The quality of being sociable: The influence of human attentional state, population, & human familiarity on domestic cat sociability

Vitale, KR, & Udell, MAR. (2019) The quality of being sociable: The influence of human attentional state, population, and human familiarity on domestic cat sociability. Behavioural Processes: 158, 11-17. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2018.10.026 

 

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Abstract

Two experiments were conducted to assess the influence of human attentional state, population, and human familiarity on domestic cat sociability. Sociability behaviors included duration of time in proximity and contact with the human and the frequency of meow vocalizations. Human attentional state influenced cat behavior, with cats spending significantly more time in proximity with the attentive human in both the pet (U(22) = 389, Z = -2.72, P = 0.007) and shelter groups (F(44) = 15.34, P = 0.0003). Cat population influenced sociability and shelter cats spent more time in proximity with the inattentive unfamiliar human as compared to pet cats (U(44) = 91, Z = 3.8, P = 0.0001) Additionally compared to pet cats, more individuals in the shelter cat group meowed at least once during the unfamiliar human inattentive phase (Fisher’s exact test, P = 0.02). Human familiarity did not significantly influence pet cat sociability behaviors. Overall, a wide range of sociability scores was seen, indicating individual variation is an important consideration in cat social behavior. Future research in this area will predict conditions under which strong cat-human bonds form and establish a more comprehensive scientific understanding of cat behavior.

Highlights

  • Relatively little scientific research has been conducted on cat-human social behavior.
  • Cats are facultatively social animals that display flexibility in social behavior.
  • Human attentional state and cat population influenced cat sociability behaviors.
  • Human familiarity did not influence pet cat sociability behaviors.
  • Clear individual variation in sociability scores was noted.

Social interaction, food, scent or toys? A formal assessment of domestic pet and shelter cat preferences

Vitale Shreve, KR,  Mehrkam, LR, Udell, MAR. (2017) Social interaction, food, scent or toys? A formal assessment of domestic pet and shelter cat (Felis silvestris catus) preferences. Behavioural Processes. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2017.03.016

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Abstract

Domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) engage in a variety of relationships with humans and can be conditioned to engage in numerous behaviors using Pavlovian and operant methods Increasingly cat cognition research is providing evidence of their complex socio-cognitive and problem solving abilities. Nonetheless, it is still common belief that cats are not especially sociable or trainable. This disconnect may be due, in part, to a lack of knowledge of what stimuli cats prefer, and thus may be most motivated to work for. The current study investigated domestic cat preferences at the individual and population level using a free operant preference assessment. Adult cats from two populations (pet and shelter) were presented with three stimuli within each of the following four categories: human social interaction, food, toy, and scent. Proportion of time interacting with each stimulus was recorded. The single most-preferred stimulus from each of the four categories were simultaneously presented in a final session to determine each cat’s most-preferred stimulus overall. Although there was clear individual variability in cat preference, social interaction with humans was the most-preferred stimulus category for the majority of cats, followed by food. This was true for cats in both the pet and shelter population. Future research can examine the use of preferred stimuli as enrichment in applied settings and assess individual cats’ motivation to work for their most-preferred stimulus as a measure of reinforcer efficacy.

Stress, security, and scent: The influence of chemical signals on the social lives of domestic cats and implications for applied settings

img_5307Vitale Shreve, KR, &  Udell, MAR (2016) Stress, security, and scent: The influence of chemical signals on the social lives of domestic cats and implications for applied settings. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2016.11.011

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Abstract

Although millions of cats live among humans worldwide the scientific community knows relatively little about cat behavior and cognition. Olfaction is an important perceptual sense for many members of Carnivora, however the role of chemical signals in cat social relationships is not fully understood. Research indicates chemical signals play an important role in many areas of cat behavior including mother-offspring and conspecific interactions and exploration of their environment. Chemical cues appear to play a role in stress and anxiety reduction, allowing cats to feel secure in their environment. A better understanding of cat chemical signals, especially as it relates to within and between species communication, may lead to an increase in cat wellbeing as humans can utilize this knowledge in applied settings. Therefore, the purpose of this review is to investigate how cats process and use chemical signals in social contexts and identify ways this information can be applied to address cat behavioral issues, such as inappropriate litter box and scratching behavior, and improve cat welfare, including species-appropriate ways of reinforcing the human-cat bond.