Stunning Findings About Cats and Their Often Baffled Owners

cats love hanging with humans

Story at-a-glance -

  • A recent study suggests our cats, despite how they behave around us, actually enjoy hanging out with us
  • Given a selection of items to interact with, including food, most of the kitties in the study chose to interact with humans
  • Prior studies show that indoor cats adopt the lifestyles of their humans, including their eating, sleeping and activity patterns
  • Cats also seem to follow their owner’s lead in terms of getting and receiving attention and affection

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

If you share your home with a member of the feline species, you may have asked yourself at least once, “Does my cat hate my guts?” If so, you’re not alone.

This question often arises when little Jekyll turns into Mr. Hyde during a petting session. One minute his eyes are closed and he’s purr-fectly content, and the next he’s all teeth and claws and puffed-up tail, hissing and batting at you. For reasons known only to him, he launches himself off your lap and struts out of the room in a huff.

As the guardian of a small furry creature who sometimes seems to loathe the very sight of you, you might be surprised to learn that a trio of university researchers has concluded that cats actually seem to like humans a lot more than they let on. Their study results were published recently in the journal Behavioural Processes.1 According to

“[The researchers] point out that cats may simply be misunderstood, noting that recent research has found that cats have complex socio-cognitive and problem solving abilities. They suggest further that the commonly held belief that cats are less reactive to social stimuli might be due to a lack of knowledge regarding the things that cats actually find stimulating.”2

Study Says: Cats Love Hanging With Humans Most of All

The researchers set out to determine what types of things stimulate cats, and to what degree. There were two groups of kitties involved — one group lived with families, the other group consisted of shelter cats. For the study, the cats were isolated for a few hours, after which they were presented with three items from one of four categories: food, scent, toy and human interaction.

The researchers mixed up the items for the cats so they could better evaluate which they found most stimulating, and determined the kitties’ level of interest for a given stimulus by whether they went for it first, and how and how long they interacted with it. Not surprisingly, given the nature of felines, the researchers observed a great deal of variability from one cat to the next, regardless of whether they lived in a home or a shelter. But overall, the cats preferred interacting with a human to all other stimuli, including food.

The kitties spent an average of 65 percent of their time during the experiment interacting with a person, leading the researchers to conclude that cats really do like being around their humans, despite how they might behave around them.

Cats Adopt the Lifestyles of Their Humans

Another study published in 2013 offered some fascinating insights into captive feline behavior.3 For example, did you know our cats take on human habits, or that they adapt their lifestyles to ours?

While genetics certainly play a role in feline personality and behavior, it’s clear environment is also a significant factor. "Our findings underline the high influence of human presence and care on the amount of activity and daily rhythm in cats," says study co-author Dr. Giuseppe Piccione of the University of Messina's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.4

The purpose of the study was to explore the effect of different housing environ­ments on daily rhythm of total locomotor activity (TLA) in cats. The cats in the study lived with owners who worked during the day and were home in the evenings. They were all well-cared for. The kitties were separated into two groups, with the first group living in smaller homes and in close proximity to their humans. The other group lived in more space, had an indoor/outdoor lifestyle and spent their nights outside.

Over time, the cats in the first group adopted similar lifestyles to their owners in terms of eating, sleeping and activity patterns. The second group became more nocturnal. Their behaviors were similar to those of semi-feral cats, for example, farm cats. Dr. Jane Brunt of the CATalyst Council made this observation to Seeker:

"Cats are intelligent animals with a long memory. They watch and learn from us, (noting) the patterns of our actions, as evidenced by knowing where their food is kept and what time to expect to be fed, how to open the cupboard door that's been improperly closed and where their feeding and toileting areas are."5

Indoor cats who spend a lot of time with their humans tend to mimic their eating habits, including those that lead to obesity. And if you happen to keep the litterbox in your bathroom like many cat parents do, you might notice Fluffy often seems to use her “toilet” while you’re using yours.

Feline personalities are often described in terms like “aggressive,” “arrogant,” “curious” or “timid.” These traits apply to people as well, and researchers theorize that cats’ environments may have a greater impact on their personality than previously thought.

Do Cats Understand the Give-and-Take of Their Relationships With Us?

Dr. Dennis Turner is a leading expert on the feline-human bond and his research shows that unlike dogs, cats follow their human's lead when it comes to how much involvement they have with each other. Some cat owners prefer a lot of interaction with their pet, others don’t have much time to devote or simply prefer less interaction.

Kitties are quite adaptable to their humans’ needs in this regard and fall into step easily with the pace the owner sets. They do this without complaint, and their independent, self-sufficient nature helps them get along without a need for the same level of interaction their canine counterparts demand. Even more fascinating is Dr. Turner’s discovery that cats seem to understand the need for balance in their relationship with their humans:

“What we found was the more the owner complies with the cats wishes to interact, the more the cat complies with the owners wishes, at other times. They go up together, or they go down together. If the person doesn’t comply with the cat’s wish to interact then the cat doesn’t comply with the person’s wishes. It’s a fantastic give and take partnership. It’s a true social relationship between owners and cats.”6