Cats Are More Indifferent Than Dogs to People Who Harm Their Owners, New Study Reveals

Get ready for another chapter in the saga of cats vs. dogs.

A new study from Japan recently published in Animal Behavior and Cognition found that cats are more indifferent than dogs to people who harm their owners, which might not surprise dog people.

In the study, which was previously conducted on dogs, each feline subject watched their owner unsuccessfully attempt to open a clear container before asking one of two nearby strangers for help.

The study was split into two trials. In the "helper" trials, one of the strangers helped the pet owner open the container, and in the "non-helper" trial, the stranger refused to offer assistance to the owner. Both trials also included a third passive (neutral) person, who sat on the other side of the owner and did nothing.

After each trial, the helper/non-helper and the neutral person both offered the cat a piece of food. Each tested cat completed four trials, and they showed no preference or avoidance of the helper or non-helper, even after watching the non-helper refuses to assist their owner.

"We consider that cats might not possess the same social evaluation abilities as dogs, at least in this situation, because, unlike the latter, they have not been selected to cooperate with humans," the study states. "However, further work on cats' social evaluation capacities needs to consider ecological validity, notably with regard to the species' sociality."

Although dogs, after watching a stranger not assist their owner, tended to avoid the non-helper in their study, it's not quite a cut-and-dry support of the stereotype that cats are just indifferent to all humans.

"Because of their high popularity and long history as companion animals for humans, cats are useful for assessing socio-cognitive traits that might be shared with humans, given the two species' shared environment, and exposure to many of the same social events," the study explained.

There also might be a genetic explanation for the differences between how cats and dogs communicate with humans.

"Although cats possess some socio-cognitive capacities reported in dogs, the two species have quite different domestication histories and ecological backgrounds," the study's authors wrote. "The ancestor of cats, like most other felids (excluding lions and cheetahs), are solitary hunters and strongly territorial, with minimal contact between individuals except for mating or litter rearing."

They added, "These properties might appear to make cats unlikely candidates for domestication in general. In contrast to dogs' approximately 15,000-year-old close association with humans, cats probably began to live among humans about 10,000 years ago; they were probably tolerated because of their pest-controlling abilities."

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