Cat attachment behavior

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  • Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2007) 2, 119-125 RESEARCH Experimental evaluation of attachment behaviors in owned cats Claudia Edwards, DVM, MSc,a,b Moiss Heiblum, DVM,a,b Alberto Tejeda, DVM, MSc,a Francisco Galindo, DVM, PhDa a Department of Ethology and Wildlife, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico, Mxico D.F., Mxico; and the b Department of Medicine, Surgery and Husbandry for Small Animals, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico, Mxico D.F., Mxico. KEYWORDS: attachment behavior; owned cats; Ainsworth Strange Situation Test Abstract Attachment, a normal behavior among social animals, is quite signicant since owners worry about their pets and take care of them because of this affective connection. There are not enough research studies that focus on attachment between owners and their cats. The general objective of this study was to identify attachment behaviors, directed toward their owners, in cats of different body types, age groups, and sexes in an experimental situation. Twenty-eight cats, ranging from 1 to 7 years of age and having different body types, were used in the study without taking into account sex or reproductive status. These cats underwent an Ainsworths Adapted Strange Situation Test. Event frequencies and behavioral state durations in individual type behaviors such as exploration/locomotion, alertness, and inactivity were registered using direct focal sampling. For data analysis, cats were divided by body type, sex, and reproductive status. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) of locomotion/exploration revealed a statistically signicant difference (N 28, F 13.55, P 0.001) between the episodes with the owner, alone, and with a stranger with cats spending more time engaged in locomotion/exploration while accompanied by their owner. On the alert behavior event frequency, difference (ANOVA, F 7.44, P 0.05) was found, which showed a higher frequency while in the company of a stranger. Last, in the inactivity time ratio, a signicant difference was found (ANOVA, F 18.55, P 0.001), where the time spent on this behavior was considerably higher when the animal was alone. These results are consistent with the ones obtained by Ainsworth in children attached to their mothers; therefore, it can be said that cats can manifest attachment behaviors toward their owners. Further studies are indicated to see whether cats can develop separation anxiety. 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Introduction Attachment is a normal behavior that is necessary for the survival of all species of mammals; in this behavior, the offspring stay close to the mother during the rst stages of life. The activities that characterize attachment behavior according to Bowlby (1958) are associated with 2 main Address reprint requests and correspondence: Claudia Edwards, DVM, Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico, Mxico D.F. 04510. E-mail: moisesheiblum@yahoo.com 1558-7878/$ -see front matter 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2007.06.004 functions. The rst is to maintain proximity to another animal and to restore said proximity when it has been disrupted, to obtain protection and body warmth. The second function is related to the mother, who seeks to stay close to her young so as to ensure its survival (Bowlby, 1958). A young animal may also seek proximity to an animal that is not its mother or to an inanimate object, but in most social species, offspring and mother stay together. Such closeness is facilitated by vocalizations from the offspring
  • 120 which attract the mother so that she nds and approaches her young (Bowlby, 1958; Harlow and Harlow, 1965). A condition related to attachment behaviors, known as separation anxiety, has been described in human beings and in dogs. Dogs affected by separation anxiety suffer from anxiety episodes, and even short absences of their owners can result in urination, defecation, vocalizations, and object destruction (Manteca, 1996; Overall, 1997; Pageat et al., 1999). This is one of the most common behavior problems reported in pet dogs (Voith and Ganster, 1993; King et al., 1999). This also seems to be true for dogs in Mexico (Edwards et al., 2002; Heiblum et al., 2005). Given the fact that, until recently, little attention had been paid to the extent to which domestic cats are social, the issues of attachment and separation anxiety remain relatively unexplored in this species. It is known that cats are social animals and the extent to which this characteristic is seen depends on the resources available in the environment (Fogle, 1995; Crowell-Davis et al., 1997). There is now some evidence that cats may also suffer from separation anxiety (Schwartz, 2001, 2002). It has become more important to understand feline social behavior problems