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Cats And Their Mysterious Bond With Humans: Unfolding The Tale

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In the everlasting debate between being a “dog person” or a “cat person,” the lines are often drawn on the basis of emotion. Dogs are typically regarded as the more affectionate, loyal companions, while cats are seen as independent and aloof. However, a deeper exploration into feline behavior and the cat-human bond may challenge these stereotypes.

Feline Affection: A Tale of Independence and Subtlety

One of the key aspects that sets cats apart from dogs is their inherent independence. Unlike dogs, cats have not been bred for specific roles that involve close interaction with humans, such as herding or hunting. Instead, cats were initially valued for their independent hunting skills, keeping homes and farms free of vermin. It’s no surprise then that cats have retained a level of independence and aloofness that’s often mistaken for disinterest or dislike.

“Cats form close emotional relationships with humans, yet little is actually known about this,” comments Daniel Mills, animal behavioral specialist at the University of Lincoln.

Indeed, our feline companions do form bonds with us, but these bonds are often shaped by the cat’s individual personality and the dynamic between the cat and its human.

The Science Behind Cat-Human Bonds

Recent scientific studies have provided valuable insights into the nature of the bond between cats and their humans. In a 2015 study conducted for the BBC documentary “Cats v Dogs,” neuroscientists found that the levels of oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone,” increased in both cats and dogs after being stroked by humans. However, the increase was significantly higher in dogs.

In another study conducted in 2021, researchers identified five different types of cat-human relationships, ranging from “open relationship” to “co-dependence” and “friendship.” The results were evenly split, with about half of the cats showing emotional investment, and the others maintaining a more aloof relationship.

Lead author of the study, Claire Ricci-Bonot, stated, “I think there is an emotional bond between the cat and its owner…however, I am not sure that we can speak about attachment in the same way as with dogs and their owner, particularly for adult cats.”

Feline Socialization: A Delicate Balance

Just as with humans, socialization plays a crucial role in a cat’s behavior and its relationship with its owner. Cats that are not properly socialized during their early life may display signs of aggression or fear towards humans. On the other hand, cats that are properly socialized are more likely to form close bonds with their humans.

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Cats also have a distinct preference for a “hands-off” approach to interaction. They do not appreciate having attention forced upon them and will often react negatively to such attempts.

“Cats are not necessarily known for being overly expressive when it comes to communicating how they are feeling. This can often cause issues during petting,” notes Lauran Finka, a cat behavior and welfare specialist.

The History of Cat Domestication

The history of cat domestication provides further insight into the independent and somewhat aloof nature of our feline companions. Unlike dogs, which were domesticated by humans over 23,000 years ago, cats are believed to have domesticated themselves around 10,000 years ago.

Cats were initially attracted to human settlements due to the availability of food, in the form of rodents that were attracted to stored grains. Over time, cats that were more tolerant of human presence had a survival advantage, leading to a population of semi-domesticated cats that lived alongside humans.

Cats See Us As Equals, Not Masters

One intriguing aspect of cat behavior is that cats tend to treat humans as equals, rather than as masters or leaders. According to cat-behavior expert John Bradshaw, cats do not differentiate between human and feline social interaction.

“They obviously know we’re bigger than them, but they don’t seem to have adapted their social behavior much. Putting their tails up in the air, rubbing around our legs, and sitting beside us and grooming us are exactly what cats do to each other,” Bradshaw explains.

The Feline Language of Love

Despite their independent nature, cats do have ways of showing affection towards their humans. One common behavior is the “slow blink,” which is often referred to as a “cat kiss.” Cats also show affection through purring, rubbing against their humans, and kneading, which is a behavior kittens display towards their mother during nursing.

While these behaviors may seem subtle compared to the enthusiastic tail-wagging and licking displayed by dogs, they are a clear indication that our feline friends do form bonds with us, even if these bonds are on their own terms.

Cats and Stress: The Hidden Struggles

One of the less-known aspects of feline behavior is their susceptibility to stress. Cats are highly sensitive to changes in their environment and can become stressed by factors such as changes in routine, new people or pets in the home, or a lack of secure hiding places.

Stress in cats can lead to a variety of behavioral and health problems, including aggression, inappropriate elimination, over-grooming, and various health issues such as cystitis and dermatitis. Understanding and managing stress in cats is crucial for maintaining their wellbeing and fostering a healthy cat-human relationship.

Interpreting Feline Affection: A Personal Connection

While scientific research can provide valuable insights into feline behavior, the bond between a cat and its human is ultimately a deeply personal one. Each cat is unique, with its own personality and preferences, and the nature of its bond with its human will be equally unique.

As cat owners, it’s our responsibility to respect our feline companions’ boundaries, provide them with a safe and enriched environment, and take the time to understand their unique ways of expressing affection. In return, we are rewarded with the subtle but unmistakable signs of feline love: a purr, a slow blink, a gentle head-butt, or a soft knead on our lap.


In conclusion, while cats may not show their affection in the same overt way that dogs do, this does not mean that they do not form strong bonds with their humans. Cats have their own unique ways of expressing affection, which are often more subtle and require a deeper understanding of feline behavior.

So, the next time you find yourself wondering if your feline friend loves you, look for the subtle signs: a slow blink, a soft purr, a gentle rub against your leg. Chances are, you’ll find that the answer is a resounding yes.

“The type of relationship that the cat and the owner have depends on the owner’s level of emotional investment in the cat and the cat’s sociability,” says Ricci-Bonot, “But there are other factors which need to be considered … Some cats might be able to form very close bond with their owner, but every relationship is unique.”

Indeed, every cat-human relationship is unique, and that’s what makes it so special.


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