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The socio-cognitive relationship between cats and humans – Companion cats (Felis catus) as their owners see them

By Péter Pongrácz, Julianna Szulamit Szapu

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Although domestic cats are among the most common companion animals, we still know very little about the details of the cat-human relationship. With a questionnaire, we asked 157 Hungarian cat owners about their pet’s behavior, cognitive abilities and social interactions. We analyzed the responses with PCA resulting in 11 traits. The effect of cats’ and owners’ demographic variables on the main components was further analyzed with GLM. The results showed strong similarity to the surveys performed with companion dogs, but we also found features that were mainly cat-specific. We found that women considered their cats to be more communicative and empathetic, than men did (p = 0.000). The higher education owners also considered their cat as being more communicative and empathetic (p = 0.000). We also found that owners use pointing signals more often if the cat is their only pet (p = 0.000), and otherwise they do not give verbal commands often to the cat (P = 0.001). Young owners imitated cat vocalization more often (p = 0.006); while emotional matching of the cat was more commonly reported by elderly owners (p = 0.001). The more an owner initiated playing with his/her cat, the imitation of cat vocalizations was also more common in his/her case (p = 0.001). Owners think that their cat shows stronger emotional matching if otherwise they experience human-like communicative capacity from the cat (p = 0.000). Owners use more pointing signals in the case of those cats that show attention-eliciting signals in more than one modality (p = 0.000). Owners who react to the meows of unfamiliar cats, initiated interactions more often with their own cats (p = 0.000). Owners also think that cats vocalize in every possible context, and this result was not affected significantly by any of the independent factors. Our results show that owners considered their cat as a family member, and they attributed well developed socio-cognitive skills to them. Because cats have an important role as a companion animal, it would be worthy to study cat behavior with similar thoroughness as with dogs. Our questionnaire may provide a good starting point for the empirical research of cat-human communication. The deeper understanding of cats’ socio-cognitive abilities may also help to improve cat welfare.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 207
Pages 57-66
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Cats
  2. owners
  3. Questionnaires