Most cat people already know the hard truth — our cats don’t really need us, exactly. They may be ecstatic to see us when we come home from work; they may demand all the cuddles; they may yowl for our attention when we’re there. But when left alone, they’re pretty happy to curl up for a nap all by themselves. And when there’s a loud noise or a scary new situation, they’re more likely to run under the couch for safety than into our laps.
A study released this past year from University of Lincoln, UK seems to confirm it: Adult cats are emotionally independent from their caregivers. The technical nitty-gritty: The cats were left with a stranger either by their owner, or by another stranger, which is a model of attachment study called the Ainsworth Strange Situation Test (SST). Children and dogs, who perceive their caregiver as the focus of safety and comfort, will usually show more distress when transitioning from familiar to unfamiliar person than from unfamiliar to unfamiliar. But although the cats vocalized more when their owner was the one to deliver them into the unfamiliar environment, they showed no other signs of being more upset in one scenario than in the other. This suggests that cats don’t see their person as a “secure attachment” - a source of safety or comfort in stressful situations.
This may seem like sad news to some folks, but look at it this way - if your cat doesn’t need you to feel safe, then she’s sticking around purely because she likes your company. (Also possibly for those delicious meals.) Need isn’t the same thing as love, and this is a good reminder of that.
Of course, what the study doesn’t measure is how much we need our cats for comfort. Which is probably a lot. So go snuggle your kitty, and know that even if he doesn’t precisely need it, he’s still purring.