Eriksson, M., Keeling, L. J., & Rehn, T. (2017). Cats and owners interact more with each other after a longer duration of separation. PloS one, 12(10), e0185599.
Little is known about the cat’s (Felis silvestris catus) need for human contact, although it is generally believed that cats are more independent pets than e.g. dogs. In this study, we investigated the effect of time left alone at home on cat behaviour (e.g. social and distress-related) before, during and after separation from their owner. Fourteen privately owned cats (single-housed) were each subjected to two treatments: the cat was left alone in their home environment for 30 min (T0.5) and for 4 h (T4). There were no differences between treatments in the behaviour of the cat (or owner) before owner departure, nor during the first 5 min of separation. During separation, cats were lying down resting proportionally less (T = 22.5, P = 0.02) in T0.5 (0.27±0.1 (mean±SE)) compared to in T4 (0.58±0.08), probably due to a similar duration of higher activity early in the separation phase in both treatments. Comparisons of the time interval (min 20–25) in both treatments indicated no differences across treatments, which supports such an explanation. Towards the end of the separation phase (the last two 5-min intervals of separation in both treatments), no differences were observed in the cats’ behaviour, indicating that cats were unaffected by separation length. At reunion however, cats purred more (T = 10.5, P = 0.03) and stretched their body more (T = 17, P = 0.04) after a longer duration of separation (T4:0.05±0.02; 0.03±0.01; T0.5: 0.01±0.007; 0.008±0.003). Also, owners initiated more verbal contact (T = 33.5, P = 0.04) after 4 h (0.18±0.05) compared to after 30 min (0.12±0.03). There was no evidence of any correlations between the level of purring or body stretching by the cat and verbal contact by the owner implying that the behavioural expressions seen in the cats are independent of the owner’s behaviour. Hence, it seemed as cats coped well with being left alone, but they were affected by the time they were left alone, since they expressed differences in behaviour when the owner returned home. The increased level of social contact initiated by the cats after a longer duration of separation indicates a rebound of contact-seeking behaviour, implying that the owner is an important part of the cat’s social environment.