Animals

Cats Adore, Manipulate Women

Cats attach to humans, and particularly women, as social partners, and it's not just for the sake of obtaining food.

- Relationships between cats and their owners mirror human bonds, especially when the owner is a woman.

- Cats hold some control over when they are fed and handled, functioning very similar to human children in some households.

- While the age, sex and personality of owners affect these relationships, the sex of the cat doesn't seem to matter.

The bond between cats and their owners turns out to be far more intense than imagined, especially for cat aficionado women and their affection reciprocating felines, suggests a new study.

Cats attach to humans, and particularly women, as social partners, and it's not just for the sake of obtaining food, according to the new research, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Behavioural Processes.

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The study is the first to show in detail that the dynamics underlying cat-human relationships are nearly identical to human-only bonds, with cats sometimes even becoming a furry "child" in nurturing homes.

"Food is often used as a token of affection, and the ways that cats and humans relate to food are similar in nature to the interactions seen between the human caregiver and the pre-verbal infant," co-author Jon Day, a Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition researcher, told Discovery News. "Both cat and human infant are, at least in part, in control of when and what they are fed!"

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For the study, led by Kurt Kotrschal of the Konrad Lorenz Research Station and the University of Vienna, the researchers videotaped and later analyzed interactions between 41 cats and their owners over lengthy four-part periods. Each and every behavior of both the cat and owner was noted. Owner and cat personalities were also assessed in a separate test. For the cat assessment, the authors placed a stuffed owl toy with large glass eyes on a floor so the feline would encounter it by surprise.

The researchers determined that cats and their owners strongly influenced each other, such that they were each often controlling the other's behaviors. Extroverted women with young, active cats enjoyed the greatest synchronicity, with cats in these relationships only having to use subtle cues, such as a single upright tail move, to signal desire for friendly contact.

While cats have plenty of male admirers, and vice versa, this study and others reveal that women tend to interact with their cats -- be they male or female felines -- more than men do.

"In response, the cats approach female owners more frequently, and initiate contact more frequently (such as jumping on laps) than they do with male owners," co-author Manuela Wedl of the University of Vienna told Discovery News, adding that "female owners have more intense relationships with their cats than do male owners."

Cats also seem to remember kindness and return the favors later. If owners comply with their feline's wishes to interact, then the cat will often comply with the owner's wishes at other times. The cat may also "have an edge in this negotiation," since owners are usually already motivated to establish social contact.

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Although there are isolated instances of non-human animals, such as gorillas, bonding with other species, it seems to be mostly unique for humans to engage in social relationships with other animals. In this case with cats, it's for very good reason. Cats could very well be man's -- and woman's -- best friend.

"A relationship between a cat and a human can involve mutual attraction, personality compatibility, ease of interaction, play, affection and social support," co-author Dorothy Gracey of the University of Vienna explained. "A human and a cat can mutually develop complex ritualized interactions that show substantial mutual understanding of each other's inclinations and preferences."

Dennis Turner, a University of Zurich-Irchel animal behaviorist, told Discovery News the he's "very impressed with this study on human-cat interactions, in that it has taken our earlier findings a step higher, using more modern analytical techniques to get at the interplay between cat and human personalities."

Turner, who is also senior editor of The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behaviour (Cambridge University Press), added that he and his colleagues "now have a new dimension to help us understand how these relationships function."

Kotrschal's team is presently involved in a long-term study of man's other well-known animal best friend: dogs.

Although there are isolated instances of non-human animals, such as gorillas, bonding with other species, it seems to be mostly unique for humans to engage in social relationships with other animals.

Dec. 21, 2012

-- This year, a study published in the journal PLoS found that looking at cute animal photos helps people to improve their concentration. With that in mind, we present some of the cutest baby animal photographs of 2012. Taking a break to look at such photos may provide a beneficial boost. "For future applications, cute objects may be used as an emotion elicitor to induce careful behavioral tendencies in specific situations, such as driving and office work," wrote Hiroshi Nittono of Hiroshima University and his colleagues. Some of our favorite cute critter photographs this year came from the Chengdu Panda Base, which experienced a giant panda baby boom in 2012. Alejandro Grau, a spokesperson for the reserve, told Discovery News in November that "all the cubs are in good health and were photographed together for the first time."

