The Cat-Human Connection

The Cat-Human Connection

As I write, my best friends Macy and Cecilia are snuggling up next to me and beginning to purr. Their presence inspires me to contemplate the relationships I’ve had with the many cats I have known throughout my life. I remember the cats that have inspired me to ask questions, those that have comforted me in times of pain, those that have made me laugh, and those that left us too soon.

I remember Goldberry, my childhood cat and best friend growing up. I remember Ariel, Muffin, and Kisa – strays that showed up at our house wishing for a home.  I remember the day I adopted Macy and the day I began to bottle feed little Cecilia who lost her mom. Finally, I remember all the pet, shelter, feral, and free-roaming cats I have worked with or met while conducting research (learn more about my work and research here).

Throughout my life I have formed strong bonds with cats and asked questions about these relationships. What does the human-cat relationship look like from the cat’s point of view? Does the cat form a strong bond to me the way I do to them? How do different lifetime experiences (living as a pet, feral, free-roaming or shelter cat) influence cat behavior and cognition?


Research Indicates that Cats Form Strong Bonds with Humans

Although relatively little research has been conducted on cat behavior and cognition, especially when compared to the body of research on the domestic dog, the field is growing and these questions are beginning to be addressed. Studies suggest cats can recognize their owner’s voice, they can alter their vocal communication for human interaction, they can follow human cues (such as pointing), and they can detect the emotional state of a human and adjust their behavior in response (see our recently published cat cognition review)1.

Collectively, these studies indicate that cats have developed mechanisms to form relationships with humans. Indeed, research indicates that cats form strong, enduring attachment bonds with their owners.  But, what ways can humans improve this bond in order to increase cat welfare and help homeless cats?

In the Human-Animal Interaction Lab at Oregon State University we explore many of these topics with the aim of increasing cat welfare through a better understanding of cat behavior and cognition. One topic of interest lies in the sociability of cats, or the individual preferences of a cat to seek contact and close proximity with a human.


Join Me at the Symposium to “Talk Cat”

My talk at this year’s National Council on Pet Population & SAWA Research Symposium is entitled “Increasing shelter cat welfare through a better understanding of human‐cat interactions”. The talk will cover our lab’s findings on shelter cat sociability, specifically if shelter cat social behavior is influenced by human interaction or attentional state. This information can be considered specifically when preparing cat enrichment plans or human interaction protocols for shelter cats, which may increase adoption rates and strengthen the human-cat bond. 

I look forward to this year’s symposium and I hope you will be there to “talk cat” with me!


  1. Vitale Shreve, K. R., & Udell, M. A. R. (2015). What’s inside your cat’s head? A review of cat (Felis silvestris catus) cognition research past, present and future. Animal Cognition, 1–12.

Kristyn Vitale Shreve

Kristyn R. Vitale Shreve is a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow in Animal and Rangeland Sciences at Oregon State University.

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