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Based on the following, the myth that "cats go where they are fed" is not necessarily true. Cats will return to where they have developed a human bond. But as cat expert Celia Haddon states, highlighted in BOLD below, cats will not stay in an unhappy home. Read on....
Sixty-eight percent of U.S. households, or about 85 million families, own a pet, according to the 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA); “equal to the highest level ever reported,” it gushed in the executive summary. Among those pets were about 90 million dogs and 94 million cats, the group said. Jan 31, 2019
Directly descended from the African wildcat, and sharing 96% of its DNA with the tiger, domesticated housecats - just like their wild cousins - are solitary creatures. Due to their solitary instincts the way your cat relates to you will depend a great deal on how old it was when it entered your life. Unlike a dog, a domesticated house cat usually bonds with only one human, and if you adopt a cat and bring it home to live with you in a family or multi-person home setting, the human that it decides to bond with might not necessarily be you, unless it is a kitten. (“bond” = forming of a tight emotional attachment. A cat can be friendly to everyone in a household, but it will have only formed a tight emotional bond with one person). Once your cat is brought into your home and decides which person to bond with, then the other humans in the house are merely tolerated. (“tolerated” = other humans, distinct from the one they bonded with, will be acceptable to live with, and there will be friendly and benign interaction, but there won’t be an emotional attachment). Generally speaking, that level of tolerance will also depend on how old it was when it entered your home and will be in direct proportion to its age. (i.e. the younger it is, the less time it takes to bond and more likely it is to enjoy other people; the older it is, the more time it takes to bond and less likely it is to enjoy other people). If you adopt a kitten, it will bond with you and will, to the day it dies, relate to you as if you are his mother. It will also be more open to relating and socializing with other humans, whereas many adult cats struggle with socialization. But if you adopt an adult cat it will require time to bond and once it does it will often perceive you as either its child (if it’s a female) or a sibling equal which helps explain why for some cats’ certain behavioral issues inexplicably arise.
Even domesticated cats still retain a bit of their wild instincts. The way in which a house cat treats a human is often strongly guided by those wild instincts and almost entirely based on its perception of them (whether you as its mother, or that it's your mother, it's your equal, or you’re an invader in its territory). For example, a house cat might be aloof, and hate being petted by visitors to your home (territorial invaders), be tolerant and friendly of household members (siblings or equals), and an affectionate cuddlebug to his human (his “mother”). Three distinct sets of behaviors with three distinct sets of people.
The cat relates to different people in different ways depending on the circumstances. Because cats emotionally bond with only one human if you adopt a previously owned adult cat it then requires more time to develop an emotional bond with you because, 1) it will be mourning the separation from, and loss of, its previous human, and 2) it requires time to learn about you and determine if it can trust you. In some adult cat adoptions this can take months. In extreme cases, if you happen to receive approval by the shelter to adopt a cat that had been previously dumped several times there is a possibility (but not a certainty) that the cat will never bond with you simply because it’s been hurt so many times that it can do nothing more than tolerate humans.
Many adult cats in shelters, once they realize they've been abandoned by their human (the one they bonded with), will frequently stop eating, will cry (some will even pathetically call out for their human over and over hoping for a reply that never comes), develop severe diarrhea, will be afraid of anything or anyone, will keep to themselves, and will become lethargic, depressed, and lonely because the only bond they ever formed is now broken. When a solitary creature takes the risk to form a bond it can become devastated when it is broken. Some cats bond so strongly with their owner that when abandoned such cats simply die in the shelter because of the affect the abandonment had on their system.
Although the researchers say cats can still develop bonds with, and affection for their owners, the new study shows that they do no need them in the same way that dogs do.
However, cat expert Celia Haddon, author of Cats Behaving Badly and How To Read Your Cat’s Mind, said owners should not feel that their pets do not love them.
“This study shows that cats do not need their humans to feel safe, they don’t depend on us, they look after themselves. If they are scared a cat won’t come to its owner, it will jump on top of the wardrobe or hide under the bed,” she said.
“But in a way that’s a real compliment. Cats won’t live in an unhappy home; they’ll just walk out. And abandoned or feral cats get on just fine on their own.
“Cats are not pack animals; they don’t depend on other cats. So, they are not going to depend on their owners. But it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to be around their owners. This shows that they really do.”
Alice Potter, Cat behaviour and well-being expert at the RSPCA, who was also one of the study authors said the study could help owners meet the needs of their pets.
"It suggests that if a cat is scared or has been involved in an incident it's not going to want a cuddle, it's going to want to go and hide, so owners need to provide a place for that to happen," she said,
The above are excerpts from the following: Insurance Information Institute Organization, Facts & Statistics2019; Sarah Knapton, science editor; 3 SEPTEMBER 2015; Quora, Jan 14, 2019.