associated with separation anxiety since pet cat populations in several countries are increasing. For instance, the estimated cat population in the United States ranges from 23 to 61 million, with a population of 1 cat per 3.2 family units (Beaver, 2003). Since there is little information regarding attachment behaviors in cats, it is very likely that, similarly to what happens in dogs, there are large numbers of separation anxiety cases that are not properly diagnosed. Given the importance of generating more information that could be useful to better understand separation anxiety in cats, this study was carried out to experimentally identify attachment behaviors. These attachment behaviors could be used as a basis for future studies of the incidence of separation anxiety in domestic cats. Materials and methods Location and subjects This study was carried out in the Department of Ethology and Wildlife of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico (UNAM) in Mexico City. A 3 meter by 2 meter room containing 2 chairs, one for the owner and another for the stranger, was used as an observation room. There were 2 cat toys in this room: one was a commercial toy (a jumping ladybug) xed to the oor opposite the door, and the other consisted of a string attached to a ball meant for the subjects to play with the cat. A one-way mirror located on the upper left side of the room was used for observations. The cat owners were recruited by placing advertisements in veterinary clinics, in the Cat Show of the Asociacin Gatla Mexicana (Mexican Cat Fanciers Association), and the Asociacin Mexicana de Gatos (Mexican Cat As- Journal of Veterinary Behavior, Vol 2, No 4, July/August 2007 Table 1 List of behaviors measured Individual Behaviors Locomotion/Exploration: Searching and active investigation of new situations in absence of an urgent necessity, including movement from one place to another (Immelmann and Beer, 1989). Activity can be directed to objects or people present. Olfactory or oral inspection was considered exploration as well. Vigilance: State of alertness, of being prepared to perceive events that could pose a danger to the animal itself or its companion (Immelmann and Beer, 1989). This state was referred to if the cat was standing, sitting or lying down and making ear movements. Body posture and looking in a specic direction were considered as a part of this state. Inactivity: Standing, sitting or lying down without making any movements. Approaching a door: This behavior included approximating the door, touching it, lying down or staying still in the vicinity of the door. Interactive behaviors Physical contact with owner. Physical contact with stranger. Marking: rubbing face or body against an object or person. Vocalizations. Play: Hunt-like postures which could be directed to people or toys. sociation). The cats included in the study were between 1 and 7 years of age; this age range was chosen to mirror that of the only other study reporting on aspects of attachment (Schwartz, 2002). Three pilot situations were used with different cats to obtain the list of behaviors to be measured (Table 1). A total of 28 owner-cat pairs were recruited for the study, which included cats of different body types ranging from 1 to 7 years of age, without taking into account their sex or reproductive status. These owner-cat pairs were subjected to the Ainsworths Adapted Strange Situation Test. For data analysis, cats were divided by sex and reproductive status, and into 3 recognized body types (Paragon and Vaissaire, 2000): muscular, cobby or Persian-type, and oriental or Siamese-type (Table 2). In this study, all cobbies were Persians, all Orientals were Siamese, and the muscular type included Domestic Europeans and one Maine Coon. Behavioral event frequencies and duration of states of individual behaviors (i.e., exploration/locomotion, alertness, and inactivity) (Table 3) were recorded and measured by means of focal sampling. Experimental design The Ainsworth Strange Situation Test (Ainsworth et al., 1978) was adapted for use in cats. The procedure began with a 30-second introductory event, and consisted of 7 experimental events of 3 minutes each, for a total duration of 21
  • Edwards et al Table 2 Attachment in cats 121 Number of animals belonging to the three different body types, sex and reproductive condition Body Type Number of Individuals (%) Sex Intact (%) Neutered (%) Cobby (all were Persians) Oriental (all were Siamese) Muscular (Domestic European and one Maine Coon) 21.4 M F M F M F 33.3 16.7 33.3 16.7 0 6.3 50 0 16.7 33.3 62.5 31.3 21.4 57.1 N 28; M Male; F Female. minutes. Instructions were given to both owner and stranger regarding the sequence and duration of the aforementioned events, as in Topls (1998) and Parthasarathys (2000) tests. The stranger was always the same individual. The owners were not informed of the real purpose of the study; they wer