Living in close proximity to humans, cats have developed intricate relationships with their human counterparts. Understanding the factors that influence their social behavior is crucial in strengthening the bond between humans and feline companions. In a recent pilot study, researchers examined how hormonal and socio-environmental factors shape the sociality of cats towards humans [^1].
Individual Variability in Cat Behavior
Cats possess a range of innate instincts that facilitate their interactions with humans. For instance, they have adapted their vocal communication to effectively communicate with us. Meowing, a behavior primarily reserved for mother-kitten communication, is employed by cats to attract human attention even into adulthood [^2][^3]. Visual cues also play a significant role as cats follow human gaze for reference in food selection tasks and exhibit eyeblink synchronization, a sign of seamless communication [^4][^5][^6][^7].
However, it is important to note that there is considerable individual variability in cat behavior towards humans. This variability arises from a selection preference that prioritizes appearance over sociality, ultimately influencing the way cats interact with their human companions [^8]. Genetic and environmental factors further contribute to this divergence in behavior. Studies have explored the influence of genetic factors on animal behavior by comparing behavioral differences between breeds and analyzing responses to questionnaires [^9][^10]. Researchers have also investigated the impact of coat color on feline behavior, revealing interesting connections [^11][^12][^13].
Hormonal and Socio-Environmental Influences
Aside from genetics, variations in the development of the hormone system, influenced by genetic diversity, can significantly affect cat behavior. Additionally, early childhood experiences have a profound impact on a cat’s behavior towards humans [^14][^15][^16][^17][^18][^19][^20]. Kittens exposed to daily handling sessions of 30-40 minutes develop a stronger affinity towards humans as adults [^16]. Furthermore, the number of handlers that kittens are exposed to also shapes their adult behavior towards humans [^16][^17]. Hormones, known to modulate intraspecific behavior in cats, might also exert an influence on their interactions with humans. Studies have shown negative correlations between cat urinary cortisol levels and behaviors such as hiding from humans [^21]. Changing concentrations of urinary cortisol and oxytocin, hormones affected by human caregiving practices, have been observed as well [^21][^22]. Lastly, castration has been linked to a decrease in aggressive behavior in cats, possibly due to lowered testosterone levels [^23][^24].
The Pilot Study: Shedding Light on Cat Behavior
Acknowledging the limitations of their small sample size, the researchers aimed to explore whether the behavior of cats towards humans is influenced by the age at which they begin cohabiting and/or by their hormone levels [^1]. By recording the age at which the cats started living with humans and observing their behavior during interactions with human experimenters, the researchers gained valuable insights. To complement these behavioral observations, hormone levels were also measured. The study hypothesized that:
- Cats that start living with humans at a young age would develop a stronger affinity towards humans as adult cats.
- Cats with lower testosterone concentrations would display less avoidance behavior towards experimenters compared to those with higher testosterone concentrations.
- Cats with lower cortisol concentrations would exhibit less avoidance behavior towards experimenters compared to those with higher cortisol concentrations.
- Cats with lower oxytocin concentrations would demonstrate lower group boundaries, engage in more interactions, and develop friendlier relationships with experimenters.
Understanding the intricate dynamics that shape the social behavior of cats towards humans can foster stronger bonds and enhance the well-being of both humans and their beloved feline companions.
[^1]: Sociality of Cats toward Humans Can Be Influenced by Hormonal and Socio-Environmental Factors: Pilot Study