group. With their excellent long-term memory, cats likely remember the owner well and so continue seeking them out around the home.

Cats Grieve Lost Owners

When a cat has formed a close bond with an owner, they will grieve the loss of that person. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, “When a cat loses a companion, whether animal or human, she grieves and reacts to the changes in her life. Cats alter their behavior when they mourn, much like people do.”1 Common signs of grieving in cats include changes in appetite, vocalizing more, changes in sleep patterns, searching for the lost companion, or becoming more clingy and attached to surviving family members.

Petcarerx notes that “One thing is agreed upon by all: cats definitely grieve. It is a matter of conjecture, however, whether the sadness comes from the death of the human companion or the disruption to its routine and environment.”2 When an elderly cat loses an owner they are close to, they may stop eating or decline rapidly. The grief can be too much for some cats to bear.

The depth of grief a cat experiences often depends on the strength of the bond they had formed with their owner over time. Cats that have bonded very closely with an owner will mourn the loss more intensely. But any cat that cohabitated with an owner is likely to notice their absence and grieve it in their own way.

Cats Need Time to Adjust

Bringing a new cat into your home can be an exciting experience, but it’s important to remember that cats need time to get comfortable in a new environment. According to BARCS, most cats will adjust within one to two weeks when entering a new home. However, it may take several months for a cat to fully acclimate if there are other animals in the household.

When first arriving home, some cats may bolt under furniture or spend hours hiding. As explained on PAWS, this is very normal behavior. The best thing you can do is sit nearby and talk softly to your new cat. Let them explore at their own pace and avoid forcing interaction. Over time, the cat will become more comfortable with you and their new surroundings.

According to Reddit users on r/CatAdvice, it can take anywhere from one week to over a month for a cat to fully adjust to a new home environment and owner. Be patient and allow your new cat the time they need. With a loving home and proper care, your cat will bond with you and settle into their new life.

Strengthening the Bond

To build a strong, lifelong bond with your cat, it’s important to strengthen your relationship over time. Here are some tips for deepening the connection between you and your feline companion:

Spend quality one-on-one time together every day. Set aside at least 10-15 minutes to play with your cat, using interactive toys like feather wands and laser pointers. This playtime stimulates your cat mentally and physically while allowing bonding through positive interactions.

Give your cat affection on their terms. Let them come to you first before attempting to pet or hold them. Cats feel more secure when they have control over interactions. Try chin scratches or cheek rubs as your cat allows. Over time, they may permit more petting as trust grows.

Keep your cat’s favorite treats on hand. Offer treats as you approach, while gently petting, or after playtime. This associates you with rewards and enjoyable experiences. But don’t overfeed treats, as weight gain can cause other health issues.

Establish a predictable routine. Feed, play with, and interact with your cat around the same times each day. Cats feel comforted by routine and knowing what to expect. Make sure to meet their needs for food, water, litter box cleaning, exercise, and affection consistently.

Use calming cues during stressful events like vet visits. Bring along a worn T-shirt with your scent or play calming pheromone music designed for cats. This provides familiarity and reassurance when away from home. Afterwards, give extra attention and affection to counter the stress.

Be patient and let trust develop over time. Some cats warm up faster than others. But putting in consistent effort to meet their needs while respecting their boundaries will eventually build a close companionship.

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