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When this little female orange-headed Francois's langur was born at the San Francisco Zoo, the SF Giants baseball team went on a winning streak. "Things have turned literally since she's been born" Abigail Tuller, a spokesperson for the zoo, said in October. "She seems to have her strongest powers when the Giants are behind." That winning streak never ended. The Giants wound up winning the World Series pennant.

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Two-month-old Charlees, the rhino, spent an entire sunny morning happily running around her spacious digs at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Charlees is the 61st greater one-horned rhino born at the Safari Park since 1975, making the Park the foremost breeding facility in the world for this species. Once widespread in Southeast Asia, the greater one-horned rhinoceros now numbers approximately 2,800 and is listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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This clouded leopard cub and his brother were born this year in Nashville, Tenn., but traveled to the San Diego Zoo, which they now call home. The brothers, Riki-san and Haui-san, provide hope that breeding programs can successfully increase numbers of their critically endangered species.

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During spring 2012, Smithsonian's National Zoo welcomed the birth of this young black howler monkey. In the wild, threats to these monkeys include human predation, habitat destruction and being captured for captivity as pets -- since they are so cute.

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In April, a duckling whose mother was mauled to death by a fox was adopted by a Labrador retriever. Jeremy Goldsmith, owner of Fred the lab, said, "It is amazing to see the two of them together. When we found Dennis (the name he gave the duck) he was quite frail, and he clearly would not have survived another day on his own." He continued, "Fred, who has always been extremely loving, went straight up to him and began to lick the little bird clean. Since then, Dennis has not stopped following him around, and Fred has pretty much adopted him."

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Even killer whales have their cute moments, as this photo of a mother and son together proves. This year, we learned that the prolonged life spans of killer whale moms and human mothers is due, in part, to caring for offspring -- especially sons. "For most animal species, the potential for an individual to increase the propagation of its genes stops when they stop reproducing," Darren Croft, a senior lecturer in animal behavior at the University of Exeter, told Discovery News. "Our results show that, as with humans, female killer whales can continue to increase the propagation of their genes long after menopause." He added, "They do this by helping to increase the survival of their older sons, which in turn increases the number of grandchildren fathered by their sons. Through this process, evolution favors females that live longer after their menopause."

Yet another mother and baby, this time orangutans, were captured in a photo this year. As for killer whales (also known as orcas), orangutan mothers dote over their offspring.

In May, a fishing cat mother gave birth to a pair of kittens. Fishing cats in the wild are endangered and are native to South and Southeast Asia. The cats live near water, such as freshwater marshes and rivers.

This baby dama gazelle, which entered the world in 2012, has evolved for life in the desert. As adults, dama gazelles grow incredibly long legs and can run very fast. They also sport thick horns. Their diet includes grasses, leaves, shoots and fruits.

This young Savannah sparrow, snapped in 2012, has a short tail and a tiny head. It is a common songbird in North America, where it can be heard in farm fields and grasslands tweeting a loud, insect-sounding song.

While snakes seem to have faces that only a mother could love, this baby tentacled snake was a hit at Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Aside from their diminutive size and slithery cuteness, the snakes charmed zookeepers because the keepers had spent four years trying to breed this rare species. Tentacled snakes are native to Southeast Asian lakes and rice paddies.

In November, a study in the journal PLoS ONE reported that grey seal moms often exhibit a flexible parenting style. Sean Twiss of Durham University, who worked on the study, said, "In either resting or disturbed situations, seal mums behaved in very individual ways, some showing high levels of maternal attentiveness, others showing low levels." Surely this mother, caught playing with her pup, falls into the doting mom category.

A plethora of great giant panda pics came our way in 2012. We already have shown you one, but could not resist yet another. Here, giant panda cub Xiao Liwu (meaning "Little Gift") stretches out and shows his belly while animal care staff check him over during an exam at the San Diego Zoo.

Baby animals likely have been cute since the beginning of critter time on this planet. Cuteness makes them more appealing to adults, helping to ensure their care. We cannot show you a photo of a baby dinosaur, but we can show you this handprint of the baby dinosaur Massospondylus rom a nesting site in South Africa. This handprint reveals that the hatchlings walked on all fours, whereas adult dinos were known to walk on two legs. Our guess is that baby Massospondylus was extremely cute, at least by Jurassic standards.

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