Your feline friend could have anything from an open to co-dependent relationship with you.

By Nashia Baker
June 03, 2021
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Cats typically express love for their owners in a few common ways: cuddling, purring, and rubbing against you. But according to University of Lincoln researchers, these types of behaviors—and how they happen—signify more than just affection; the researcher team found that cats are capable of developing five different types of relationships with their owners, and how your feline friend interacts with you can help you understand which of these bonds you share. The team's recently-published study explored the five different types of relationships cats develop with their owners: Pets and pet parents will develop an open relationship, a co-dependent relationship, a casual relationship, a friendship, or a remote relationship. "Cats form close emotional relationships with humans, yet little is actually known about this," Professor Daniel Mills, an animal behavioral specialist at the University of Lincoln, said. "As with any complex social relationship, the type of cat-owner bond is a product of the dynamic between both individuals involved, along with their certain personality features."

woman smiling and holding cat
Credit: mapodile / Getty

Mills added that "while many cats may be aloof, it seems that this is not as common as might be portrayed." In fact, "the wider sociability of the cat and owner expectations may be significant, and the owner's level of emotional investment in the cat and the cat's sociability appear to be particularly important in discriminating what type of relationship they have together," he noted. To truly understand this pet-parent relationship, the research team asked nearly 4,000 cat owners to explain how they engage with the felines in their home and, in turn, how their pet communicates with them.

So, which bond do you share with your cat? An open relationship between a cat and owner means your pet is independent, so they feel comfortable connecting with other people in the same way they interact with you and also don't necessarily need to cuddle with you as a way to bond. As for a co-dependent relationship? "This cat has often come to depend on a very emotionally invested owner (the cat is very important to the owner, possibly seen as family or as a great friend)," the researchers explained in the study. "The owner typically plays regularly with the cat, and is seen as a part of the same social group (the cat behaves in a friendly way towards the owner, even regularly licking the owner's hands and face) and as a secure base (the cat will seek the owner when worried)."

A casual relationship consists of a cat preferring an outdoor lifestyle; your feline will still be friendly, but they will likely still wander around different parts of your house and feel comfortable on their own (even for days). Friendships are pretty straightforward: "The owner is seen not only as part of the same social group (the cat will regularly lick the owner's hands and face) but also as a secure base (someone to seek out for comfort when the cat is worried)," the team explained in the study, noting that this is most common in busy households with multiple cats. "This cat likes to be near the owner but doesn't feel a need to maintain physical proximity to the owner (doesn't always follow the owner around the house and may even take him/herself away to a preferred location)." Finally, a remote relationship is more needs-based. This means you take care of the cat, but they aren't considered a family member or a close friend, so the feline will typically stay away from the owner, even if they are in fear.

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