Cats show their love for us in many ways. One of the best is when our cat snuggles right up next to us, rubs their head on us and purrs, or even rests their head on our lap. (We won't talk about how annoying it is when they step on our keyboards or sleep on the papers we're trying to read!)
As pet owners, we definitely get a lot of satisfaction from the attention that cats choose to give us. But why do some cats have favorite people?
Even though humans live closely with cats, cat behavior is still a bit of a mystery. Some of them might be sweeties who love all people equally. But more often than not, it seems, cats choose their favorite human in a household. So why does your cat cuddle with everyone but you?
It might seem like whoever feeds the cat, plays with it occasionally, or changes her litter box might end up being her favorite. But even this generalization is not true. There are many possible reasons that you're not her favorite, and none of them are personal.
Dogs are often "man's best friend," because they're faithful and obedient. Cat behavior is quite the opposite. To some people, it may seem that cats only stay with us because we feed them. They aren't usually the type to follow us around or meet us at the gate when we come home from work.
A 2019 study published in the journal Current Biology says, however, that cats bond just as strongly to people as dogs or infants do, which may be a surprise to some cat owners. That's not to say that cats don't choose their favorite people, but they do, at least, seem to like us.
Kristyn Vitale, an animal behavior scientist at Oregon State University and lead author of the new study, explains that scientists have not studied cats as much as they have studied dogs over time, so our understanding of cat behavior is incomplete. Cats are not as social as dogs, which may explain why they may not like to be around people as much as dogs do. But, "This idea that cats don't really care about people or respond to them isn't holding up," Vitale said.
A cat's favorite people
The scientists discovered that the majority of cats prefer interacting with a person over eating or playing with a toy. In another study, the researchers found that cats adjust their behavior according to how much attention a person gives them. The journal Nature reported on a study that says cats even know their names and can differentiate them from other words.
In Vitale's recent experiment, cat and kitten owners entered an unfamiliar room with their animals. After two minutes, the owner left the room, leaving the cat or kitten alone and returned two minutes later. The researchers observed the feline's response after the potentially stressful period during which they were left alone. About two-thirds of cats and kittens came to greet their owners when they returned, and then went back to exploring the room and checking in with the owners occasionally, which was taken as a sign that these animals were securely bonded with their owners.
Cats bond over time
The researchers then had the kittens play with each other for six weeks, then were trained to sit, stay, and do tricks. The kittens' behavior didn't change when they were tested again for their insecurity. This indicates that once a cat forms a bond, it seems to remain stable over time.
As you might expect, since all cats have different personalities, the bond that a cat feels for its caretaker is likely formed from a complex mix of genetics, personality, and experience. For many cats, the way cats choose their favorite humans seems to do more with their comfort level in their environment.
How do cats choose a favorite person?
Cats are more independent, so their feelings of attachment to a particular person are likely based on more than just who is feeding them or scratching their ears occasionally. Consider the cat's personal space, and think about whether your boyfriend (or whoever your cat prefers) is letting the cat stay in control. Cats like people who respect their space. Cats also are not likely to fall in love with someone who pets them when they're not in the mood for it, or backs them into a corner to pick them up when they don't want to be held.
Many cats seem to be less interested in noisy, chaotic environments. If your boyfriend is the primary person, perhaps he's sitting more quietly throughout the day, or doesn't have people over as often. Cats may be more likely to run away from someone who is loud and intimidating.
Do cats have favorite people?
AnimalWised reviewed some of the most popular scientific studies on feline ethology to discover why cats like one person more than another, or whether that is a myth.
Early association and socialization makes a difference, in both dog and cat affections. Kittens who have been held and played with by multiple people will be more comfortable around others than a kitten who has had limited interactions. Kittens that have only interacted with one or a few people in their kitten stage may be more skittish later.
While dogs have more of a heightened sense of smell, cats also have impressive noses — the human nose has five million scent receptors whereas cats can have up to 80 million, according to VCA Hospitals. It's possible, that although you can't tell a difference in scent between you and your boyfriend, your cat might prefer his scent better. However, not all cats create a special bond with a single person and many may not even have a favorite.
How to make a cat love you
If you're hoping to change a cat's feelings about you, try. to do what you can to bring the love. If the cat in question like treats or catnip, make it a point to have those things with you when you visit. If the cat won't approach you closely, leave a treat or a catnip toy for them where they can see it.
Feed them if you can. It's likely they'll start making a positive association between you and the food or treats they love. Play with them for only as long as they'll let you without encroaching on their personal space. Some cats don't like to be picked up, while others do.
Clean their litter box. If you do get a chance to be close to the cat, reinforcing your good feelings about the cat shows by stroking them as they pass by but not following them for more. Learn when to leave them alone when they want to be left alone.
While it might be hard to think that you might not be the cat's favorite human, cats choose to be friends with people for reasons that we may never know. So do your best to reinforce that it's a friendship on the cat's terms, and you'll likely start to have a more rewarding relationship!
- Current Biology: Attachment bonds between domestic cats and humans
- New York Times: Cats Like People! (Some People, Anyway)
- Science Direct: Social interaction, food, scent or toys? A formal assessment of domestic pet and shelter cat (Felis silvestris catus) preferences
- Science Direct: The quality of being sociable: The influence of human attentional state, population, and human familiarity on domestic cat sociability
- Nature: Domestic cats (Felis catus) discriminate their names from other words
- I Heart Cats: Why Do Cats Like Some Humans But Not Others?
- Animal Wised: Why Do Cats Like One Person More Than Another?
- Reserch Gate: Owner and cat features influence the quality of life of the cat
- VCA Hospitals: Why Cats Sniff Butts