Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation


Proximate Factors Influencing Cat Behavior, Cognition, and The Human-Cat Bond Public Deposited

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  • The domestic cat is one of the world’s most popular companion animals. However, to date much remains to be learned about cat behavior and the cat-human relationship. To examine the influence of proximate factors on cat behavior and the human-cat bond, three studies were undertaken. Study 1 directly measured the sociability of pet and shelter cats. Cats were presented with their owner and a stranger who were either inattentive or attentive to the cat. Results indicate adult cats can detect human attentional states and modify their behavior in response, demonstrating they are sensitive to human social cues and tend to be more social when presented with an attentive human. Additionally, the population of the cat, either living in a home or shelter environment, can influence cat sociability. Shelter cats spend more time with humans despite human inattentive behavior or the lack of a preexisting bond. Study 2 examined if participation in a 6-week kitten training and socialization class influenced kitten behavior, cognition, or the kitten-owner bond. Five 6-week long classes were offered to a total of 50 kittens, aged 3 – 8 months old. The behavior of the kittens was measured on several cognitive tests prior to and following involvement in the class. Class kittens were also compared to a group of 50 control kittens of the same age that did not participate in training classes. Cognitive tests included a sociability, social referencing, cognitive bias, and secure base test. Owners were provided with the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale to examine attachment from the human perspective. Results indicate that following the training and socialization class, kittens significantly altered their sociability in response to their owner’s attentional state, spending more time with the attentive owner. However, control kittens lacking the training and socialization experience, did not significantly alter their behavior in response to owners’ attentional state. Additionally, class kittens persisted in completing the cognitive bias test over time while control kittens displayed a decrease in task persistence at follow-up testing. This may indicate training and socialization helps maintain motivation and task persistence over time. Attachment results indicate the existence of secure, insecure-ambivalent, and insecure-avoidant attachment styles in kittens. Attachment styles were relatively stable for kitten-human dyads, with 87% of kittens having the same style at both testing sessions. The training course itself was well attended and successful. It appears to suggest interest from the general public in participating in kitten training and socialization opportunities when they are made available. The aim of Study 3 was to examine individual cat preferences within and between items in human social, food, scent, and toy categories in two populations of cats. Results indicated there was no significant difference between the preferences of pet and shelter cats. In all, cats displayed a great deal of individuality in their preference for different stimuli. However, the majority of cats most preferred human social stimuli, followed next by a preference for food, then toys, and finally scent items. Overall, the research presented in this project indicates proximate factors such as a human’s attentional state, kitten training and socialization classes, and the housing environment can significantly influence cat behavior. However, the individuality of the cat is still one of the most important factors influencing cat behavior. In all, this research provides additional evidence of the flexible social relationship between cat and human.
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  • Supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program under Grant No. (1314109-DGE). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. I also received support from the Oregon State University Provost's Distinguished Graduate Fellowship. The kitten training and socialization research was supported by a sponsorship from Nestlé Purina.
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  • Ongoing Research
Embargo date range
  • 2018-06-14 to 2019-07-15



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